The first thing Wayne McLaughlin noticed when he saw his son for the first time in 31 months was how much weight he had lost.
Scott McLaughlin had moved to the United States at the end of 2020 to become an IndyCar driver, and pandemic restrictions in Australia and New Zealand have prevented him from saying goodbye to his family. Finally able to travel outside of New Zealand, his parents embarked on their 14th trip to the United States to watch their son race the Indianapolis 500.
The long-awaited reunion of Wayne and Diane McLaughlin took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It was weird, I was a little nervous seeing them,” Scott McLaughlin told The Associated Press. “It was just all this energy and excitement and I was weirdly nervous.”
FaceTime had kept the family in touch, but those calls hadn’t prepared his parents for how they would reunite with their 28-year-old son. McLaughlin lost weight when he left Australia, where he won three consecutive V8 Supercars championships, but then had to build muscle to handle cars without power steering and go over 200 mph.
“We knew he had lost a lot of weight,” Wayne McLaughlin told AP. “He’s always been a pretty big guy, he’s been reasonably strong before, and I just had a big shock to see him.”
There was more to come.
McLaughlin’s parents watched qualifying from a Penske team stand and his mother couldn’t handle the speeds, which exceeded 230 miles per hour (370.15 km/h).
“I was looking for a bucket,” laughed Diane McLaughlin.
Wayne and Diane had enjoyed running as a couple before the birth of their two children. They bought their son a go-kart for his seventh birthday as a hobby, but didn’t let him race for the first six months.
When they finally entered him into competitions, the kid turned out to be pretty good. Wayne McLaughlin decided to move the family from New Zealand to Australia – partly for a Wayne-owned trucking business – but also to further their son’s career.
“Wayne said, ‘If he wants to be good at racing, if he wants to go V8, we really have to be in Australia,'” Diane McLaughlin said. “And I go, ‘The kid is only nine!'”
“Diane kept saying, ‘That’s a piece of cake!’ “recalls Wayne McLaughlin. “So when he won his first championship, I said, ‘Pie-in-the-sky stuff, huh? “”
It wasn’t long before Wayne McLaughlin realized it wasn’t “the race between father and son” anymore and found help with one rule: absolutely no open-wheel racing.
But then McLaughlin came to V8 Supercars, then Roger Penske joined the team McLaughlin was with and the Kiwi became a star in his own right in Australia.
“Things were pretty good before Roger Penske, but Roger just took everything to an entirely different level. He took Scottie’s career to a whole different level,” said Wayne McLaughlin.
Team Penske wanted to move McLaughlin to the United States to race. McLaughlin assumed it would be a NASCAR opportunity; Penske took him to IndyCar instead – an open-wheel series.
“But he’s an adult now, what can we say?” asked Wayne McLaughlin.
It was terrifying for his parents, but conversations with Penske and team president Tim Cindric “assured us that they would take care of our boy,” Wayne McLaughlin said.
When the pandemic started, McLaughlin was finishing his final Supercars season in Australia while his parents were in New Zealand. Travel blockages prevented them from seeing each other before McLaughlin and his wife went overseas.
For the first time in his career, his parents were not among them. McLaughlin was over 8,000 miles away in a series they found uncomfortable and knew little about.
The rims around Wayne McLaughlin’s eyes turned pink and tore repeatedly as they spoke of the 31 months since they last saw their son and the journey he’s been on without them.
“We were heartbroken,” says Wayne McLaughlin.
“We couldn’t say goodbye,” added Diane.
“And now he’s moving to America and getting into a category that’s the best in the world and we couldn’t be there and we’ve been with him since it started when he was just a boy,” Wayne continued. .
Watching their son compete in his rookie IndyCar season required waking up at 4 a.m., relying on McLaughlin’s wife, Karly, to keep them informed during a race weekend, and screaming at the TV a lot. Wayne McLaughlin went viral when his son posted a video of his “number one fan”.
When McLaughlin’s sister arrives this week, it will be the first time the whole family has been together since McLaughlin’s wedding in 2019. Her parents’ visa is valid for 12 weeks and they will be driving to nine IndyCar races and spending time at Scott and Karly. North Carolina House.
They are staunch fans of the United States – this week marks the McLaughlins’ 14th trip to America, his parents visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway years ago and Wayne McLaughlin has an American flag sticker on the back window of his Chevy Silverado.
The opportunity for their son to move to their favorite country and drive for Roger Penske, who promised McLaughlin was in good hands, was too good to pass up.
“They knew we were very anxious and they pushed through security, Roger invited us after the wedding to Charlotte to see the boutique and meet everyone, and that made us feel better,” Wayne McLaughlin said. “It’s a new race for us. But we’re here now and we can’t wait to see Scottie in the Indy 500.”
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