With the season of my favorite sport getting underway this week, I figured I would bring you two special stories dealing with auto racing. One a about a Vegas raised son of a prominent hotel/casino owner, and the other about four-rookies starting their career in auto racing.
One of my favorite NASCAR race car drivers is a kid who grew up on the deserts of Southern Nevada, became a champion off-road racer, is a hell of a NASCAR competitor, and who will be driving in the Great American race, the Daytona 500 this Sunday. If you want to bet on an underdog, look no further than Beard Motorsports and its driver, and my friend of at least 30 some years, Brendan Gaughan.
Gaughan will put a cap on his 23-year NASCAR driving career by running a four-race NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2020, beginning with the 62nd Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fl.) International Speedway. The 44-year-old racer from Las Vegas is competing for Beard Motorsports, driving the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro. After Daytona, Gaughan will return to the seat April 24-26 at Talladega (Al.) Superspeedway, returning on Aug. 27-29 at Daytona, and Oct. 2-4 at Talladega for what will be his final NASCAR Cup Series start.
But this is not only about Brendan and his racing, it’s also about his love of “Shine,” or to put it in terms we normal drinking people would understand: “Moonshine!” Yep, the good old southern spirit got to Brendan when he moved to North Carolina (moving there in 2008 when he began his career as a full-time competitor in NASCAR). That’s when he began to develop a taste for home-made whiskey (very popular in the south), thus he also became interested in the history of “Moonshine.” Brendan would listen to wild stories about “Moonshiners,” and one story about an old “moonshiner” called “The God of Shining,” Popcorn Sutton (who reportedly was the greatest distiller in the country until his death in 2007), tweaked his interest even more. Telling some of the stories was a 20-year veteran official of NASCAR, Mike Dolan, who over the years had been known to brew some damn good “shine.”
Brendan and Dolan became good friends, and when Gaughan was beginning to think of retiring he also came up with an idea: open a legal “shine” distilling company in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. Dolan agreed to move to Vegas as his “Distiller.” They named the company “17A,” in honor of Dolan’s official NASCAR radio designation, his former career, their southern beginnings, and everyone knows that the best shine comes from the South.
“If I was going to do this I had to have the ‘best of the best moonshiner’ and that was Michael,” Gaughan said. In 2016 “17A” began the lengthy process of licensing to become the first legally licensed whiskey distiller in the City of Las Vegas (Las Vegas Distillery was the first to get a license in Henderson). With a legal license to produce whiskey, the first bottles of “City Lights Shine” was bottled and ready for distribution on November 6, 2017. The first two flavors were Salted Caramel and Cherry Lemon. Dolan has since created Raspberry, Strawberry, Blueberry, and naturally Clear to its growing list of Las Vegas brewed Shine. Oh, yeah, guess how many lemons it takes to flavor a barrel of Cherry Lemon Shine? Exactly 230 peeled lemons.
Neither Gaughan nor Dolan were satisfied with just using Las Vegas water. Oh, no, they had to have their very own North Carolina water. So, a device was purchased that would convert Vegas water to what Dolan required–the exact taste of North Carolina water. ‘It’s just one of many things we do to make our whiskey so special,” Michael explained. To get the full story about “City Lights Shine” go to https://citylightsshine.com/.
Gaughan has made 12 NASCAR Cup Series starts with Beard Motorsports, all happening at Daytona and Talladega. And in a series dominated by multicar teams with hundreds of employees, Beard Motorsports does it with one full-time employee, crew chief Darren Shaw: Its one part-time employee, car chief Andrew Mickey, a fulltime industrial plumber. Two mechanics come in on race weekends – one is a boat captain (Nic Hill) and the other is an automotive body technician (Jack Cagnon). Brendan brings his buddy, Bill Holbrook, along as his long-time spotter. Holbrook, incidentally, is also Operations Manager at City Lights Shine.
Beard Motorsports has proven to be the little team that could, a 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 taken a strategic approach to its racing endeavors, forming a technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and only racing at the superspeedways–Daytona and Talladega. With cars constructed by RCR and powered by ECR-built engines, Beard Motorsports has scored two top-10 finishes, the most recent being an eighth-place drive last April at Talladega where Gaughan led five laps.
