In a racing career spanning three decades that intentionally began well off the beaten path in off-road before transitioning to the pavement bullrings of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and, ultimately, the gleaming showplaces of the NASCAR Cup Series, Brendan Gaughan has never lacked confidence.
He has backed up his bravado by winning off-road races and championships and scoring 16 victories across multiple NASCAR touring series. And that Rolex on his wrist isn’t from a swanky retail location in his hometown of Las Vegas. It’s from a far more exclusive outlet – the top step of the podium at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway when Gaughan was part of a class-winning drive in the 2011 Rolex 24 sports-car race.
Now a racing veteran at age 45, Gaughan carries the same confidence he did when he entered his first race – the 1991 Twilight 200 off-road race sanctioned by Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts – into his upcoming start in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.
Saturday night’s race will mark Gaughan’s fourth NASCAR Cup Series event of the season and his third on an oval. His most recent start came two weeks ago on the road course at Daytona, and his other two races took place on superspeedways – Feb. 17 in the Daytona 500 and June 22 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Gaughan drove his No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro to an impressive seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500, tying his best career result at the 2.5-mile oval, first earned in the 2017 Coke Zero Sugar 400.
“When we walk into Daytona, people want to work with us,” said Gaughan of his Beard Motorsports team. “I’ve got a big-thumping ECR motor and a good RCR-built Chevrolet. When we show up, people come and find us and say, ‘Hey, we’ll work with you. We know how good you are.’ It feels amazing, especially knowing what this team goes through to get a racecar on the track.”
Confidence. It comes from going toe-to-toe with the Goliaths of the sport, and Gaughan takes pride in Beard Motorsports’ David-like effort. This throwback race team has proven it can hang with the multicar outfits whose “guys back at the shop” reach into the hundreds.
Owned by Mark Beard Sr., president of Beard Motorsports and various family businesses, Beard Motorsports has taken a strategic approach to its racing endeavors, forming a technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and focusing on the superspeedway races at Daytona and Talladega. In a series dominated by multicar teams with hundreds of employees, Beard Motorsports does it with one full-time employee, crew chief Darren Shaw. Its one part-time employee, car chief Drew Mickey, is a fulltime, industrial plumber. And two of the crew members who come in on race weekends – one is a boat captain (Nic Hill) and the other is an automotive body technician (Jack Cagnon).
There are three key ingredients to success at Daytona – a sleek racecar, a powerful engine, and confidence in one’s ability behind the steering wheel. Beard Motorsports emphatically checks each box. It doesn’t seek glitz and glamour, but it also doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. And when the lights shine bright Saturday night at Daytona, know that this perceived little team that could, instead, views itself as the team that can.
“Brendan Gaughan scores first career NASCAR Cup Series win in Coke Zero Sugar 400,” is that a headline that can happen?
“The reason we show up is because that headline can happen, and that’s why the Beards show up with these racecars. The reason we work so hard to get ECR motors and pay the money to get the stuff we need to be good is to be able to get that headline. It would be a dream come true to get that headline and win my last two races. This is as good as any time for that to happen.”
Beard Motorsports is literally a single-car team with one fulltime crew member going up against teams with an armada of cars and personnel. How are you able to position yourselves for victory amongst these Goliaths of NASCAR?
“First, we have a lot of time to get one racecar prepared. It’s not like we’re trying to run every week back-to-back-to-back. Darren (Shaw, crew chief) has time in between races and, fortunately, we have a good relationship that goes back decades. Richard Childress has taken great care of me in the last 10 years of my career. He’s a great friend and the whole organization is filled with great friends. I’m very appreciative of the help they give to make us competitive. And ECR, Richie Gilmore and the guys there, they take great care of me when it comes to engines. It’s a lot about relationships. It’s a lot about history. How we’re able to do it is because of the relationships I’ve made over the years. Those guys do help and Darren works his tail off to make sure that car is perfect. I’ve never had a bolt come off or a tape measure roll out from under the seat or a wrench fall out of the car. I’ve gotten in that racecar every time and I could not tell you the difference between if an entire race team had prepared it or just Darren.”
