Max McLaughlin enjoyed piloting his go-kart around his parents’ yard at age 3, but despite having grown up around auto racing it wasn’t until he was 11 years old that the Mooresville resident discovered his passion for the sport.
“One of my friends was big into racing at that point,” said McLaughlin, who uses the nickname “Mad Max” on his hero card. “I’d been around it all my life and I just wanted to try it. Once I tried it, I fell in love with it.”
This year, the 14-year-old son of former NASCAR driver Mike McLaughlin is one of the top competitors in the Mini Outlaw Series at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury and is quickly learning the craft of handling a dirt modified. Heading into the Nov. 5 season finale at Millbridge, Max was second in the Mini Outlaw standings with four victories.
In 13 dirt modified races this year, he has had three fifth-place finishes, including one at Gastonia’s Carolina Speedway in the first night of the season-ending King of the Carolinas. He placed eighth in the King of the Carolinas second-night feature.
“I was surprised at how quick he adapted to the modified,” said Mike, who now operates Attitude Fabrication in Mooresville. “His biggest improvement this year has been his ability to race around other people and his ability to stay out of trouble.”
Mike, who was known as “Magic Shoes” during his driving days, admits he never envisioned his son pursuing a racing career because “I didn’t really see an interest.”
However, once Max decided he wanted to race he headed for the dirt just as his father had done in New York, where he competed regularly at Maple Grove Speedway in a dirt modified.
Max tried asphalt with “the go-kart stuff,” but found dirt track racing more enjoyable. Initially, Max competed in the beginner division at Millbridge, then moved to an intermediate class and this year advanced to the open Mini Outlaw Series.
“It was a process of starting out in the slower cars and now he’s in the faster of that type car,” Mike said. “We’ve raced the Mini Outlaws just local, at the Statesville fair and Millbridge. We have traveled a lot this summer with the full-size dirt modified. He does better at the slick tracks where the pace is slowed a little and you really have to search the race track for grip. He does better there than at a track that has a lot of grip and you’re really just driving them hard. I think once he gets to running them more he will be more comfortable with throwing it in the corner wide open and sliding up to the fence. It just takes a little time.”
Mike believes dirt track racing is “a great tool” for learning to drive.
“Being able to drive a loose race car and be comfortable is a good thing to have under your belt,” Mike said. “It definitely helps them learn better car control. If you’re comfortable there, I think you can pretty much get in anything and be comfortable.”
Max’s dirt modified is owned by Mooresville’s Nick Hoffman, but he and his father work together on his Mini Outlaw and his modified.
“He’s (Hoffman) given us an opportunity to run his backup car,” said Mike, who noted they had sponsorship from Simpson Race Products and “Greg Zipadelli’s Drop Zone” TV show. “We travel with him (Hoffman). Wherever he goes we load our car in with his and off we go. Without the Hoffman family, we probably wouldn’t be doing this (dirt modified) because of the cost.”
In Max’s rookie dirt modified season, he admits it has been more difficult transitioning from the Mini Outlaw to the dirt modified.
“Once I get back into the Mini Outlaw (from the modified) I get used to it pretty fast,” said Max, who finished second earlier this year in the United States Pro Kart Series race at GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville. “The Mini Outlaw to the modified is probably the biggest transition because you have to drive it much different. To get out of the Mini Outlaw and back into the big car it takes a lap or so to get used to it. The horsepower and how big the car is around you (are the primary reasons).”
Weight also is a factor. The Bad Boy Buggies-sponsored Mini Outlaw weighs 450 pounds, while the modified is 2,400 pounds.
A freshman at Liberty Preparatory Christian Academy in Mooresville, Max would like to try racing a full-size asphalt car.
“Obviously, I want to go to NASCAR someday,” said Max, who attends classes three days a week and is home-schooled for two. “I want to make sure before I move up to anything I’m ready for it; that I’ll be competitive right when I start. To make a living racing would be my ultimate goal.”
With only two races remaining in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Mooresville’s Jason Line remains atop the Pro Stock standings. Line, who entered the Countdown to the Championship as the top seed, leads Erica Enders-Stevens by 35 points. The next event is the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The season finale is Nov. 13-16 at Pomona, Calif.
In the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional points, Harrisburg’s Steve Furr leads the Division 2 Super Gas standings. His advantage over Cameron Manuel is 98 points.
KBM gets 2nd win
Mooresville’s Kyle Busch Motorsports enjoyed its second PASS South Super Late Model victory this season when Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell won the Oct. 18 Orange County 150 at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont. Mooresville’s John Hunter Nemechek finished second and Concord’s Preston Pelter took third.
With two races remaining in the PASS South Super Late Model season, Hickory’s Tyler Church leads the standings with Mooresville’s Cole Timm second and Midland’s Jared Irvan third. The next event is Nov. 1 at Caraway Speedway near Asheboro, with the season finale slated for Nov. 15 at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly.
Morgan 2nd in Pro Cup
Mooresville’s J.P. Morgan came up 20 points short in his efforts to claim his second CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series championship. Caleb Holman, from Abingdon, Va., earned his first series title by simply starting the season finale Oct. 18 at Hickory Motor Speedway. Morgan finished seventh in the race won by Holman.
Sherrills Ford’s Todd Gilliland placed second in his first Pro Cup event, Mooresville’s Clay Rogers was third and Troutman’s Steven Wallace took fourth.
GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville has scheduled its longest rental kart team endurance race for Nov. 15. Registration for the nine-hour event is underway.
Concord’s Fall Series
Concord Speedway’s Fall Series concludes Nov. 1-2 with its “Spooktacular” weekend. Activities on Nov. 1 include practice and qualifying, free hot dogs and sodas, and car and costume contests. On Nov. 2, gates open at 11 a.m. with quarter midget, Bandolero and Legend racing.
World of Outlaws returns to CMS
Three champions will be determined Nov. 6-8 when the World of Outlaws World Finals will be held for the eighth year at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. The event features the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series and Late Model Series, and the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds. It’s the only time during the season the three series compete on the same nights at the same track.