LEXINGTON, Ohio — Imagine being nearly a the entire globe away from 2 of not only your biggest supporters, but them also being your parents too. Imagine that nearly every time zone on this globe is between you and your mom and dad and you’re going through a rough patch of your career that you’d do just about anything to see them in person again. But COVID is around and they can’t travel here and he can’t travel there.
That’s what McLaughlin was facing in a miserable 2021. McLaughlin was miserable. It was his rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR Series and while he was happy to be driving one of these machines, the results and being away from his family wasn’t making him the usual jovial person that he typically is.
He had his wife here. She’s American. But it was just them. He’s never lived in this country before and here he was in the middle of his worst performances of his racing career. Carly McLaughlin is obviously one of his biggest supporters. So are his parents Wayne and Diane. But due to COVID, he’s not seen Wayne and Diane in a few years. He needed them here.
So when his season sucked in his opinion and now entering Mid-Ohio in a rough stretch yet again, he said that his recent slump was nothing compared to how he was feeling in 2021.
“I think it just — I went through so much adversity last year that this was nothing,” McLaughlin said on Saturday after earning a front row starting spot. “This is water off a duck’s back in some ways to what was going on. We were still — the last few races unfortunately haven’t gone great for us. We were competing potentially to be in top 5s and whatnot. It’s not like the pace wasn’t there.
“I think it’s hard going from my mentality of in Australia where I was winning a lot and I think the last — last year in Australia we won 14 races or something. It’s hard to go from a mentality of just cutthroat, you have to win every weekend, if you don’t it’s a bad race, to just coping with top 10s, top 15s. Regardless of what situation you are, you’re a competitive beast, you built yourself out to be. Every person in here, every driver is a competitive individual.
“It’s very hard to sort of get out of that and just go, okay, well, I’ve got to learn. I’ve got to just build with this. I’ve got to build with the team. I’ve got to build with the car. It does take some time, and it definitely took me more time than I thought. I think Tim and Roger knew exactly how long it was going to take. That’s why they’re the experts.
“I just had to trust the process, trust them and trust what we had going on here, and I think, yeah, we are in the right spot. I’m competing for top 5s every week, top 8s every week. I think we’re right where we want to be, but we’ve got a long which to go before we’re where Josef is right now, and I’ve got certainly a nice person to groove myself on.
“Last year we lost ourselves a little bit because the pace wasn’t there. That’s sort of — that was what was the tough pill to swallow. But yeah, certainly last year shaped me to be — trust the process, trust what I’m doing is right.”
McLaughlin was a legend overseas but he wanted more. He wanted to be challenged and the best way to do both – come to the United States. His paychecks were being signed by Team Penske and after all, they have NASCAR and INDYCAR teams to offer here.
The best path?
The NTT INDYCAR Series.
So, McLaughlin made his first career start in the 2020 season finale on the streets of St. Pete. Following a rough 2021, he scored a pole and then a race win in the 2022 season opener on those same St. Pete streets.
“I miss my mom and dad dearly and my family. Wish you guys were here. What a day,” McLaughlin said on that February day of his 1st win.
“Yeah, I miss them dearly. My mom and dad, they’re the ones that got me here and made me believe in myself. My mom and dad have been infatuated with the USA for many years, and I guess that put the love of the USA and the want to come over here to the big leagues when I was a young kid, even way before my Supercars success.
“Then obviously I met just a guy named Roger Penske and we kicked it off. I’m tremendously grateful for the position my mom and dad put me in and the position Roger and Tim Cindric put me in.”
His parents did finally make it over. They were here to see him race in the Indianapolis 500. McLaughlin crashed and finished 29th. They saw him race in Belle Isle and finish 19th. He was starting another rough patch, but this time, his parents were here to calm him down.
Instead of a rough patch to go another season, it only lasted 3 races. He’s now won a race with his parents on US soil.
“It’s awesome. It’s not just to be together but just to win with them here,” McLaughlin said after his Honda Indy 200 triumph in Mid-Ohio. “That’s the coolest thing. Even in Australia, I didn’t really win with them a lot in Australia. It’s been a while since they’ve been — I think the last win I had was the Bathurst 1000 in 2019 with them in town.
“Really excited to have them here, and it just means so much. They’re the people that shaped me as a person, and to have them here with me and my wife and Charlotte and just hanging out, it’s been a cool couple months. We’re definitely — I’m probably giving them a few more gray hairs, but that’s part of the development of everything, and I’m really proud to win in front of them, win in front of mom.”
This time though, his wife wasn’t here to be with them.
“I just wish Carly was here. Carly is not here,” he said. “She said, should I not come anymore? And I said no, you come, because you were here at St. Pete, so she’ll be all right.”
Now, can he get a win with all 3 in attendance?
Toronto is up in 2 weeks.