UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Brust gets NASCAR job for a day

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Ben Brust was shown a map of the Road America track at Elkhart Lake and prodded to pinpoint his location during last Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the Johnsonville Sausage 200.

Using a pen to identify where he was standing on the winding 14-turn, 4-mile circuit that winds through scenic Kettle Moraine, he jabbed at the map and said, "I'm near a hamburger stand right here."

X marked the spot -- or in this case -- the spotter, who just happened to be the leading scorer on last season's Wisconsin basketball team. That would be Brust, a passionate NASCAR devotee.

Brust was spotting for Brendan Gaughan, a 37-year-old driver for Richard Childress Racing and a former walk-on basketball player at Georgetown University.

"Boom, right there," said Brust, pointing to the Road America map, "I had him (Gaughan) coming out of (turn) 6, the slight right at 7 and then I had a really good view of 8 from my angle."

If necessary, he could also partially follow the No. 26 car (Gaughan's car) through turns 9 and 10, otherwise known as the "Carousel" -- a lengthy tight-turning stretch that curves into a straightaway.

Whereas one full-time spotter is standard for oval racing, multiple spotters are necessary on a road course to see everything. Brust, a volunteer, was one of Gaughan's three spotters at Elkhart Lake.

Armed with a two-way radio, he might alert Gaughan to a driver that had spun out ahead of him by merely saying, "Spin in front, spin in front. Check up, check up. All clear, no pressure."

Short is sweet for Brust who has had some experience as a race fan monitoring scanners. "It's got to be precise and to the point," he said, "to make sure he (Gaughan) knows what's going on."

Less can be more. As such, there were some situations where Brust had to use his best judgment on what to say or not say. "Brendan trusted me," he said. "He knew I'd be able to handle it."

Brust and Gaughan were brought together by fate, resolve and racing.

A couple of years ago, ESPN basketball analyst Steven Bardo alerted Brust to Gaughan.

"He (Bardo) said, 'Hey, I heard you're into NASCAR, if you get a chance, you should check out Brendan,'" Brust recounted. "He put the name into my head and I went on Twitter and looked him up."

Brust learned that Gaughan, a Las Vegas native, was a 5-foot-9 walk-on guard at Georgetown; a practice player that wound up befriending Allen Iverson and seeing action in 25 career games.

Gaughan was also a placekicker on the Hoyas' football team, which competes within the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). In 1994, he converted on 39 of 40 extra points.

As a driver, Gaughan has steadily evolved from off-road to NASCAR. There had been some Twitter dialogue between Brust and Gaughan before meeting at the Chicagoland Speedway last year.

"I got a chance to talk with him," Brust said, "and hang out with him a little bit."

Following the UW's elimination from the NCAA tournament, Brust and two of his teammates, Jared Berggren and Dan Fahey, headed to Las Vegas, where Brust again crossed paths with Gaughan.

The Gaughan family has strong Vegas roots and resources, including the South Point Hotel and Casino, a sponsor for Brendan Gaughan, a veteran of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.

When Brust was at Road America last year, he was talking with one of Elliott Sadler's spotters, who suggested that if he had the time next year that he might look into spotting for a driver.

"It was kind of joking, kind of serious," Brust said. "But it gave me the idea."

Brust ran it past Gaughan during spring break in Las Vegas.

"When it came up," Brust related, "he said, 'Do you want to do it?' I said, 'Of course.' As it got closer (to the Elkhart Lake event), he texted, 'Still want to do it?' And I replied, 'Yeah, of course.'"

Gaughan made it happen. "Spotting isn't athletic," Gaughan told The Sporting News, "but you have to use your brain, you have to make decisions on the fly, which he (Brust) is used to (doing)."

Brust admitted to having some pre-race anxiety, not unlike the feeling prior to an opening tipoff.

"I was a little nervous," he said. "A nervous excitement, because I knew that I could do it. It's the same type of thing (in basketball); I'm there to help the team be successful.

"So I wanted to do my job and do it right."

As part of his pre-race preparation, Brust viewed a YouTube video featuring a road course driver, Ron Fellows, whose on-board camera taped laps 13-34 during a Road America event.

"I used it to memorize the track -- it's braking points and what are good passing zones -- just to give me some familiarity," said Brust, who had previously watched the race as a spectator from turn 5.

"That's where a lot of the action was, but I didn't know the whole track."

Brust arrived over an hour before the race to get his spotting directions from Team Gaughan and stake out his territory. He estimated that there were nearly 30 spotters in the same area.

"Everybody minds their own business and does their job," said Brust, who was originally scheduled to work out of the "Canada Corner" before a change in assignments.

Late in the race, when Gaughan encountered some difficulty in that corner, Brust fielded some disparaging tweets on Twitter from fans who mistakenly thought that he was responsible.

It was nothing that he couldn't handle; after all, he has played in Big Ten road venues.

Although none of the Childress cars were exceptional last Saturday -- Gaughan finished 11th -- Brust sounded like he was truly in his element. "I would do it again in a heartbeat," he said.

But that will have to wait.

"Right now, I have to focus on what's ahead," said Brust, whose eyes are fixed on his senior year at Wisconsin and the summer training phase in Madison. "I'm here to lift, get stronger and get better.

"Getting better in every category possible is one of my goals every year. We have a lot of young guys (six freshmen) so it's my job to set a good example for them and help them get better each day."

The thought of another Big Ten season, his final one, had his heart racing, as you might expect.

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