Former NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver and rookie Nextel Cup racer, straight out of a Dodge Ram SRT-10 that now holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest production truck at 154.587 mph, took time out at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan to talk to AutoWeek.
AW: How much did your extensive off-road racing career prepare you for driving a NASCAR Craftsman Truck?
GAUGHAN: Off-road racing with people like Walker Evans helped to build my spirit of competition and also helped to build a great relationship with Dodge. Aside from a couple of years in which I drove Chevrolets, my entire career has been with Dodge and all started with racing Jeeps and Dodge trucks in the desert.
AW: How big of a disappointment was it to come so close to winning the Craftsman Truck Championship last year?
GAUGHAN: That's racing. We knew we were fast and one of the best teams out there last year, and we didn't even have a major sponsor. We tried to take advantage of everything w e were given and make the most out of it when we could. We did the best we could with what we were given and in the end it just didn't work out the way we wanted. Next time we just won't make it such a close battle, we'll have a bigger lead.
AW: What did you learn from last season that will help you this year in your first season of the Nextel Cup?
GAUGHAN: The two beasts are pretty much the same and a lot of the dynamics of one can be translated over to the other. The most important thing we learned from last year was how to not just finish races but to be a finisher of races. The practice of using all of our available resources in the trucks is what got me here and I intend to do the same in a Cup car.
AW: Does racing for a major team with a big-time sponsor in your first season of Cup racing put any pressure on you to go out and try to win right out of the box?
GAUGHAN: We want to win every time we go out onto the track. The Kodak folks have been with racing for a long time and they have really given us a lot in terms of support. I just want to give something back to show my appreciation for all that they have done for us.
AW: How do you fit in with your new team with a veteran like Rusty Wallace and a young hotshot like Ryan Newman?
GAUGHAN: We are a great team and I've already learned a lot from both of them. I 'm really looking forward to working more with Ryan because I really haven't had too much time to practice with him yet. Rusty is a great instructor and a lot of fun, and Ryan is just plain fast. I'm having a great time and if I can do just half the things that both of those guys have done, I think I'll be in pretty good shape.
AW: How much of a difference is there between the trucks and the cars?
GAUGHAN: Aerodynamics is the major difference. The two vehicles are very similar in handling with the exception that the trucks slow down more from drag into the corners. The competition in the trucks is just as high as it is in the Cup cars.
AW: How did playing basketball and football at Georgetown with a demanding coach like John Thompson prepare you for your racing career?
GAUGHAN: John Thompson prepared me for life in general. John Thompson, like my father, like Walker Evans, and like Roger Penske are very overpowering individuals that push you to do your best and deal with the challenges you are given. He taught me to believe in myself and the people around me and to surround myself with good people.
AW: Was there anything you were hoping to accomplish here to day other than helping out the folks at Dodge?
GAUGHAN: I just wanted to be able to prove what the Dodge folks have been saying is correct and that the SRT is the fastest and meanest production truck ever made. I was hoping to get a little more out of the truck, but I just wanted my actions to back up what the engineers here have been saying for a while now.
AW: Were you given any special instructions before the session began?
GAUGHAN: The engineers told me to run the thing flat out and bend the floorboards. I did just that because the pedal on the SRT is all bent out of shape now.
AW: Do you expect to have any more input on future Dodge vehicles?
GAUGHAN: Using the SRT as an example, I really don't have much input to give these people. They know what they are doing and I trust their development and construction without question just like I trust the crew members on my race team. Other than offering creature comfort advice and testing input like what went on here today, I can 't do much for them that they can't do themselves.
AW: What daily drivers do you have in your stable at home?
GAUGHAN: As a "poor-boy" Craftsman Truck driver I don't have anything fancy, but the good folks at Dodge and Kodak just gave me a new Dodge Durango for all the racing exploits I've had under Dodge over the years. I also have on order a new SRT-10 Ram that I would like to trade for the SRT that I just drove that has my signature all over the intake manifold.