McLaughlin Gears Up For DIRTcar Campaign

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Brett Hearn (20) battles alongside Max McLaughlin during Super DIRTcar Series action at the Bad Boy Buggies World Finals last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. (Dick Ayers Photo)
Brett Hearn (20) battles alongside Max McLaughlin during Super DIRTcar Series action at the Bad Boy Buggies World Finals last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. (Dick Ayers Photo)
Brett Hearn (20) battles alongside Max McLaughlin during Super DIRTcar Series action at the Bad Boy Buggies World Finals last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. (Dick Ayers Photo)

WEEDSPORT, N.Y. – He wasn’t reminiscing back to the “good ol’ days,” no. Rather, Mike McLaughlin was looking forward to seeing his then 11-year-old son, Max, show the desire to race like he did as a kid.

“I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go,'” said Mike, who got the nickname “Magic Shoes” from his successful racing career. “I told him get your grades up and we’ll do it. He did, and we started karting.”

Max admitted it: he’s never seen his grades boost that high, so quickly. To that point, Mike never saw his old fire suits sag so much off the preteen. But, Max – outfitted down to the shoes in his dad’s old gear – took to the track in that CRAZ8 kart. It was his dad’s number and he’d pay tribute sporting it around the course.

Max found his passion at 11 years-old, but it was not until he was 15 where he began to hone in on his skills. Max is one of 17 full time Platinum drivers for the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds division. He will start his rookie campaign toward a points championship April 30 at Fulton Speedway – an event of many firsts for him.

But, it may not be too tall of an order to fill.

“It’s pretty funny looking back at the old pictures, how big those suits were back in the day,” Max said. “Now I can’t even put one leg in. No kidding…I grew right out of those.”

It wasn’t until 2013 when Bad Boy Buggies sponsored him, and he got gear of his own. And for that CRAZ8 number: Max switched to No. 6 for his rookie year in the series.

“That [number] is something I’ve carried with me throughout my career,” said Max, who had the number on his first go-kart when he was 3. “But my dad drove the No. 6 back in the day at Syracuse. So it’s carrying the same legacy, just in a different way.”

Entering this season, it’s a matter of sticking to what he knows – and what got him here. Not to forget, the only reason he started competing in the first place was because he studied. He’s done just that for Fulton Speedway.

“Everywhere I go, I watch a lot of tape,” Max said. “The place looks like a lot of fun, like there’s a lot of different grooves you can race on. It looks pretty racey, so I’m really looking forward to Fulton.”

Max and his dad have even gone to the extent of moving to Upstate New York from North Carolina, better positioning him for more than half of the events. They are always in the shop, and this is Max’s first full year of being home-schooled.

“It’s kind of hard leaving [my friends] and my mom,” Max said. “But we’re in the shop everyday working to get the car better, get me better. It’s a lot of work but it’ll pay off.”

Mike has seen his son grow – out of his “Magic Shoes” and into his own rhythm. At the 2015 World Finals in Charlotte, Max became the youngest “Fast Timer” in the 44 year history of the Super DIRTcar Series.

And even if Mike’s shoes were magic in his glory years, he said he “can’t figure any way better” to spend his years at this point than with his son. He wants to follow Max and be in his corner every step of the way.

“I’m very proud of him and I love him no matter where it goes, but at the same time I know it’s a way of life,” Mike said. “You have to love it. You have to have the ability, you have to have the drive to pursue this career, you know? That’s a grind, but as long as he’s up for it I’m behind him 100 percent.”