BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak Easy Share/Jasper Dodge) NOTE: Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR's longest race, but Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Brendan Gaughan has competed in plenty of longer races. Gaughan, fourth fastest in...
BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak Easy Share/Jasper Dodge)
NOTE: Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR's longest race, but Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Brendan Gaughan has competed in plenty of longer races. Gaughan, fourth fastest in Saturday's first practice session, recalls his third Baja 500 as an 18-year-old when he had to drive for more than 23 hours.
"I finished the Baja 1000 in 16 hours the year it took me 23 hours to finish the Baja 500. We had a long day in the 500 that year. Billy Holbrook was my co-driver, but he never drove. He didn't even stay awake the whole time. In the first mile I flipped twice and was stuck for 45 minutes. We ended up getting stuck about 15 times and caught on fire a bunch of times. The first flip we lost the fire extinguishers, so it was tough putting the fires out. We used dirt and blew on 'em after that. I did the whole 23 hours. J.C. Dean was my first partner. He had broken his wrist and was out for the year. Billy was riding with us, so I had to do the whole Baja 500 alone until the end. In order to get the points, J.C. had to get in and drive a mile.
"Roger Mears started in front of us, and in half a mile I had almost caught him. I flipped it in the second turn, got flipped back over and everything was gone. In Mexico they never tell you to slow down, but we were coming up on something and a bunch of people were telling us to slow down. They just wanted us to get stuck in the river, and that's why they slowed us down. Naturally, we got stuck in the river. I've got a great picture of me and Billy standing outside the Dodge Dakota, and I'm telling Billy where to dig. We were stuck for about 45 minutes.
"It was the start of a very long journey. We had a transmission line break, and that's what caught on fire. I learned a word in Spanish I'll never forget that night -- "umpulo". It's a funnel. This farmer was out on the road at 3 in the morning in the middle of nowhere watching the race. We stopped. I speak Spanish, but the word funnel is a word I never learned. I'm asking him for everything, but he knew I was trying to ask for a funnel. He played around awhile and then told me he didn't have one.
"We finally got going again. I didn't get sleepy, but I got frostbite and heat exhaustion in the same race. We got out once and had to do some work and got a little heat stroke, and then we hit the pine forest later that evening and actually got frostbite. I had to take my gloves off because I got 'em wet. I never wore gloves, so I got rid of them at the first chance. It got cold and I got frostbite. We got to kilometer 77, which is where the pine forest meets the pavement, and met up with some people and got rags and jackets and trash bags and warmed up. At this point it's still pouring rain. We had to do a 20-mile stretch down narrow pavement in an off-road truck. That Dodge Dakota didn't like the pavement, but we were floating down the road. We look over and there's Roger Mears.
We're back in second in our class. Parnelli Jones was also in my class. We're racing against some great drivers. We got on this mountain road, and I've never been a great cliff driver. We're on this mountain at night and it's dark and raining. I'm taking it easy and all of a sudden this light comes up behind us and it's Roger Mears. He passes us, and I'm trying to catch him. Billy Holbrook reached over and hit me harder than I've ever been hit in my life. He said, 'that guy races Pikes Peak and you're not going to keep up with him.' The Mears family is legendary for mountain racing. He did not want me trying to keep up, so I slowed down and about 10 miles later there's Roger off the side of the mountain.
"We kept going and got about a mile from the finish line. J.C., my partner, gets in and drives it home. I remember getting to the finish line. They had to carry me out of the car. My legs were cramped. The time limit for the race is 24 hours. We were there six minutes before the time limit. My driver's suit was a mess. That's what's fun about the desert. I think we finished third in class. Jack Johnson and Parnelli Jones beat us. We beat Roger Mears."
SO IS 600 MILES GOING TO BE A PIECE OF CAKE?
"I think that mental toughness will definitely come in. When you're racing with your fingers getting frostbite and you're freezing and then you get a touch of heat exhaustion in the same day, you go through a lot of emotions. Toughness is an advantage. California was a 500-mile race and I got burned. You keep going. You don't quit. You keep digging, and that's mental toughness. I think college football and college basketball definitely helped me with that. The thing I always try to think of in the 600 is the longer races I've been in. Robby Gordon is doing 1,100 miles Sunday. Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears and have all done the Baja races and spent 16 hours in racecars.
"There's a point where you've got to remember that's an edge for us. That's where you've got to draw on all that in the 600. At California with 65 to go, I was ready to give it up. My butt was burning. I was well done when I got out. I hit a wall, but I drew on everything I could. The shortest desert race is five hours. You just think of those days. I remember days when my kidneys hurt, I had a cactus needle in my arm and you're bouncing on it. I've played basketball with a broken ankle. I got into an argument with a fan the other night about why this is more of a sport than football, basketball or baseball.
"I can't take this quote as my own, but Ernest Hemingway had a great quote. He said there were only two real sports in the world -- bull fighting and auto racing. All the rest is just boys playing with sticks. It's true.
"I think the world of basketball players and football players and all the rest, but none of them have to go through the emotions and the mental and physical stresses that a racecar driver has to go through, and the 600 just adds a little more into it. It's a little bit longer, and you'll find the toughness. Look who won last year, Jimmie Johnson."
CAN YOU STILL MAKE THE TOP 10 AFTER 26TH RACE AND WIN RAYBESTOS ROOKIE TITLE?
"We've got to have a Ryan Newmanesque finish. We want to catch that chase for the championship. We know how to gain on it. We're qualifying better. The team is getting more pumped up. We're getting along well. We're just going to have to put on a Ryan Newmanesque deal. We're going to have to win, score some top fives and just start beating some guys and get to that 400-point boundary. If we can get there, then the sky's the limit.
"We've been coming in the Raybestos Rookie deal. We made up a lot of ground. Kasey Kahne had a great start, but he's leveled off a little. Now it's time for us. We knew we weren't going to start strong because we were behind a little bit We're not that far behind now. We need to jump up and get it done. We finished sixth at California. If I hadn't burned my butt we could have had a top five. Bobby Labonte was out of gas, and I missed fifth by a couple of inches. We've got the same car here. This is the same Dodge we had at California, and if we can pull it off in the 600 this will definitely be my favorite Dodge."