Brendan Gaughan: Why NASCAR can run races in rain on road courses, but not ovals


ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Having grown up in Las Vegas and with a father who is a titan in the hotel and gambling industry there, Brendan Gaughan knows a thing or two about sucker bets and hustling a mark.

That’s why when the rain came midway through Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, Gaughan was smacking his chops and counting his chips.

“I love racing in the rain, it’s fun,” said Gaughan. “And when you’re good at it, it makes it even more fun.

“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time, that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade (was broken), I started to smell blood and said, ‘I’m coming.’

“It’s fun to watch guys who haven’t done it in the rain. They don’t understand the rain line, and fortunately for me, I did.”

When NASCAR officials called all competitors into the pits on Lap 27 and mandated that all cars switch from dry slicks to rain tires, it was a new experience for pretty much everyone in the field.

But not Gaughan (or for that matter, runner-up Alex Tagliani). He’s taken part in a number of races in the rain in various series in his career, including one of the two prior NNS races ran in the rain in Montreal in 2010 (the other was also in Montreal in 2008).

Like a poker dealer with a deck of marked cards, Gaughan the rain-racing veteran knew he had a marked edge over almost every other driver in the field – and then he went out and took advantage of it.

Granted, if Tagliani had not run out of fuel on Lap 49 and if the originally scheduled 50-lap race hadn’t been extended three more laps, Gaughan might not have won.

But those are too many ifs.

Still, the point is Gaughan did win, he had fun and wound up winning one of the most exciting and action-filled – albeit wet – NNS races the series has seen in a long time.

Not only did Gaughan teach a lesson to his fellow competitors on how to get around a slippery when wet racetrack (sorry Bon Jovi, I know that’s the title of your biggest-selling album/CD, but I couldn’t resist), Gaughan also made a very poignant comment in the track media center after the race.

Race fans have complained for years that NASCAR should run Sprint Cup races in the rain, rather than pushing them back or postponing them outright – like we saw earlier this year at Daytona and Texas.

The logic goes that if the technology exists to have rain tires run on road courses and in the Nationwide Series, why not extend that to the Sprint Cup Series.

After all, if Formula One, rally cars and other series can race in rain, why can’t NASCAR?

I admit, I’ve also often wondered about that, too.

So when I asked Gaughan — who is a pretty smart guy, having graduated from Georgetown University — after Saturday’s race why can’t we see Sprint Cup races run in the rain, he set me straight … and hopefully will teach many fans a valuable lesson after they read his words:

“You can’t on an oval, period, that’d be asinine and dumb,” Gaughan said. “You just can’t do it. There’s no rain line on an oval course.

“Here (at the Road America road course), you can get away from rubber. Here, you don’t have the same G-forces and physics acting upon your race car. You cannot race in the rain on an oval, it just will not happen.

“But on a road course, as we showed today, you can put on a hell of a race in the rain. … You got some spins, you had some excitement, then you saw old rain tire, new rain tire, dry tire at the end.

“I don’t know how much more drama (people could want) – what it looked like from the TV camera – but inside the driver’s seat, it looked pretty cool to me.”

Saturday’s race in the rain indeed was pretty cool. And now hopefully a lot of folks will finally understand why – unless it’s Sonoma or Watkins Glen – you can forget about seeing rain tires at every other Sprint Cup track on the circuit.

What worked for Gaughan in the rain on a road course at Road America just won’t translate on a conventional Cup track.

Gaughan is willing to bet you on that.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports expands mentoring program for tech school students

Photos: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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IndyCar team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced today that it is extending and widening a unique sponsorship and mentoring program that began last season with students from Lincoln Technical Institute.

The program began last year, with students from several Lincoln Tech branches attending select IndyCar events for an entire weekend.

The students, primarily from auto and diesel training programs, got an insiders experience with the team, taking part in team meetings, watching team workers prepare and service the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe, sat on pit boxes during practices, qualifying and, of course races.

The overall experience was to get students more interested and involved in potential careers in the IndyCar field.

“We said at the beginning of last season that we knew our students would benefit and learn from the professionalism and drive of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team,” Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw said. “But the experience they received working with the entire pit crew team and in particular crew member Cole Jagger – a Lincoln Tech graduate himself – went beyond even our own expectations.

“We were grateful for the time they spent mentoring our students, and we are thrilled to once again be part of the racing legacy of team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.”

Lincoln Tech will once again serve as an associate sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s car for the entire 2018 IndyCar season. In addition, it is expanding its Mentor Program to select students to attend a minimum of nine IndyCar races from six last season.

Students are selected based upon their grade point average, attendance, conduct and overall commitment to becoming outstanding automotive technicians. An interest in IndyCar and a desire to work in the industry is also considered.

One student that took part last season, Tyler Crist of Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus, joined the team at the IndyCar race in Long Beach last April, watching as Hinchcliffe won the event.

“It was the best weekend of my life,” Crist said after the event. “It reminded me of why I joined this field in the first place and to never give up on my dreams.”

Jagger will oversee the expanded mentoring program this season. For Jagger, being involved especially hits home, as he is a graduate of Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus.

“I totally enjoyed working with the Lincoln Tech students that participated in the Mentor Program last year and look forward to meeting this year’s group,” Jagger said. “Being a Lincoln Tech grad, I hope the students realize that if you have a passion for cars, a career in racing is something that’s not out of reach. If I can be an example for them to follow, that makes it even more rewarding.”

In addition to the at-track activities of the mentoring program, several Lincoln Tech branches across the country will utilize CNC computerized machining and manufacturing tools to assist in creating car parts for SPM.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to hopefully find the next class of talent that could one day be part of our organization,” SPM president Jon Flack said. “We’re looking forward to another year of the mentorship program and having their students be ‘boots on the ground’ gaining real-life experience with our team.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski