THOMPSON - Before Wednesday Max McLaughlin had never been to Thompson Speedway
and had never sat behind the wheel of any type of asphalt Modified race car.
Apparently though, finding the way around the high banks of Thompson Speedway in a Modified is just something in the blood for the 19-year old from Mooresville, N.C.
He is after all the son of former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour star and series champion Mike McLaughlin.
Max McLaughlin came out on the losing end of a late race battle with NASCAR Monster Energy Series driver and former Thompson Speedway regular Ryan Preece in the 30-lap SK Modified feature Wednesday at Thompson, but the young driver captured the attention of all on hand in his debut at the track.
A rookie on the K&N Pro Series East, Max McLaughlin was originally just looking for the chance to get some seat time in at Thompson Speedway. The K&N Pro Series East was scheduled to run at Thompson on June 15. The McLaughlin family arranged to have a car prepared by longtime Thompson star Keith Rocco so Max could get some laps in.
On Tuesday it was announced that K&N Pro Series East event at Thompson would be cancelled because of logistical reasons between the track and NASCAR.
“On the way up [Tuesday] we heard that it got cancelled and we just said ‘Hey, let’s go run it anyway.’” Max McLaughlin said. “I’m glad we did it.”
The Rocco prepared car was fast out of the gate for Max McLaughlin, who was second to Preece in practice.
“We were really good,” Max McLaughlin said. “I knew when we were second in practice to Preece that we had a really good race car. We went from 10thto fourth in the heat. I was kind of surprised for my first in a Mod that we were really fast. It kind of suited my driving style really well.”
In the feature Max McLaughlin rocketed from his ninth starting spot, past Preece, past Rocco and found himself battling for the lead 12 laps in. He took over the top spot from Troy Talman on lap 14.
After a spirited 10-lap battle for the lead, Preece was able to overtake Max McLaughlin on lap 27 and race to the win. Max McLaughlin held on for second.
“I just got too free late in the run,” said Max McLaughlin, who is fifth in the K&N Pro Series East standings after five events. “Preece got me in the end. I’m kind of bummed, but I guess if you look at it, for my first start, it wasn’t too bad.
“We were just coming to get laps for the K&N [East Pro Series] race. We were expecting to just come make laps. We weren’t expecting to almost win the damn thing. We were coming to make laps.”
“If I get an opportunity to drive an asphalt Modified again I am definitely going to do it. These things are a blast to drive. I can’t thank Keith Rocco enough for the opportunity to let me drive his race car. He’s a hell of a driver and a hell of a mechanic. He knows how to set these things up.”
Mike McLaughlin raved about the ride Rocco put his son in.
“Keith gave us a better car than he had today,” Mike McLaughlin said of Rocco, who finished third. “A brand new car, brand new engine and it was just a fresh piece. Keith took it out and made sure it was right and Max got in it and we made a few minor adjustments and we were good all day.”
Mike McLaughlin wasn’t surprised to see his son take the track and the ride so quickly.
“Having never seen the track, having never seen one of these race cars, but yet, he’s got a lot of talent,” Mike McLaughlin said. “You always hope for the best. … He was having a ball. He was disappointed at the same time because he wanted to beat him so bad. … He was maybe just trying a little too hard at this point.”
The K&N Pro Series East is never in action on July 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Could Max McLaughlin be looking for a Whelen Modified Tour ride for that division’s event the same day in Loudon?
“If somebody wants to put me in I’d be glad to look at the opportunity,” Max McLaughlin said. “I’d love to do it.”