Brendan Gaughan is a 38-year-old NASCAR driver who won the Nationwide Series road race late last month in Wisconsin.
Gaughan also is a former Georgetown basketball teammate of Allen Iverson and is a certified SCUBA divemaster. The Las Vegas native will be a guest diver at the Tennessee Aquarium's Secret Reef Exhibit this Tuesday at 11 a.m., and he recently previewed his visit on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 The Zone.
Q: You're a driver who likes to swim with sharks. Were you that kid in elementary school that the teacher had to say, "Put that down" or "Stop what you're doing"?
A: "I definitely have led a very eccentric life. I played college football and college basketball. I race cars, and my family business is casinos. Scuba diving is one of my passions, and I've taught all my nieces and nephews how to scuba dive. I just came back from Honduras with my 16-year-old, 14-year-old and 12-year-old nieces and nephews, who were all diving with me, and my 3-year-old went zip-lining. Only in Honduras can you zip-line as a 3-year-old.
"I'm a lucky man, and then I get to go to places like the Bristol Motor Speedway and try to race with sharks."
Q: How did you first get into scuba diving, and what's the biggest shark you've been able to encounter?
A: "I'm also an avid snow skier, and my skiing instructor when I was a child is also a scuba diver. He allowed me to dive to see if I liked it, and the next year I came back to Lake Norman in North Carolina, which is near where all the race teams are. I walked into the dive shop and said I needed to learn how to dive. It snowballed in typical fashion, because when I like something I get into it, and now I teach summer camps there.
"I've actually been in the water with an Orca and her calf. They swam up on us in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. I've seen a family of humpbacks. I've been in the water with a 14-foot hammerhead and 20-foot giant manta rays. The sand tiger is the most fun shark. Hammerheads are really skittish. They will see or hear bubbles and just take off, but the sand tigers have those teeth that stick out and look all scary, but they are very peaceful."
Q: What scares you?
A: "What scares me is failing. Nobody ever likes to fail, and in racing that's a very difficult thing to deal with. It had been 10 years since I had won, so we're riding high right now, but everybody wants to talk about having no fear. I have fear, but it's healthy fear. When I race at Bristol, I don't want to hit the wall or other people. There are healthy fears, but you just have to learn to control your fears and sometimes conquer them.
"I'm more afraid of racing side by side with someone you don't like on the racetrack than with swimming with sharks. We all live with fear, but we can get better from it."
Q: You were in the NEXTEL Cup a decade ago, finishing runner-up for rookie of the year and 28th in points. You had a top-five finish in Talladega. How would you assess your overall racing career?
A: "My career got way off track for a long time, with some of it my own doing and some of it not my own doing. In the end, it's been about perseverance and never giving up. I always tried to believe in myself, though some days were tougher than others. For the young kids out there, belief and confidence in yourself can do more for you than just about anything in the world.
"If you have positive people around you, you can always overcome stuff. I never really achieved what I expected to achieve in racing, but it's never too late. I'm 38 years old, and I'm winning in the Nationwide Series again and will try to keep this vibe going.
Q: Closing with some rapid fire, when you went up against Iverson in practice, did you ever steal the ball or have your way with him?
A: "I'm the only man in the world who can stop Allen Iverson."
Q: What is the best open-water movie?
A: "I'm still a 'Jaws' fan."
Q: What great endeavor is still out there for you?
A: "Mountain climbing."
Q: What is the best auto racing movie?
A: "'Smokey and the Bandit.'"
Q: Who is the most aggressive driver you've ever had to deal with?
A: "Kyle Busch."
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hot is it inside a fire-retardant suit?
A: "Most days it's a 4 or a 5, but on the days you get first-degree burns, it's a dilemma."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.