SALISBURY, N.C. – One of the prevailing themes during Wednesday night’s kickoff to the weekly racing season at Millbridge Speedway was drivers dropping back down to their short-track roots.
Both Max McLaughlin and Carson Kvapil – second-generation drivers who have cut their teeth at the sixth-mile dirt oval and gone on to further their racing careers – found themselves back in the saddle at Millbridge on opening night once again.
After a sojourn in big-block modifieds with the Super DIRTcar Series, McLaughlin returned to the track and immediately found success, winning Wednesday night’s 20-lap Open division feature.
“This was tough. I’m used to running the top around here, and it’s been since … probably 2014 or 2015 that I’ve ran the bottom,” McLaughlin noted. “It’s cool to be back (in victory lane) though. This was just my second outlaw kart race in close to three years, so it’s nice to get the monkey off our back quickly.
“I can’t thank Harold Wiggins and all the folks from PRC (Phantom Racing Chassis) enough for all their efforts. They’ve worked hard to develop this outlaw kart, and man, is it working. It’s one of the better cars I’ve driven out here and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
The 19-year-old, who is now a full-timer in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with Hattori Racing Enterprises, won the Millbridge track championship in the Open division in 2015.
Though he’s gone on to bigger things since then and still has high aspirations of making it to NASCAR’s national series levels, much like his father – ‘Magic Shoes’ Mike McLaughlin – the younger McLaughlin enjoys coming back to play in the dirt at Millbridge any time he has the opportunity to do so.
“It’s always fun to go to victory lane in anything, but I love coming back and racing outlaw karts because it’s where I started,” McLaughlin said. “I always thought it was a really good learning tool for the higher levels of racing, and I feel like it’s proving that between me, the Kvapil kids and a few others. It’s fun.”
The same can be said for McLaughlin’s contemporary, Carson Kvapil, who chased the No. Z8 all night long on Wednesday and is a two-time Open division track titlist at Millbridge Speedway.
While he openly admitted he “had nothing” for McLaughlin on Wednesday night, Kvapil’s appearance at Millbridge was equally notable considering the son of 2003 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil will spend most of his season focusing on the ARCA Midwest Tour schedule.
Kvapil’s transition to the asphalt comes after a successful tenure on the dirt, which began at the end of the 2016 season with a victory in his Open class debut during the season finale.
“We’re going to run the super in Wisconsin for most of the year, but I’m going to keep coming back here as often as I can,” explained Kvapil. “I want to be able to come down and run whenever I feel like it or want to … during some of the off weeks when we don’t have the late model to run and stuff like that.”
Kvapil feels that his time spent mastering the clay at Millbridge has made him a much more-well-rounded driver than he might have been without his experience in outlaw karts.
“There’s nothing like these karts. They’re wicked,” Kvapil noted. “I may sound stupid saying this, but they feel slow compared to these things. They’re not physically faster than the supers, but they feel way faster because of how quickly you have to react in them. I think super late model drivers are all good, but it takes a different kind of talent to drive one of these things.
“I can run the setup more loose … basically be spinning out off the corner, and be just fine when I go back on the asphalt,” Kvapil added. “It definitely makes me a better driver, running dirt, that’s for sure.”
McLaughlin agreed with that assessment, even though it’s been more than 36 months since he’s run the winged beasts on a regular basis. The teenager recently ran the Appalachian Indoor Showdown in Virginia, however, coming from the back of the field to finish second.
“(Virginia) definitely knocked some of the rust off, that’s for sure. Up until then, it had been a while since I’d done it. It definitely got me thinking about what it would take to come back here and win again, and I think if I hadn’t done that, we might not have won this week.”
Both McLaughlin and Kvapil agree on one thing, though. Both of them just want to keep going fast as often as they’re able to do so.
“I’m a racer and I just wanna race; I don’t care where or what it is,” said McLaughlin. “That’s why I keep coming back here.”
“We’re wheelmen,” added Kvapil. “This is just what we do. It’s who we are.”