Starting out the season, we go to Daytona International Speedway right out of the box. Everybody always says, “Oh, it’s Daytona,” and all these great flowery things. In reality, the way the racing is — and it’s great racing — but as a driver, you just hope to make it out of there in one piece. We were able to make it out of there and have a good finish for a change. I looked at the stats. In six out of the last seven years, I’ve been running in the top 5 or top 10 and I have one top-10 finish. It’s like every year, I just wait for the sky to fall at the end of that race. This year, we finished sixth. We could have been a little better, but we could have been a lot worse. So we thought, “Cool, we didn’t dig a hole.”
After that, we started the real racing season. We went to Phoenix International Raceway and were running in seventh place and for the first time in six years, I got a pit road speeding penalty. I knew I did it. In this sport, everybody likes to yell and scream and say they didn’t do it and they weren’t speeding. They figure the crew chief, or whoever set the tachometer, made a mistake. I called my crew chief and said, “Uh, I think we might be screwed.” I knew what I did and I knew right where I did it. We got caught. I pushed a little too hard, it’s so tough to pass and I was trying to race a couple guys off pit road, I was trying to get there — and I missed. There’s nothing you can do except not do it again.
So, what did I do the next week at my home race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? I did it again. Not only did I do it again, but I doubled it up with a double-dipper of speeding. That was stupid; I’m still mad at myself for that because I let my team down in a big way. We cost ourselves two top-10 finishes. You have to look at points from the start of the season if you’re going to race these things for championships, and that’s 15 points I threw away with pit road speeding penalties. Fortunately, our Chevrolets were so good we were at least able to get back to the top of what we could get back to. Nobody was on our lap in front of us at Las Vegas and we finished on the lead lap in Phoenix. We got as many spots back as we could, and that minimized the damage.
Next, we went to Bristol and we were stupid fast. We qualified 20th and on the first run, we went close to 100 laps under green. In those first 100 laps, we went from 20th to fifth. We could pass everywhere. It was probably one of the best race cars I’ve ever had at Bristol. Matt Kenseth was so strong he lapped everybody to seventh place. We made our way up to sixth, didn’t get lapped, and then on the last restart we were fifth. On the last restart, that put us on the bottom, and nowadays with the double-file restarts, there’s always one line that favors you over another, and the bottom was not the favored line. We lost a couple of spots and finished seventh, but we were right up there with the leaders, contending with all the Cup regulars.
After that, we had a great run going at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Everything was smooth sailing and we were going to finish seventh or eighth. That’s not as good as we want to be. We want to be better, but seventh or eighth would have been a decent day. This time, we had a clutch blow out. Of course, we didn’t find this out until we were on pit road. Because, you don’t use your clutch except in one circumstance — on pit road.
So, when I put the race car into gear as the pit crew went from the right-side tires to drop the jack — they go to the left side and you put it in gear in between — it lunged forward and then I drove the car off the jack. That’s when we realized that the clutch was gone. Things happen in this sport occasionally. You have to give a little leeway for that. Fortunately for us, the clutch wasn’t a race-ender. I was able to finish the race, I just had to be pushed off of pit road and it was fine from there. Unfortunately, it cost us a lap under green. We got the “wave-around” to get back on the lead lap, but everybody was on fresh tires and I had my old tires. I still passed two cars with my old tires, we had that good of a Chevrolet.
If you look at all of our RCR cars this year we’re sitting third, sixth, and seventh in NASCAR Nationwide Series points. We’re strong. We have Ty Dillon as a rookie doing a great job being consistent. Brian Scott is fast every week, and those guys have their qualifying programs down. They are setting a blistering pace. I’m way behind in the qualifying program right now, but we turned it up at Auto Club Speedway. They played it on television and we were laughing because we had no idea where that speed came from. But with all that said, even when I’ve screwed up in qualifying, we have such fast Chevrolets that sometimes we get it right.
All three teams are strong. We’re not quite as strong as we need to be to get up front to battle with some of the leaders yet, but we are going to get there before the middle of this season.
