TALLADEGA, Ala. (Sept. 29, 2020) – “You know, I asked my uncle once how I’d know when it was time to stop. You know what he said? ‘The youngsters tell you.’” That quote came from the fictional character, Cal Weathers, in Cars 3, the 2017 Pixar movie that despite featuring talking cars, seemed incredibly real.
After all, rare is it when a racecar driver gets to go out on his own. More often than not, the grizzled veteran who seemingly not long ago was the sport’s upstart, is suddenly looking over his shoulder at another 20-something hotshot ready to take his place. These veterans typically fall into two groups – those who are caught off guard and those who hear the music playing and engineer an exit strategy. It’s atypical for a driver to say, “G’Night” on his own timetable and on his own accord.
Brendan Gaughan is that atypical person. The 45-year-old from Las Vegas has been racing in NASCAR since 1997, and before wheeling stock cars around asphalt ovals, he was navigating the silt and sand of off-road racing. He is the grizzled veteran who has been racing all his life, but when the checkered flag falls on the YellaWood 500 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Gaughan will close the chapter on his NASCAR career and enjoy life as a husband, father and part-time off-road racer. Gaughan is the lucky racecar driver going out on his terms.
But Gaughan considered himself lucky long before he embarked on a final, five-race NASCAR Cup Series campaign in 2020 that began with an impressive seventh-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. Luck found Gaughan in 2018 when he joined Beard Motorsports, the modern-day David competing against the Goliaths of the NASCAR Cup Series.
Owned by Mark Beard Sr., president of Beard Motorsports and various family businesses, Beard Motorsports has proven to be the little team that could, forming a strategic partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and focusing on Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and its sister track 500 miles north in Talladega, Alabama. With cars constructed by RCR and powered by ECR engines, Beard Motorsports has scored four top-10 finishes, the most recent of which came Aug. 29 at Daytona when Gaughan finished eighth in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
With one fulltime employee and only two racecars in its entire stable, Beard Motorsports unabashedly slings stones and, more often than not, connects, providing great satisfaction to the family-operated team.
Of Gaughan’s 66 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, 16 have been with Beard Motorsports. He has scored four top-10 finishes with the team, representing half of his career top-10s. Gaughan’s other four top-10s came during his rookie season in 2004 with Team Penske.
“The Beards are people who appreciate this sport, and love just being able to make these races,” Gaughan said. “I remind them all the time that they’re beating Roger Penske, they’re beating Joe Gibbs, they’re beating Rick Hendrick. They’re such great people and their family is awesome – their son Mark and their daughter Amie are such a big part of it – and I enjoy being with these people and seeing what we accomplish as a David versus the Goliaths.”
The feeling between Gaughan and the Beard family is mutual. Together, they carried the fun factor that powered each of them to go racing in the first place to the elite NASCAR Cup Series, where the pressure to perform can make fun fleeting.
The gregarious Gaughan and the hard-working Beards have enjoyed the fruits of their labor, and they have one more go-round to savor their racing utopia. The YellaWood 500 at Talladega marks the culmination of their work together, and as strongly as they believe in each other, they believe that they can win. It would be a send-off for the ages and it’s completely plausible as Brendan is #NotGaughanYet.
The YellaWood 500 starts at 2 p.m. EDT on Sunday with live coverage provided by NBC and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Brendan Gaughan, Driver of the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro for Beard Motorsports:
Talladega will mark your 67th and final NASCAR Cup Series start, and your 550th overall NASCAR start dating back to a career that began in 1998 in the Winston West Series. What is your mindset as you enter your last Cup Series race?
“We’ve got a job to do and that’s to still to go out and try and win the race. That’s what we show up to do every time we roll that No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Chevy Camaro off the hauler. That’s the first thing – to try to get the job done. After that, you think about the other things. I did not expect to have these last four years in NASCAR. The Beard family gave me something that was completely unexpected. They gave me this last little bit of fun and it’s been phenomenal. I want to go try and win one. I’ve got one more shot to win a Cup race and I’m gonna do my damndest to do it.”
NASCAR drivers are notorious for having a final NASCAR Cup Series race, only to return for a couple more “final” races. Any chance we’ll see you in the 63rd Daytona 500 in 2021?
“No. The Beards have asked me a bunch of times and Mrs. Beard drives a very hard bargain and she is very difficult to say no to, but it’s time. I’m honored that I’ve gotten to drive for the Beards. I think I’ve had four top-10s for that family in the 16 races I’ve driven for them. That’s pretty dang phenomenal for a team with one employee and two racecars.”
You’re retiring from the NASCAR Cup Series, but are you retiring from racing?
“No, I’ve always done the same thing as the Kenny Schraders and the Tony Stewarts and the Kenny Wallaces of the world where we want to drive anything at any place. We just don’t to do that job for a living anymore. As a matter of fact, the week before Talladega, the week of the South Point 400, I was racing the Baja 500. So that’s what I did in prep for Talladega.”
Getting to the NASCAR Cup Series is hard. What was the break you got to finally earn a spot in the Cup Series?
