Max McLaughlin will race just about anything, given the opportunity.
While the majority of his season commitment has involved running his No. 8h Heinke-Baldwin Racing dirt modified in the Super DIRTcar Series, the North Carolina native has thrown a few spare irons in the fire.
The first was a thrown-together World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series debut on July 30.
Two days before the Empire State Challenge at Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway, McLaughlin got a call about an open seat in the No. 23 Tyler Cartier Racing sprint car. Since the race was practically in his backyard — close to the HBR shop in Weedsport — there was little hesitation for the 23-year-old as he agreed to travel to the three-eighths-mile dirt oval.
“Usually it’s only like a 25, 30-car field,” McLaughlin said. “So I was like, you know what, if we can make the race with a 360, run 20th, that’d be pretty cool — you know, it’s a World of Outlaws race.”
Upon arrival, McLaughlin counted nearly 40 cars during his survey of the pits, realizing the odds of making the race were stacked against him.
“We were like, well this ain’t good,” McLaughlin said, chuckling.
Nonetheless, the dirt-track regular continued on with his rookie quest. After a tricky run through practice and qualifying, McLaughlin finally began to put the pieces together in the B main, battling back and forth with Spencer Bayston en route to earning a spot in the feature.
McLaughlin drove from 23rd to finish 14th in his first World of Outlaws A main.
“That’s kind of been my dream since I was a little kid, was to race sprint cars,” McLaughlin said. “So to be able to do that and be somewhat successful in it was really cool. I’d definitely like to jump in a 410 sometime.”
Almost a month later, McLaughlin again traded in his dirt modified for a completely new ride — this time, the No. 96 FRS Racing Chevrolet.
The 23-year-old arrived at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l on Aug. 19, primed for his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at the 2.45-mile road course.
“The Xfinity deal per say, there was a lot of studying leading up to it — simulator time, looking at data for Watkins Glen with Chevrolet to speed up the learning process,” McLaughlin said. “You don’t have to question do I run here, do I lift here — you know all that going in.”
After starting 31st, McLaughlin’s race ended early after fluid on the track sent him into the wall on lap 43, officially scoring him 34th in the Shriners Children’s 200.
In between the sprint car and pavement starts, McLaughlin has remained focused on improving his performance in the Super DIRTcar Series. In 15 starts, the No. 8h only has one top five and four top 10s.
McLaughlin didn’t hold back when describing his modified season, adding, “We haven’t been able to hide how bad we’ve been running.”
But with the prestigious Super DIRT Week ahead at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway, McLaughlin and the Heinke-Baldwin Racing team have attempted to revive their program, switching frames and setups.
“We had to change something,” McLaughlin said.
Luckily, it was a promising first performance on the new frame, as the big block racer pulled out a win over a 24-car field during a weekly feature at Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway on Aug. 25.
“They told me, ‘Don’t worry about the setup, just go drive.’ And I think that helped a lot,” McLaughlin said. “Racing’s a head game. I think we were running so bad that I was just emotionally tired. But the HBR guys did re-energize me. It takes a lot in this sport. When you’re down, it definitely helps to have your team believe in you.”
After finishing third at the 50th Super Dirt Week Billy Whittaker Cars 200 feature last year, McLaughlin is hoping to have his No. 8h steed dialed in by the start of Super DIRT Week Oct. 2-8.
“Last year was the first shot we had to win it. I finished second in the small-block race and third in the big-block race,” McLaughlin recalled. “We had a really good Super Dirt Week last year, so we have a good notebook to build on.”