Gaughan Looks To Score At Atlanta In His Own Version Of ‘MARCH MADNESS’
Brendan Gaughan calls this weekend his favorite of the year – and it has nothing to do with going fast or Friday night’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It has everything to do with college basketball.
The former Georgetown Hoyas reserve (1994-1997) loves this weekend because it marks the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament.
“This weekend alone you have 65 teams in a tournament,” Gaughan said. “You have kids that are at small schools, big schools – kids that believe they can do anything. The NCAA tournament is the greatest sporting championship in the country – in the world.
“The first weekend – this weekend – you have 32 games, and that’s just the first round. That doesn’t count Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday and Friday, you have 32 basketball games – that is a sportsman’s heaven.”
During his years at Georgetown, Gaughan played on a team which made two Sweet 16 and one Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament. There was also a first round upset – but he doesn’t talk about that.
“I don’t know if there is a way to really get people to understand what it’s like to be there and be part of the phenomenon,” Gaughan said. “You’re 18, 19 years old. You’re a child, and you walk into an arena – if you make it into the Sweet Sixteen or Final Eight – and there’s 30,000. You walk in there. You know the national media’s there. All the main announcers are there. The entire sports world is there. And you take the court – it’s amazing.
“I played with Allen Iverson and Othello Harrington and Jerome Williams and some great basketball players. And we get on the court, and we play a practical joke on each other – why? – because we’re kids. That’s what kids do. We play jokes. It’s the biggest game of our lives and we’re still joking. That’s what's so much fun about being a kid in that arena is that as long as you don’t forget you are a kid – you can look up in those grandstands and say ‘Wow, this is really cool.’”
Gaughan will be feverishly cheering on his Hoyas – who will play Belmont on Thursday – and keeping a close eye on the other games in the NCAA tournament, especially the East bracket. But his focus on Friday will turn to the 1.54-mile Georgia race track that hasn’t been kind to him in his three past NCTS starts.
“Honestly, Atlanta will take care of itself,” Gaughan said. “I’ve got a great race team with Bryan Berry at the helm. I’m not a driver that has to be out there throwing springs and shocks at it. So, when practice ends, I’ll debrief with my crew chief, take care of my responsibilities, and then our television in the lounge which is normally set to SPEED will actually be changed to CBS, and I’ll watch the games.
Gaughan’s South Point Racing Team has not been happy with the start of their 2007 season. A solid run in Daytona was foiled with 12 laps to go when Gaughan – who was running in the top 10 – got caught up in an accident. The No. 77 team finished 21st. And at California, the team couldn’t help Gaughan cure an ill-handling race truck, which resulted in another 21st place finish.
Atlanta marks a fresh start for the South Point Racing team – much like the NCAA tournament affords college teams a ‘second season.’
“The focus has really stayed the same. We went to Daytona and we were great. We went to California and we were as bad as this team had ever been. We believe we know why, and now its time to put that behind us,” Gaughan said. . “It is almost like a free throw – so what you missed the first one, you’ve got to put that behind you and go for the second one, and life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop just because you missed that free throw, or because you had a bad race.
“So now we go to Atlanta, we know we are good. We know everything’s fine. We move on. We put those races behind us. We take those, learn from them, and don’t let it happen again.”
For Gaughan, Atlanta is a big weekend for both his race team and his basketball team. He hopes that both teams will be able to score big and make the important plays when it counts. Gaughan hopes to leave Atlanta with a solid finish and return to Las Vegas to watch his beloved Hoyas battle to move on in the NCAA tournament.
“I was there – I got to play it, I got to live it – so for me, for the rest of my life it will be a big part of every March,” Gaughan said. “Whether I’m racing or not, I’ll be watching the games – yelling for the Hoyas and loving the Cinderella stories. And when I’m at home in Las Vegas, you’ll find me sitting in front of 10 TVs at a Sports Book at the South Point watching every game.”
Gaughan’s picks for the NCAA Final Four: Georgetown, Ohio State, Kansas and Wisconsin.