In fact, it was last October at Talladega where five laps short of the finish, Gaughan took the lead as the field approached turn three of the 2.66-mile oval. Unfortunately, Gaughan never made it through turn three, as he was sent airborne after being involved in a multicar accident. Gaughan walked away from the spectacular crash unhurt, and despite the 27th-place finish, remained upbeat as he spoke to reporters outside the infield care center following a precautionary medical evaluation. The No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro had run up front and was this close to slaying Goliath. Gaughan could taste the victory, and while the outcome proved to be bittersweet, it set the stage for an epic comeback in this years’ Daytona 500.
Don’t count out No. 62 in the 62nd Daytona 500, because Brendan is #NotGaughanYet.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
Bill McAnally has been in the race game for many years, so it’s hard for him to experience something for the first time. However, the owner of the racing team that bears his name enters the 2020 auto racing season in uncharted territory. Coming off a 2019 campaign that saw Bill McAnally Racing win its ninth NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards West) title, there are no returning drivers on the team.
“We’ve built our program for years where we’ve always had one returning driver to be the senior driver and help our rookies,” McAnally said. “Chris Eggleston to Todd Gilliland to Derek Kraus to Hailie Deegan – we’ve always had a senior driver. So, this is unique to not only have four rookies, but four rookies who haven’t spent a lot of time on asphalt.”
McAnally’s team consists of a trio of 18-year-olds: Gio Scelzi, Holley Hollan, Gracie Trotter, and 15-year-old Jesse Love. All four will get their first taste of ARCA Menards West racing when they enter The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Feb. 20 for the Star Nursery 150. The last name Scelzi may sound familiar to drag racing fans. Gio’s father, Gary, is a four-time NHRA World Champion – three in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car.
“My dad is supportive, no matter what I want to race,” Gio said. “He just wants me to do what makes me happy, and this is something that I’m really going to enjoy. With Bill McAnally Racing and Toyota Racing Development behind us, and to be a part of a team like this, it’s really something special.”
While Scelzi blazes his own path in the racing world, Trotter is also hoping to make her dad, Tracy, proud. “My dad wanted to go racing when he was my age, and he just couldn’t afford it. He says I’m out here living his dream,” Trotter said. “I never would’ve thought I would be back in an ARCA car doing this. It’s pretty exciting and surreal, and I’m looking forward to taking this challenge on.”
Trotter has experience racing on pavement, but two of her teammates are new to it. Hollan, like Scelzi, has raced exclusively on dirt in her young career, and will now transition to the pavement. However, just because they are green when it comes to asphalt doesn’t mean they’re going to be slow learners.
“It’s hard to pinpoint what I want to accomplish, but I’m a race car driver, so I want to win races,” Hollan said. “I’m setting attainable goals and I know I’ll work hard to achieve them. You want to be in the top 10, then the top five, and then on the podium. I’m a big believer that if you aren’t ready for an opportunity, it won’t be there, so I’m looking forward to coming in with BMR.”
Love, the youngest of the group by several years, doesn’t lack for confidence. “I’m really excited, and not nervous at all, because I’m prepared for the task and have been working to get to this point,” Love said. “I’m really confident in my abilities, and in this team. I like pressure, and I feel like you can use it to help yourself sometimes. I’m looking forward to helping Bill bring home his 10th championship.”
McAnally, whose team dominated last season led by Derek Kraus’ five wins and Hailie Deegan’s two victories, brought his team to The Bullring at LVMS on Jan. 28 for a practice session ahead of the Star Nursery 150. He says he’s realistic about bringing in four rookies, and knows it’s going to take some time to get them acclimated. But the end of the season goal is clear.
“We’re going for a championship – that’s what we do every year,” McAnally said. “We go out to win every race and go for a championship. But we will do everything we can to help them, and I want the kids working hard going into every race.”
Well, gang, don’t forget the “Boys of Thunder” will be at our own speedway beginning with the Strat 200 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race on Friday; Feb. 21, the Boyd Gaming 300 Xfinity Series race on Saturday, and the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.