The season-opening Daytona 500 went really well, as you finished a strong seventh. Your second superspeedway race at Talladega, didn’t go as well, as you finished 21st. How were those two races different and how do they frame your expectations for Daytona?
“Every time we show up, we have high expectations. We have great racecars. When you race at Daytona and Talladega, there’s always that risk. That’s the good and the bad of racing there. We’re coming back there with the same car that ran at Talladega and the Daytona 500.”
Has the nature of superspeedway racing changed much from last year?
“No, the only difference in this race is that it is the last race before the playoffs start. There will definitely be a greater intensity on those guys trying to get in. Look at the positions Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and William Byron are in. You know there’s going to be a major amount of intensity. Guys like a Michael McDowell or a Ty Dillon – this is their way to make the playoffs. So, I think you will see a lot more aggression, and a lot more intense racing, which could be good for us in the end because it could make for a few more cracked eggs early during stage ends. You’re going to see a lot more people going for it, and we’re going to be right up there in the mix. Out on the track, I could be your friend or I could be my own friend, but I could be a good guy to work with.”
Restarts are obviously a big deal these days, as that is where you can gain a lot of track position in a very short amount of time. But what are restarts like at Daytona where the draft is still prevalent? Are you able to gain positions like you can at other, intermediate-style tracks?
“Restarts at Daytona – the main thing is just what line is going to push better. It’s not going to be like the chaos of restarts at the places we’ve been seeing. Restarts this year have been absolutely, phenomenally insane watching as a NASCAR fan. But Daytona and Talladega, it’s all about that teamwork. It’s about two drivers that can hook up, give the hand signal and push each other. And then, who’s going to be the guy that dives to the inside or dives to the outside to make it three-wide? Restarts at Daytona and Talladega are a totally different animal, and with the intensity of the playoffs looming and those guys on the bubble, you’re going to see a lot more aggression on those restarts than normal.”
Your schedule this year was specific – only the races at Daytona and Talladega – with the main goal to have fun. Amid the protocols for COVID-19 and with limited fans in attendance, is it still fun?
“It’s definitely not as fun as it should be, and it’s kind of a bummer. This was supposed to be my last year of hanging with the guys that are taking care of me – Darren Shaw, the Beard family. Having the Beards at the racetrack and letting them enjoy the spoils of being NASCAR owners – let them enjoy what they’ve been working so hard to do. So, it’s kind of a bummer because that did get taken from a few of us. I still love the racing when I’m there, but it’s definitely not as much fun when I have to stay in the motorhome until 10 minutes before the race and then go out to pit lane. But I can still put a smile on Darren’s face and the Beard family’s faces, and still give them a good run, which will make all of us happy.”
It was hot at the Daytona road course two weeks ago, and it will be hot again this weekend. How do you deal with the heat?
“I went to Disney World the week before with my son and I called that my pregame so I could get used to the humidity. But heat has never been a big factor for me. It wasn’t at Daytona. Yes, it was hot at the road course and I’m not going to tell you that that red flag didn’t feel pretty good for all of us to get out and get a little refresher, but I’ve never had that be a problem mentally or physically, and it wasn’t at Daytona at the road course.”
Prior to the Daytona road-course race, you returned to your roots and competed in the Vegas-to-Reno off-road race. How was it?
“We were third in class and running in the top-15 overall after starting 38th when I made a mistake at race mile 360. We got stuck for about 30 minutes, but still got out and finished. I don’t know where we finished overall, but we finished fifth in class. I made one mistake and we went into a ditch. I couldn’t get out. Fortunately, we had a teammate that runs a different class that pulled up. We hooked a tow strap to it and he pulled us out and we were able to keep our day moving.”