Loyal following greets Gaughan in Las Vegas
September 28, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
LAS VEGAS -- Stretched out across an open room at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas on Friday night was a timeline of Brendan Gaughan's life.
There was a photographer from Irwindale Speedway who captured Gaughan's first-ever racing win in 1997. He brought the glossy images captured 16 years ago for the driver to sign during an autograph session at the hotel owned by Gaughan's family.
There was a man who drove for Gaughan in 2002, when Brendan and his dad, Michael Gaughan, fielded a team.
There was his dad's best friend, whom Gaughan referred to only as "Mr. Johnson."
"He's my dad's best friend, and he stood in line to get my freaking autograph," Gaughan said, shaking his head after a crush of NASCAR fans extended the signings nearly 20 minutes past its scheduled end time. "I was like, 'Mr. Johnson, you waited in line for me?' It's very special to see these people."
If you live in Vegas, you either know Brendan Gaughan or have a story about him or his family. That's why the throng of fans was more than 200 feet deep as they waited for the chance at Gaughan's signature -- along with meeting 11 other NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers, including Ty Dillon, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Brennan Newberry.
It's why Dan and Lori Draper showed up Friday night with step-mom Darlene Hobbs listening on Dan's cell phone, hoping to get a quick word with the driver. She lives in California and has been a fan ever since Gaughan gave her a tour of the team shop years ago.
"Great to talk to you," Gaughan said into the phone after hopping up from his table for a quick hello. "But I'm a little busy right now."
When it comes to racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gaughan is the godfather of the garage. This city's history was written, in part, by his family's surname. Brendan's grandfather, Jackie, is one of Las Vegas' most well-known casino operators. He still lives in an apartment at El Cortez, a casino just one block east of historic downtown that he purchased in the 1960s, a place where Brendan used to deal the $1 blackjack game.
All of this explains the line of fans, explains why Brendan's week for Saturday night's Smith's 350 (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) began in earnest nearly a week before the event.
"I love this week because it's my home race," Gaughan said. "That's different than most other drivers. Charlotte is everybody else's home race. Everybody shares it. This town is bigger to my family than most towns to a person. Local Las Vegans have made Las Vegas very special to my family. That makes this week special for us."
Friday's autograph session was part of the day's "Burn-Out, Bowl-Off" event, which raises money to benefit Speedway Children's Charities. The night's charity bowling games represented Gaughan's final commitments before sliding into the seat of his No. 62 Chevrolet for a full day at the 1.5-mile track.
Practice began Saturday at noon ET for the one-day event. Gaughan has won once at Las Vegas, in 2003, and has two consecutive top-10s there.
"There's a lot of distractions, a lot of stuff that goes on that makes stuff difficult, but you compartmentalize it," Gaughan said. "When I get in the race car, that’s the most relaxing time for me."
As Gaughan spoke, a replay of last year's fantastic finish blared behind him one of the four TVs mounted over the autograph tables.
Gaughan watched the replay, then offered a possible preview for Saturday's race.
"It's not just Vegas; the Camping World Truck Series as a whole puts on good races. Trucks put on great racing," Gaughan said. "The fun part about this track is, it's bumpy. Even though it was repaved, it's rough, it's bumpy, it wears tires out a little bit. When you hit things here, you can see the sparks, you see guys in the air. Fans love seeing the sparks and the things that come with night racing, and we're ready to give it to them."