Brendan Gaughan’s chore of catching up with Nationwide Series co-leaders Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne seems a task more fit for a tortoise when you consider some of his other imposing sports ventures.
Like, say, trying to shadow basketball great Allen Iverson in practice.
Practice? Yes, practice. As in basketball practice at Georgetown, where Gaughan, the future sorcerer of trucks competition at Texas Motor Speedway was a walk-on under coach John Thompson from 1994-97.
That the NCAA Final Four in Arlington coincides with NASCAR’s race week in Fort Worth is a perfect coincidence for the Nationwide aspirant.
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His foundation for the business of the circuit’s winding road of triumphs and potholes wasn’t built on asphalt but rather the hardwood of historic McDonough Arena in Washington, D.C.
“You know the saying, ‘his crossover is so hard he broke your ankle?’ ” said Gaughan, who was part of two Big East championships, two NCAA Sweet 16s and a team that advanced to the Elite Eight. “Not a joke. [Iverson] broke my ankle the first week he was there.”
Not even the most efficient automobile engine tuned and polished by the best engineers can seem as fast as Iverson with a basketball in his hands.
Gaughan, 38, has been especially fast in is first year with Richard Childress Racing on the Nationwide circuit after a long career in the Craftsman Trucks Series, which included winning four consecutive races in 2002-03 at TMS.
Sitting in sixth in the series standings heading into Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 is the former Georgetown Hoya, who was a two-sport athlete in college. Gaughan was an all-conference kicker for the football team.
He has two top 10s in five starts, but shorted himself at Phoenix, where he finished 16th after a pit road speeding penalty, and Las Vegas, where a double speeding penalty led to 15th.
Gaughan’s team also had a clutch blow at the Auto Club Speedway in California last month.
“I’m kind of bummed,” said Gaughan, a talkative, witty sort who brought with him to RCR his longtime crew chief Shane Wilson. “We’ve [wasted] a lot of points. But, the good thing about is … we’ve got a lot of racing left.
“We’ve been fast every week. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. There’s no reason to think we won’t be up front [Friday night].”
Gaughan’s connection to college basketball continues to this day.
Though he picked Creighton and Villanova to make the final (family and Big East considerations), he has a clear favorite to win this weekend.
Wisconsin guard Ben Brust spots for him each June at the Road America race in Wisconsin.
“I gotta cheer for the spotter,” he said.
And, of course, he cheers for Georgetown, which he speaks about the way a father would his son.
It was, he said, “an amazing time,” his base not just for racing but for living.
“If it wasn’t for John Thompson, I would have just been a little spoiled brat who didn’t know how to act, didn’t understand what I wanted to be or treat people right,” said Gaughan, who had a racing background before entering Georgetown, having raced with his father annually in the desert at the Baja 1000.
“I have as much respect for him as I do my own father.”
When Gaughan graduated, Walker Evans asked him to join his truck team. He has eight career victories and 80 top 10s in that series. He also had four top 10s as a part-timer in Sprint Cup.
And he doesn’t have to guard Allen Iverson anymore.
“I would not put anything athletic by Allen Iverson,” Gaughan said. “I bet if you gave him some time in a car, he’d figure it out.”