It’s been a busy month for us! It started at Dover International Speedway, where we just didn’t run as well as we would have liked. I like Dover a lot; it’s one of my favorite places. We got hit on pit road and had to go to the back and work my way back up through the field. We worked our way up; we still were very good, but it took us all day to get back to a spot to battle for position. I’ve had more mistakes this year than I think I’ve ever had in my life. So, we had kind of a snafu on pit road, and we were able to rebound and finish 12th. We should have been better than that, but that’s just racing. Unfortunately, when I make mistakes, it makes those days like Dover look worse because I’ve had a bunch of weeks where we didn’t get a good finish. Normally, you have your finishes you deserve before you have a bad day, and then those days are just blips on the radar screen.
We’ve had some weird things happen this year. That’s kind of just the story of me. We’ve always had that. We were running good at Charlotte Motor Speedway and had a flat in the middle of traffic. We ran over a piece of debris that missed three cars to find me. Last year at Kentucky Speedway, we had an oil line issue—a super freak thing. Some days in racing, you just shake your head and go, “wow.” It’s racing. Things happen in racing. It’s hard to win. If we minimize our mistakes, so that way when we have the sort of day when something does go wrong, it doesn’t hurt us as bad because we’re in a position where it doesn’t hurt us. We’ve just got to minimize those days.
After Dover, we went to Michigan International Speedway. At Michigan, we never got a hold of the track the way we wanted. Paul Menard won the race, which was awesome. That was the brand-new race cars we’ve gotten from Richard Childress Racing. Richard said that, in the Nationwide Series, he wasn’t happy with our performance, and we’ve been working toward these new cars. That was the first race where all four of us had new cars, and they all worked very well.
We did not do as well as we wanted to at Michigan, but Paul won and we were fast at times, but we ran out of gas with two to go, basically in sight of the white flag. We went on a fuel-saving move, and came up a lap and a half short. You have to take those risks in racing. To win these races, you have to take chances. Shane and I took a chance and came up short, but the car was running like eighth when we ran out. We were good, and we took a shot. I’ll accept that any day of the week. South Point Casino is the name on the door, so if we don’t gamble, the owner gets a little angry.
The next week we went to Road America. I can’t remember what happened at Road America… Seriously, it was a fantastic week that I tried to screw up a couple times. The minute we unloaded, that car was fast. I love Road America and Shane knows I love road racing. We were really strong right from the get-go. We were excited that we didn’t have to make many changes. We’d gone to a test earlier with Andy Lally. Andy and I are about the same size, height wise, so he was able to get right in my seat and drive the racecar. It wasn’t that he set the car up for me or anything like that at the test, but it gave me confidence. I think very highly of Andy and his road course skills in these cars. I was able to do things that he did; our data overlayed each other because we have the same driving style. I felt really good about coming to Road America.
Once we got there, we were fast in practice, fast in qualifying. Everything was great. Everything was looking really good, and we went out and I tried to screw up a bunch. We started fifth and got up to second, everything was looking good, and I screwed up a block and packed the grille. As a driver, those are the embarrassing days where you think, “oh my God, my crew chief is going to kill me; we were running second.” I called Shane and said we were hot and had to come in. Sometimes crew chiefs, during a race, lie to the driver. Well, sometimes the driver lies to the crew chief. I told him the grille was packed and we were hot and had to come in, and he asked how hot. I told him it was around 250. He told me it was ok, we’d clean it up and we could run with that. Well, it was really about 275. The ECR engine shop builds good power but they’re also pretty darn tough. I packed the grille with mud twice and took it up to 275 twice.
The second time, I was in the lead and Shane had great strategy to get us back in it. We gained track position, we were in the lead; everything was fine. We didn’t have tires, so we thought we were going to fade to maybe second or third, but we were going to be okay. And I went off again. I was so mad. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t even call Shane, I called my spotter from the furthest possible part of the track where I knew Shane couldn’t hear me and told him I’m coming in. I don’t tell him why, I don’t tell him anything, I just say I’m coming in. Shane knew it and he went, “hey boys, how about we do the same stop we did last time?”
It takes the wind out of your sails. Now, we were running in the middle of nowhere. There was nobody within a mile of me and I couldn’t see anybody and nobody could see me. All I had was my thoughts. I was kicking myself in the head, thinking, “you screwed up. You had the Chevrolet that was the fastest. We did the fastest lap of the race and you just screwed up.” It was embarrassing, and I felt bad; there was no strategy move that was going to get us back to the front. I thought we were done.
Then Shane started talking about rain, and I thought, “well, I am good in the rain.” I’ve been giving him hell for the last couple of weeks. For fifteen years I’ve been telling him I’m good in the rain, and back in the day, he’d tell me it doesn’t matter, we don’t race in the rain. But I’ve always told him how good I am in the rain and he just gives me a roll of his eyes and goes, “yeah, whatever, kid.” Then the rain came. We were in 25th place when we came onto pit road. We put rain tires on. We had no windshield wiper, so I was a little nervous about that, but we put some Rain-X on the window and on the first lap, I was 25th.
