Las Vegas shifts into high gear this month when it hosts the annual NASCAR Weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March 6-9), followed by the 47th running of the Mint 400 off-road race (March 12-16). Veteran driver and Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan has experience on both the dirt and the asphalt, and he’ll return home March 8 to compete in the Boyd Gaming 300 Nationwide Series race.
Your dad, Michael, was big into off-road racing. Is that how you got bit by the racing bug?
That’s absolutely how it started. We were desert rats. Dad packed you up in the old Winnebago, and you went out and sat in the dirt and built dirt castles. The old Mint 400 was [four] 100-mile laps, so Dad came around once every hour and 45 minutes, and Mom would come out and say, “Here comes Dad!” You’d run out to the edge of the course and—vroooom!—there goes Dad! Then you went back and played in the dirt.
How long after you started racing off-road did you think it could be a career?
It was never thought of as a career. It was thought of as, “This is what we do for fun.” Then as I got better at it and the career came, it was like, “Oh, wow, I can do this for a living. This is really neat.” It’s so cliché, but they say if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. I race cars for a living. Are you kidding me?
More challenging: Racing on dirt or racing on asphalt?
If you’re talking about more challenging as a career, absolutely, NASCAR. The difficulty, the amount of money and what it takes to be good at this level—NASCAR careers are not easy. But if you’re just talking flat-out fun, insane, bad-to-the-bone driving, nothing beats the desert. The pitfalls and the accidents and the stuff you have to watch out for is tenfold out there compared to NASCAR. The desert is just more fun. That’s what I do for vacation.
Between you, Kurt and Kyle Busch, and now 18-year-old phenom Dylan Kwasniewski, Las Vegas is very well-represented in NASCAR. Are you all rivals?
It’s never been a rivalry—certainly not if you look at my career! [Laughs.] Kyle would probably laugh if I said I was a rival of his. Actually, we all root for each other. Yes, we want to beat the next guy no matter who he is, but we’re rooting for the Vegas crew. I hate to say it, because I’ll get made fun of, but watching Kyle Busch dominate—Kyle drove my pit-stop car for me when I owned my race team [in Las Vegas]; he was my pit-stop car driver. So I closet-ly root for him.
Better spectator event: The Mint 400 out in the desert or NASCAR weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?
Well, that’s the pitfalls of desert racing: It’s tough for spectators. There aren’t many great places to watch; if you’re lucky, you might find one good jump. … But when it comes to flat-out who is the best in the world at what they do, and taking care of fans and the fan experience, that’s NASCAR, bar none.
Last time you got pulled over for speeding?
[Long laugh.] Do I have to answer that question? I can’t remember the exact last time. … Here’s the deal: I’m not doing 100 mph. I get pulled over for doing 50 in a 35, and it’s on Russell Road where there are seven lanes. Those are my tickets. I’m not this 185 mph guy; I do that for a living.
So what’s your best advice for getting out of a speeding ticket?
I wouldn’t know. I don’t get out of them. My father always taught me, “You do the crime, you do the time.” And honestly, I don’t understand people who get mad at police officers. Every time I’ve gotten caught speeding, guess what? I was speeding. You got me. Thank you very much. Have a great day. You be safe.