NASCAR

Racing is not only sport for Gaughan

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Like most NASCAR drivers, Brendan Gaughan isn't physically imposing.

A candidate for rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series, Gaughan stands only 5-foot-9 and weighs about 170 pounds - which makes his athletic background even more surprising.

In addition to his victories and championships in various forms of racing, Gaughan played basketball at Georgetown. Yes, that Georgetown, where John Thompson roamed the sidelines with a towel on one shoulder and a scowl on his face.

A friend of a friend got Gaughan an opportunity to join the team as a walk-on practice player, and he eventually made it on the team.

Gaughan didn't see a lot of playing time with the Hoyas, but he was on the court for one minute in 1996 during a first-round game in the NCAA tournament. He didn't score, but he still lists that game as his greatest athletic achievement.

"It's cool to say I was a part of March Madness," Gaughan said.

He keeps in touch with some of his old teammates, including Allen Iverson, Don Reid and Othella Harrington. In fact, when Gaughan was in Daytona for the season-opening truck race, he made the 75-mile trip to Orlando to visit Reid, who plays for the Magic, and Harrington, who was in town with the New York Knicks.

"I got to shoot around a little bit with them before the game, just hang out," Gaughan said.

Getting time to catch up with Iverson is a little harder.

"Allen's got a lot going on, but we still try to talk to each other as often as we can," Gaughan said.

Gaughan also was an all-conference kicker on Georgetown's Division III football team, not exactly the place where you'd expect to find the next Jeff Gordon.

But Gaughan has made the successful transition from college athlete to NASCAR driver. He won the past two championships on the Winston West Series, a circuit that runs Winston Cup-style cars on the West Coast, and he's shown plenty of potential in his brief truck career.

He finished second last year at Texas Motor Speedway and added a third in Bakersfield, Calif., part of a seven-race schedule.

"Brendan's a guy who has started his career in NASCAR the right way," said NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. "He worked his way through the West series into the trucks, and from what I understand, with his talent, he'll soon be moving up to either the Busch Series or Winston Cup."

Actually, Gaughan's career started in trucks, just not on pavement. A native of Las Vegas, he ran off-road trucks for several years, and won the very first race he entered at age 15. He soon found his way to pavement, and the winning continued.

Now he needs to prove he can do it in a major NASCAR series.

"I feel like we've got a competitive team, and our goal is to run up front every week and win some races," Gaughan said. "With this team we've got, we should be able to do it."

Jimmie Johnson, one of Gaughan's closest friends, already has made the jump to Winston Cup. Johnson sat on the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and is 10th in the point standings, and he predicts a bright future for Gaughan.

"He has a great heart and he's very focused and dedicated," Johnson said. "He's got that racing mentality inside of him, and I think we'll be beating and banging on each other in Winston Cup before too long."

First things first, though.

"I know I'm not ready to move up now, but that's what we're working toward," Gaughan said. "Obviously, seeing the success Jimmie has had over there makes me anxious to join him, but I've got to stick to my plan."

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