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 in late 2020 to become an IndyCar driver, and pandemic restrictions in Australia and New Zealand prevented him from saying goodbye to his family.
Finally able to leave New Zealand, his parents embarked on their 14th trip to the United States to watch their son run the Indianapolis 500.
The overdue reunion for Wayne and Diane McLaughlin took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It was weird, I was a little nervous to see them,” said Scott McLaughlin. “It was just all this energy and excitement and I was weirdly nervous.”
FaceTime had connected the family, but those calls hadn’t prepared his parents for how they would find 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 miles per hour (322 km/h).
“We knew he had lost a lot of weight,” Wayne McLaughlin said.
“He’s always been a pretty fat man… pretty solid, and I was shocked when I saw him.”
More would come.
McLaughlin’s parents watched qualifying from a Team Penske pit box and his mother couldn’t handle the speeds, which reached 370 kilometers per hour.
“I was looking for a bucket,” laughed Diane McLaughlin.
Wayne and Diane had enjoyed racing as a couple before their two children were born. 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 got him into competitions, the boy turned out to be quite good. Wayne McLaughlin decided to move the family from New Zealand to Australia – partly for a trucking company Wayne owned – but also to further their son’s career.
“Wayne said, ‘If he wants to get good at racing, if he wants to get into V8, we really need to be in Australia,'” said Diane McLaughlin. “And I go, ‘The kid is only nine!'”
It wasn’t long before Wayne McLaughlin realized it wasn’t “father and son racing anymore” and found help with one rule: absolutely no open-wheel racing.
But then McLaughlin hit the V8 Supercars, and then Roger Penske bought into the team McLaughlin was with and the Kiwi became a real star in Australia.
“Everything was pretty nice for Roger Penske, but Roger just took everything to a whole other level. He took Scottie’s career to a whole other level,” said Wayne McLaughlin.
Team Penske wanted to move McLaughlin to the US to race. McLaughlin assumed it would be a NASCAR opportunity; Penske instead took him to IndyCar – an open-wheel series.
“But he’s a grown man now, what can we say?” Wayne McLaughlin asked.
It was terrifying for his parents, but conversations with Penske and team president Tim Cindric “assured us they would take care of our boy,” Wayne McLaughlin said.
When the pandemic started, McLaughlin finished his last Supercars season in Australia while his parents were in New Zealand. Travel restrictions prevented them from seeing each other before McLaughlin and his wife went abroad.
For the first time in his career, his parents were not part of it. McLaughlin was racing more than 10,000 miles away in a series they found uncomfortable and knew little about.
The rims around Wayne McLaughlin’s eyes turned pink and watered multiple times over the 31 months from the time they last saw their son and the journey he’s been on without them.
“And now he’s moving to America and going into a category that’s the best in the world and we couldn’t be there and we’ve been with him since this started when he was just a boy,” Wayne continued.
To watch their son compete in his IndyCar rookie season, he had to get up at 4 a.m., rely on McLaughlin’s wife, Karly, to keep them updated during a race weekend, and lots of yelling at the television. 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 family’s first time together since McLaughlin’s wedding in 2019. His parents’ visa is valid for 12 weeks and they travel to nine IndyCar races and spend time with Scott. and Karly’s North Carolina home.
They’re avid fans of the USA – this week marks the McLaughlins’ 14th trip to America, his parents toured Indianapolis Motor Speedway years ago, and Wayne McLaughlin has an American flag decal on the rear window of his Chevrolet Silverado.
The chance for their son to move to their favorite country and ride for Roger Penske, who promised them McLaughlin was in good hands, was too good to pass up.
“They knew we were very anxious and they pushed security. Roger invited us to Charlotte after the wedding to see the store and meet everyone, and it made us feel better,” Wayne McLaughlin said.
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