When we came around the next time, I was tenth. Shane never hides his emotions well. I could hear the inflection in his voice when he said, “tenth place; keep going.” Next lap we were seventh. Next lap, we were fifth. We were just flying by people in the rain. Fortunately for me, I’ve raced at Road America in the rain and it worked out very well. We got to the finish, and we had a few little questions on what to do, but Shane handled it well, we handled it well, and we ended up not having to worry about fuel on a green-white-checkered. I made a pass back for the lead, held everybody off, and came home with our first win in over ten years.
It felt amazing.
Coming to the checkered flag, when I came out of Turn 14 and knew the checkered flag was just up that hill, all of a sudden part of me was like, “please tell me this is the checkered and not the white.” All of a sudden I was thinking, “what is the flag?” Then I saw the checkers flying, it was just a flood of emotions. It’s been so long since I won. It wasn’t like it was handed to us. It wasn’t like it was in conditions that most NASCAR drivers couldn’t do. There were just so many emotions. To have Shane Wilson and Harley Rauch, who have been with me since 1999; Kenny Dixon was on my original team back in Las Vegas back in the early 2000’s. Shane was there, and my spotter, Bill Holbrook. I use two spotters this year. I use Stevie Reeves, who is Paul Menard’s spotter, except when Paul is racing or running somewhere where Stevie can’t get to us. Then I bring in my old spotter, the Batman we call him. He’s been with me since my desert days. So I had the Batman spotting for me, I had Shane, Harley, Kenny—all these guys from the past. It mean a lot to have them there, and then the kids who had never won a race, period. A lot of the guys on this team had never won anywhere. So there was just a ton of emotion coming up that hill, and then just to do it again was a feeling that I will always remember and cherish.
How did we celebrate? We celebrated by getting on a plane and heading back to North Carolina. We didn’t land until about ten or eleven o’clock and last call isn’t real late for North Carolina. We just went to a local bar in Mooresville with all of the boys and sat there, all of us smiling. It was kind of a sigh of relief. Everybody just sat there smiling. That was really all we could do. I didn’t get the chance to be home with my family because they were in Las Vegas and I had to leave for Kentucky. I did Facetime with my wife and kids. My kids aren’t really old enough to understand winning yet, but my wife was ecstatic and mad that she didn’t get to be there for it. It was just an amazing feeling.
The next week, we went to Kentucky Speedway. Our RCR cars are getting better. We went to Kentucky and practiced well and raced well. Shane and I had a debate on what setups to use. We both wanted something different, so we had to figure out which one we wanted and which one we could adjust on. We had a decent race; it wasn’t great, but in the end, we made a couple little strategy calls and got some track position. Next thing we knew, we were restarting on the outside and going to the front. We got to race up front where we needed to be. Our cars are getting faster. They’re getting better, and we’re going to start beating those guys pretty soon. It was nice to come back from Road America and have another good run, another positive points day. We’ve made up 45 points on the leader in three weeks, and that’s a big chunk. We were saying the championship was out of reach and we were looking at top-5, whatever we could get, but we’ve gained a ton of points right here. The team is excited and happy and we’re just going to try to take it one race at a time and gain points.
Story of the Month
Let’s stick with the Jackie Gaughan theme. Here’s one from during my lifetime. I was fortunate enough to get to deal for my grandfather when he was still running his casinos. The fun part of dealing at the El Cortez was that so many of the dealers and so many of the players had been there since my father was a shift boss there, so it was fun being around them. But everybody in town knew Jackie Gaughan. They all felt like they were best friends with him and he knew them well, and he was thier buddy. When I was dealing, I was there to learn things and to do things better. Well, I can deal left-handed and right-handed. Sometimes, players get a little superstitious and don’t like left-handed dealers.
So there was a player at their high-dollar table, the five-dollar blackjack table at the El Cortez—that was their high limit game. I was dealing. One shoe, I’d deal right-handed, and the next, I’d deal left-handed. This player did not particularly like this. He was a player who had been there since my dad was there and kind of one of those guys that you’d just roll your eyes at and know that he’s a player, but he’s kind of a pain in the butt some days. He started yelling at me that he was good friends with Jackie, and he was going to get my butt fired. Old Nick, who had been there since my dad had been there, asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was switching between shoes and going left-handed and right-handed, to practice. He kind of laughed and said, “is that all you’re doing?”
I said, “Yes, sir, that’s all I’m doing.”
So he told this guy there was nothing that he could do; I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just dealing both left-and right-handed, practicing. My grandfather used to have a dog that was always with him. Charlie was his name. Well, all of a sudden, here came Charlie, running between the pits, and I could feel him go between my legs. That was a sign that here comes Grandpa. I was dealing cards, and I looked up and kind of smiled, and this guy says, “That’s it, I’m getting your butt fired, kid. Here comes Jackie.” Grandpa came up behind, and the guy starts going, “Jackie, Jackie!”
Grandpa puts his arms around me and gives me a hug and a kiss and says, “We doing lunch today, Brenny?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I’ve got my fifteen minutes, I’ll spend it with you at lunch.”
Meanwhile, this guy says, “Jackie! I need to talk to you about this guy!”
And Grandpa goes, “Isn’t he great? He’s my grandson, don’t you love him?.” The guy just sat there with his jaw dropped.
I was standing there with my deck of cards, and I gave Grandpa a hug and said, “I love you Grandpa.” He walks away and this guy is just sitting there looking at me like, ‘oh, I don’t like you.” Brendan Gaughan