Off the track, we had a standard start to the year. It was business as usual at Daytona. We’re working on trying to get some sponsors on the No. 62, and we’ve gotten some this year. We had Wix Filters, which was cool because we called it the “Wixty-Two” in Fontana. We have Smoky Mountain Herbal Snuff coming on for the November race at Texas Motor Speedway. We have University of Northwestern Ohio on board. That’s the stuff I have to work hard on. I have my JoinATS.com people coming back. All those things are what you work so hard on.
Las Vegas, for me, is always one of the toughest weeks of the year. It’s unlike anybody else’s home track race because of what Vegas is, because of the atmosphere. I laugh and joke that all my good friends who call me “Brandon” come out of the woodwork and all of a sudden, my nickname is, “Ticketmaster Hotel Reservations and Show Reservations.”
Oh, and everybody wants it for free. I think they think everything is free in Las Vegas.
Near the end of the Las Vegas week, we knew that my grandfather was slowing down pretty good. I didn’t let it affect me when I was racing, but with all the distractions off the track it was just another thing — this was a real life thing to deal with. All the other things aren’t so much real life, but that was one that was. Fortunately for us, my grandfather passed away very quickly. He had no pain, no cancer, none of the things we all hope we don’t get. My grandfather died of old age at 93 years old. You can’t ask for anything better than that. He had an amazing life. He did things that will never be able to be done again. He saw things that we wish we could tell all the stories about. He was pretty damn cool. He even got to hang out with the Rat Pack — that’s the epitome of cool. Maybe kids today don’t even know who they are, but I’m old enough to know that there was nobody cooler in the world than the Rat Pack, and he got to hang with them. It was a sad day for Las Vegas, but as a family, we were happy that it was peaceful and we were all there with him.
We’ve done a pretty good job of branding with South Point at the races. But if you’re from Las Vegas, you know there’s quite a history with my family there. My grandfather got there in the late 1940s and had an amazing run. He was an innovator of many things before anybody else tried them. He was doing it and he was the one who got it done.
My dad kept on the tradition of innovating things in his business. People say how great Jackie Gaughan was for this town, but they don’t give enough credit to how great this town was for Jackie Gaughan. Our whole family owes a lot to Las Vegas and the people here. We really do. It was evident at my grandfather’s funeral, but this town is just very special to us. We still hear the stories of all the things he did for people over the years. We aren’t surprised to hear any of them. He was one of the last pioneers of the gaming business and the modern casino. He was the last one of that era left. It’s funny, my dad and Mr. Wynn and Mr. Binion were kind of joking about the old-timers, and they looked at each other and said, “Oh, crap. We’re now the old-timers!” Now that my Grandpa is gone, they’re the old timers, my dad and Mr. Wynn and Mr. Binion.
Crazy Story of the Month
Let’s tell a good Jackie Gaughan story. When my grandfather bought the El Cortez from Benny Siegel (people better know him as Bugsy Siegel, but my family always called him Benny), Grandpa signed the paperwork, it was all done, Jackie Gaughan owned the El Cortez. Then, as he was walking away, Mr. Siegel said to him, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, you’re stuck with Fat Irish.”
My grandfather looked up and said, “Excuse me?” Fat Irish was a man, I don’t remember his real name, but he was Fat Irish Green. He was basically living at the El Cortez, and Mr. Siegel said that Fat Irish had to live there until the day he was done living there. My grandfather looked at Mr. Siegel and said, “Fine, I’ll house him, but you have to feed him.” And as you can tell by the name Fat Irish, the housing part ended up being much cheaper than the feeding part. Every day, if Fat Irish ate at the El Cortez or if he went down to the old Flamingo, Mr. Siegel paid to feed him. Jackie Gaughan would send him the bill every month for how much Fat Irish was eating.
Until the day he passed, Fat Irish lived at the El Cortez and Jackie Gaughan honored his promise to Mr. Siegel that Fat Irish was housed at the El Cortez.
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