BORN WITH NEED FOR SPEED
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.