Eighteen-year-old Max McLaughlin carries with him a last name that strikes a chord with most race fans from the Northeast, whether they follow asphalt racing or dirt-track racing.
After all, he’s a second-generation driver whose father — “Magic Shoes” Mike McLaughlin — made waves on both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the old Busch North Series (now K&N Pro Series East) before making his jump to the big stage and competing in all three of NASCAR’s national series.
Max McLaughlin is following in his father’s footsteps, but he’s just carving his way up the ladder on the dirt instead of the blacktop.
McLaughlin got his start in the outlaw kart division at North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway, mastering those machines before advancing into modified racing.
It’s how he got started that’s the unique part of the story, however.
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“We couldn’t really afford to go racing, so my dad gave me the option when I was 11 years old that we could either have a house on the lake and I could do the same thing that all my friends were doing, or we could live in our race shop and go racing, and we’ve lived in our shop ever since,” McLaughlin recalled.
“For my dad to give me that option at that age and really believe in me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, has been really cool.”
While he’s had a bit of a roller-coaster journey over the past few seasons, it’s largely thanks to one well-known big-block modified team owner in the Northeast that McLaughlin’s career remains on-track.
“It’s definitely been a ride. We’ve had some huge ups and plenty of downs,” said McLaughlin. “I’m really, really thankful for where I’m at now in my career because it’s been wild getting to this point.
“We started in the outlaw karts and had some success there that sparked some opportunities, and then the 2016 season came and I was out of a ride. I didn’t have anything planned,” McLaughlin recalled. “Dad and I … we had a little sponsorship, but we didn’t have much and were only planning on running a couple of races with our own car. Beyond that, we didn’t know what we were going to do … and then Al Heinke stepped in and took me under his wing. Without him, I probably wouldn’t be racing right now.
“You can thank Al Heinke for everything that has gone on in my career from 2015 to now. He’s the reason I’m in a race car and I’m very thankful for that.”
After finishing a dismal 13th in points despite claiming rookie-of-the-year honors in his first season, McLaughlin cut his points deficit in half during year two and jumped up to ninth in the 2017 standings.