BORN WITH NEED FOR SPEED

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - SPORT - NICK WALSHAW

SCOTT McLaugh­lin has a se­cret. His first word. And chat­ting now with The

Sun­day Mail in­side his Mount Panorama garage – Shell lo­gos em­bla­zoned across his car, his race suit, pro­mo­tional posters, all of it – this new­est star of Aus­tralian Su­per­cars can only cackle, and fi­nally come clean, when asked if the ru­mours are true?

“Yeah, first word I ever said was ‘Mo­bil’,’’ he grins.

“Grow­ing up, my old man carted fuel around. He drove a Mo­bil Volvo truck. So Mo­bil and Volvo, they were my first words.”

And a year ago, this wasn’t a prob­lem. In fact, it was wel­comed.

A year ago, McLaugh­lin was not only rac­ing a Volvo for Garry Rogers Mo­tor­sport, but en­joy­ing the type of un­der­dog sta­tus that comes with be­ing young, in­side a small team and driv­ing that car with the worst body to ever come out of Swe­den. But now? Well, more than switch­ing to Ford this year, more than lead­ing the Su­per­cars cham­pi­onship, set­ting a “Lap of the Gods’’ or be­ing Bathurst 1000 favourite, McLaugh­lin is rep­re­sent­ing DJR Team Penske.

A pow­er­house fran­chise whose US bil­lion­aire owner Roger Penske is so par­tic­u­lar about the way his or­gan­i­sa­tion does busi­ness, ev­ery driver, en­gi­neer and me­chanic is told to work with shirts tucked in.

“So this year, my shirt is al­ways tucked in,’’ McLaugh­lin says.

“Com­ing across to DJR Team Penske, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent to what I’ve been used to. There’s def­i­nitely a Penske stan­dard – a way Roger pro­motes him­self and wants his team to be seen – and I’ve had to straighten my­self up.

“I wouldn’t say I was a bad boy pre­vi­ously or any­thing like that. But I’ve had to be­come more pro­fes­sional. And it’s def­i­nitely the right time in my life, and ca­reer, to make those changes.”

McLaugh­lin is no stranger to change.

Be­hind the wheel of his first kart at eight, this young Kiwi was na­tional cham­pion within the year and boast­ing his own en­gi­neer/ me­chanic by his teens.

At 15, he was kart­ing in Italy. By 16, in­side a V8 Su­per­car. To­day, he is favoured to be­come King of the Moun­tain. And still, he re­mains the son of a truckie. Not only happy to joke about those first words he ever spoke – “although Shell, great com­pany,’’ he grins – but also that in­fa­mous post-race in­ter­view which, three years back, started: “Plucked it in first, gave it some jan­dal and f--- yeah”. Apart from earn­ing 7000 new Face­book fol­low­ers, McLaugh­lin’s

quote also spawned memes, YouTube clips and a mer­chan­dis­ing range of shirts, keyrings, stub­bie hold­ers, even thongs. Which is hardly Penske ma­te­rial,

“Ah, that was just me be­ing me,” right? McLaugh­lin says. “The words, they just came out.

“And at the time, it was ac­tu­ally a bless­ing. It got t me a lot of ex­po­sure. And while I have had to tidy things up a bit this year, the team still wants me tobe my­self.” Which means what for Scott McLaugh­lin? Well, apart from run­ning 25km a week, this AFL fan also swims, moun­tain bikes, tin­kers with gokarts and hits golf balls “not fan­tas­ti­cally” off 17.

A qual­i­fied fab­ri­ca­tor who can use the garage welder and con­tin­ues his GR Mo­tor­sport tra­di­tion of shout­ing the garage beers with ev­ery $1000 pole cheque.

Else­where, and de­spite his grow­ing stature, McLaugh­lin re­mains grounded.

Still the son of kart­ing par­ents who, while ini­tially funded by the fam­ily’s freight busi­ness, re­mains a long way from that rich kid gone rac­ing yarn.

In­deed, when his par­ents moved the fam­ily to Aus­tralia, be­liev­ing it would help progress their boy’s rac­ing dream, there were more than a cou­ple of tough days.

“My par­ents bought a badly run truck­ing busi­ness,’’ McLaugh­lin re­calls. “It was bankrupted. That’s how dad could get into the game.

“And for a long time, it wasn’t easy. But start­ing with seven trucks, they fin­ished up with 70.

“That’s where I got my work ethic from. While it never got to the point where we had to mort­gage our house, I saw my par­ents work in­cred­i­bly hard.”

De­spite earn­ing mil­lions to drive for Penske, whose garage is based on the Gold Coast, McLaugh­lin still lives in Mel­bourne, close to both fam­ily and child­hood mates.

“Where pos­si­ble, I like to re­move my­self from the sport,’’ he ex­plains. “So I’ll fly up to Queens­land for two or three days, then get away com­pletely again.

“I guess I’m like any guy aged 24. I just don’t party as much.”

Which, un­doubt­edly, pleases his bil­lion­aire boss. But as for telling him the Mo­bil story?

“Ah, no,” McLaugh­lin says. “I haven’t told any­one that.”

IN THE BLOOD: Su­per­cars star driver Scott McLaugh­lin has been a revhead since he could talk; the Team Penske driver qual­i­fies fastest at Bathurst yes­ter­day; and McLaugh­lin as a 15-year-old on the go-carts.

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