By John Close, CloseFinishes.com
After a year in the NASCAR Nextel Cup ranks, Brendan Gaughan has taken on a dual role at Orleans Racing as the general manager and driver of the No. 77 Dodge NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry this season. In the typical wide-open style Gaughan is noted for, he’s jumping into the twin jobs with both feet.
“I’m having a lot of fun right now,” said Gaughan, who is teaming up with Steve Park to give the Orleans team a solid 1-2 punch this year. “I’ve come home to the Orleans team and serve as the pseudo General Manager of the organization. I’ve got a lot of help doing it and I’m trying not to mess up too many times. I’m out looking for sponsors, going through the bills, making sure a lot of day-to-day stuff is getting done. We’re also expanding our shop from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet, so there are a lot of details that need attention there. I’m just doing the best I can right now. I have a business degree, so I might as well try to use it. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by a lot of great people, so it’s been going pretty well so far.”
Gaughan was a star in the making after the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winning six events and just missing out on the championship when a crash in the final race of the year at Homestead, Florida dashed his chances of winning the division title.
In 2004, Penske Racing came calling putting the likeable Gaughan behind the wheel of one of its Nextel Cup entries along with Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman. The experience proved to be a bumpy one as several early-season disappointments mired Gaughan in the lower half of the standings. A string of solid performances late in the year weren’t enough to save Gaughan’s job at Penske this season sending him back to the Truck Series ranks in 2005.
“I felt like we had a good year last year,” said Gaughan. “We were second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year points. Kasey Kahne had a great year and we were still able to make a run at him late in the season. We had one Top-5 finish, four Top-10s and were 16th in points in the final 10 Chase for the Championship races. It was a great way to finish the season out, I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. Now I get to go back and apply that knowledge to the Orleans Racing Team.”
All the knowledge in the world couldn’t save Gaughan from the new qualifying rules at the most recent Truck Series event at Atlanta. Without points to work with from last season when he didn’t compete in a single Truck Series event, Gaughan missed the show at Atlanta.
“I’m not a big fan of the new qualifying procedure, as a driver or an owner,” said Gaughan. “Unfortunately, that’s also part of the sport and you have to find a way to turn bad things into a positive. The good news is that all of our trucks came home from Atlanta without being crashed. That allowed us to do some other work to get ahead of things. Bottom line was we didn’t make the show based on some new rules and we have to roll with that.”
The Orleans team also had to roll with the memory of a sub-par 2004 season heading into the 2005 campaign. Hopes were high after Gaughan’s stellar 2003 campaign and having the talented Park waiting in the wings seemed to point toward more success. Unfortunately, it never happened as Park struggled scoring no wins and a ninth-place finish in the championship standings last season.
“We had a bad 2004,” said Gaughan. “A lot of people were pointing the finger at Steve and saying he was still hurt, that Brendan Gaughan had won six races the year before and Steve didn’t win any. Simply stated, the Orleans team didn’t give Steve Park what he needed. We lost two general managers, our crew chief, and some employees. We didn’t take care of Steve the way we should have. This year, we’ve really busted our butts to get things back to the way they used to be utilizing the resources we have.”
Those resources were put to good use earlier this season when Park captured the Truck Series race at California. For Gaughan, it was personally satisfying to see Park win.
“It was fantastic to see Steve and the Orleans team come back to form and win at California,” stated Gaughan. “I was so happy for Steve personally. We took all the team guys – 18 of them – to Mexico after Steve won at California. We just went down there, hung out, and had a good time. Everyone here works very hard and they deserved it. You don’t have that kind of stuff at a lot of other race teams. That’s certainly been the highlight of the 2005 season for us so far.”
Obviously, working for Orleans Racings has some nice perks. According to Gaughan, the team is trying to hire more people to come and work in the desert oasis known as Las Vegas.
“We love being in Las Vegas,” said Gaughan. “It’s a great place to work and live and there isn’t any of the politics that you have going on with all the other NASCAR teams that are located in the Charlotte area. We’re always looking for employees. There are no state taxes, so you save 12 percent of your income right off the top. Once a guy comes out to see the Orleans team, sees the commitment we’ve made to this race team, they want to come to work for us. We’re always looking for good crew guys. With expansion we’re doing right now and some of the plans we have for the future, we’re looking for people right now.”
Gaughan will also be looking to put missing the Atlanta race in his rear view mirror when he saddles up his No. 77 Dodge for the Kroger 200 at Martinsville (VA) Speedway Saturday, April 9.
“We’re going to Martinsville where there’s no aero, no nothing – just good old fashioned short track racing where we can get out there and do some beating and banging,” said Gaughan. “My two Nextel Cup races there last year taught me a ton. I remember being in the Trucks there and the mindset was try to save your brakes, try to save this or that. In the Cup cars, I learned brakes live. They’ll make 250 laps in the Truck race. I know how much harder I can go from the start. I’m much more mentally and physically prepared for Martinsville now and that’s very exciting to me.”
Win or lose at Martinsville, Gaughan seems to have his feet firmly planted in his dual role as general manager and driver at Orleans racing.
“Some people say trying to run the place and be a driver too is a distraction,” said Gaughan. “I’m finding both jobs pretty enjoyable despite the fact we didn’t qualify at Atlanta. When I’m in the truck, I don’t think about the money or how much a certain piece might cost. I’m just thinking about the fact the guys work their tails off for me. They put in 12-hour days for 12 weeks straight to get ready for this season. I would be disrespecting the guys if I was doing that. I’m not going to ruin all that work by worrying about paying the bills. I’m just out there to drive the heck out of it and to try to win races. If we wreck, we’ll go and fix them.
“As soon as it’s been proven to me that I can’t or shouldn’t drive a racecar anymore, I’ll be the first guy to jump out of the seat and become the full-time general manager at Orleans Racing,” Gaughan concluded. “That would not bother me whatsoever. Nobody’s proven that to me so far. We led at Daytona and California this year and we have very fast Dodge trucks that can win races. I’m not sure if I’ll do 18 races this year like we planned or do them all. All I know is that every race we go to, Steve and I are going to be a threat to win.”