Brendan Gaughan was explaining to me this afternoon how NASCAR could reach minority kids when suddenly he stopped to listen to the music coming out of a passing car.
"Ooooooh, go-go," said the former Georgetown basketball player and current NASCAR truck series driver. He began dancing. "I miss go-go music. That's Rare Essence right there. C'mon now, yeah that was RE. Ain't no party like an RE party."
I'm not sure how many NASCAR drivers could identify Rare Essence, but I can definitely say that I've been to my share of NASCAR tailgates, and I've never once heard go-go. Anyhow, Gaughan was at the IDEA Public Charter School in Northeast to promote the Urban Youth Racing School, a non-profit that attempts to prepare inner-city kids for possible careers in motorsports, and he was keenly aware that he'd do better emphasizing, for example, his connection to Allen Iverson than his connection to Jimmie Johnson.
"Please," he said. "Half of them don't even know who Jimmie Johnson is. By being able to say that [Iverson] was a kid I used to check and I used to beat him up, that sort of thing definitely relates more to them....You try to keep it fast, keep it short, gain that credibility and then hit the points you need to hit."
Which is why Gaughan, who will have a Hoyas paint scheme on his truck at Dover this weekend, started his pitch today by talking about Georgetown, to much applause. (He followed up with "How many people here remember when I played!!??" which was greeted with silence.)
And judging by a quick spin through the schoolyard masses, NASCAR still has a bit of work to do. None of the kids I asked were able to identify Gaughan's name, despite the fact that he was right there speaking. Most seemed indifferent to the whole racing thing. Some were openly hostile; "I can't stand NASCAR, because all they do is go around in big circles," junior Anja Elliott said. A few said they were fans--"I've always wanted to go fast," ninth grader James Olphin said--but the race fans admitted they were in a sizable minority.
"This school really isn't into that kind of thing," Olphin said. "They're mostly into football. Well, that's what it looks like to me."
When the floor was opened for questions, after some tire-changing antics by Gaughan and volunteers, there were two questions: can we get a ride in the truck ("I don't know if you want to ride in it, because I hit walls real hard," Gaughan said) and are you married ("No, young lady, I am NOT married," Gaughan said.)
The kids' response to the whole pitch didn't faze the UYRS people, who have cycled through more than 1,500 kids in their Philly operation, where the waiting list is way into the hundreds. This is their first full year having a school in D.C., and they expect to fill all 50 spots. And the response was fine by Gaughan, too, who said he'd be happy if he caught just one kid's interest today.
"You're not going to be able to make an impact on every child, but from John Thompson, if you can impact any of em, it's worth doing," he said. "The problem to an inner city kid is the history of NASCAR is a bunch of dumb white rednecks. And what you try to teach 'em is it wasn't so much dumb white rednecks, it was a bunch of renegades, a bunch of guys bucking the law, fighting the law, running from the law. And to them that becomes all of the sudden something that's cool. What I mean is, you show them what these guys have made into a multinational corporation, a worldwide business that is huge, but it was a bunch of renegades."
Anyhow, there is at least one true believer at IDEA, in the person of 16-year-old DeMarcus McIntyre, who will be Gaughan's "intern" at this weekend's race. McIntyre could definitely identify Gaughan's name. He got into the sport by watching Speed Racer as a kid, and said he wants to have a career in racing and that his goal this weekend is "to get dirty." Kids at his school, he said, are interested in "football, basketball, hiphop, rock 'n roll, just the basic stuff; not NASCAR," but he was optimistic.
"So that's what I'm trying to do," he said, "bring NASCAR out of the shell."
[Since I seem to mention Lindsay Czarniak every day in this blog, I guess I should mention that Lindsay Czarniak was there. And that Gaughan's rear tire carrier Chris Justice, a Wake Forest guy, said that the former Hoya was just insufferable during Georgetown's Final Four run. "He was killing us, man," Justice told me. "Georgetown, Georgetown, Georgetown. So you know what I did, I brought him a Wake jersey and I put it on his desk."
For his part, Gaughan was trying to convince McIntyre to go to Georgetown. "Who doesn't want to go to Georgetown baby, c'mon," he said. "Hoya Saxa."]