“A lot of my success early on, especially, is owed to Bill McAnally and the old Orleans Racing Team, with him and Shane Wilson and how we set ourselves up. It gave me a great opportunity with Roger Penske. That didn’t turn out quite the way we wanted, but I still had the opportunity to drive for The Captain. I came from off-road where Indy car drivers were king, like Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi, and those were the guys who drove for Roger. For me, it was a dream come true. I had an amazing opportunity that Bill and that team we built gave me. I look back on those days and the kids who were on that Orleans Racing Team and half of them are still in the Truck Series with big roles. Danny Stockton was a multiple-time-championship-winning crew chief with Austin Dillon. There are guys who are now the head of fab shops and guys who became big-time deals who were just kids in their teen years. We brought them down from a boat yard in Seattle to Las Vegas to work on racecars. That was an amazing team we built with Bill McAnally and NAPA Auto Parts. Those guys – that’s what got me my shot.”
How instrumental has your father been in your racing career?
“My father was a racer. His first Baja race was 1968. He’s been doing it forever. He’s won championships along the way and he did it for fun. He was building his own business empire, he was working for his father and racing for fun, and then when I was growing up, me and my brothers and sister, we’d all be out watching my father racing for fun. It was a hobby, which most NASCAR people started it as hobbies. Late Models and Super Stocks and Bombers and Street Stocks – that’s the fun that is NASCAR. My dad was instrumental because, for him, he always used to joke that my mother thought he was living vicariously through me, and I think we all do that with our children. He was able to give me an opportunity to get in cars and the opportunity to merge with the NAPA team and Bill McAnally and let us try to go race. My father is an amazing man. He’s a great father. He’s worked his tail off to do the things he wants to do when he wants to do them, and a lot of my work ethic comes from him.”
You raced for your dad at the start of your career. Is that part of the reason why a tight-knit, family-run team like Beard Motorsports appeals to you?
“You know, the teams where I’ve had the most fun are family-oriented teams. Richard Childress Racing is a family team. Richard owned it, Judy’s working there, Tina and Mike are working there. That’s why I love the family-run teams. But to end it out with the Beards, which is literally Mr. Beard, Mrs. Beard, Amy and Mark, Jr. – it’s a family that’s doing this with one crew chief. It’s kind of amusing that you start your career and you try to build this big team – be the big fish in the small pond, trying to be big – and you end you career in the biggest series with the smallest team outperforming the big teams.”
You’ve finished in the top-10 in 50 percent of the NASCAR Cup Series races you’ve run this year. What does that say about the preparation Beard Motorsports puts into its racecars and the patience you have behind the wheel to be in a position to earn a top-10?
“To my fans, they all know the same thing – there’s no need to watch the start of the race if you’re looking just for me. Just watch the last 20 laps. It’s kind of a boring race if you’re going to look for me in the early stages and there’s not a lot of TV time for the Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Chevy. But in the end, that’s how it works. It takes patience, it takes some strategy, it takes doing things a certain way. Fortunately, Darren Shaw (crew chief), myself, Ron Lewis (spotter), we all have that patience and we’re able to wait till the end. I look at when I first started for these guys – this is going to be my 17th start – with five laps to go in all of those races, I think there have been only two where I wasn’t running in the top-10. You just have to know how to be there at the end.”
What’s a memory that stands out the most for you as you look back at your NASCAR career?
“When you say retrospective, you can look at a lot of things. Winning the Truck race at Vegas – a huge highlight with 80,000 people in the grandstands, leading the points championship and winning that race, watching my dad cry. Winning the first Texas race. I mean, if you’re going to the track for 20-30 years, you can remember a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. Running the Punisher car for Penske at Bristol – running second behind Rusty Wallace all day long until we got wrecked intentionally. There’s all sorts of good and bad. I don’t sit there and try to focus on one. If you’re going to focus on one, people are going to say, ‘Oh, Homestead 2003’ (Truck Series finale). I just look at the whole picture and say I’ve had a whole lot more ups than I’ve had downs, and I’ve met some great people who have become great friends along the way.”
If you could write the title and script for your last NASCAR Cup Series race, what would it be?
“‘Gaughan Going Out in Style.’ I’d love to get a win on the way out the door. I don’t think you can write one any better than that. Hell, the way 2020’s been, stranger things have happened, so let’s go.”
If you’re not running Daytona and Talladega after this season, where can fans go to see you?
“The desert racing stuff. I just raced in Mexico with the SCORE Desert Series. I’ll be in my Class 1 car battling it out. You can see my kids racing. I gave my 7-year-old his first off-road race. Follow along on my Twitter and Instagram pages and see what comes next.”
Brendan Gaughan at Talladega:
- Gaughan has made 10 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Talladega in a career dating back to 2004. His best finish is fourth, earned in his second Cup Series start at the 2.66-mile oval in October 2004.
- Gaughan has led a total of 20 laps at Talladega, including in April 2019 when he led five laps en route to an eighth-place finish.
- Outside of the NASCAR Cup Series, Gaughan has 11 other starts at Talladega between the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. He has six Xfinity Series starts, with a best finish of fifth in April 2016. He has five Truck Series starts, with a best finish of eighth in October 2011.
- Beard Motorsports has fielded a car in seven NASCAR Cup Series races at Talladega. Its best finish is eighth in April 2019. All of Beard Motorsports’ starts have come with Gaughan.
- Of Gaughan’s 66 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, 16 have been with Beard Motorsports. Gaughan has scored four top-10 finishes with Beard Motorsports, representing half of his career top-10s. His other four top-10s came during his rookie season in 2004 with Team Penske.
- Beard Motorsports is part passion project and part corporate initiative, with the race team serving to market Beard Oil Distributing and TTS Logistics. Beard Oil Distributing is a third-generation, family-owned company that services the nation’s pipeline construction industry. TTS Logistics is an international freight company delivering an assortment of goods via ground, air and sea.