Max McLaughlin Enters Spring Sizzler At Stafford Motor Speedway With Gary Putnam
Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – The field for the 51st Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® set for April 29-30 continues to grow and the latest entry is the Mike Curb owned #77 Curb Records / Mohawk Northeast modified, prepared by Gary Putnam with Max McLaughlin as the driver.
McLaughlin has made two previous starts at Stafford, both behind the wheel of the Curb/Putnam #77 car and he is looking forward to returning to the Connecticut half-mile.
“The 77 car is one of the nicest cars out there, Gary [Putnam] builds a beautiful race car, and every time we race I feel like we have a shot to win,” said McLaughlin. “It’s always fun driving for Gary and Stafford is a really cool place that I enjoy going to. I haven’t been able to get there as much as I would like so when this came up and the schedules worked out, it was definitely something that I was excited to see. Thanks to Gary for building two race cars this winter and letting me drive again. Asphalt rides don’t come along too often and Gary has been the only guy to keep me in an asphalt car the last couple of years so I’m very thankful for him and it’s always a good time running for him.”
Despite never having raced at Stafford or in an Open Modified car before his Stafford debut in 2020, McLaughlin posted finishes of 4th in the 2020 NAPA Fall Final 150 and 11th in the 2021 edition of the NAPA Spring Sizzler®. If not for some unfortunate circumstances, McLaughlin feels like he could have won or at the very least been in contention to win both of his previous starts at Stafford, a track that has been notoriously tough for new drivers over the years.
“We had a shot at winning my first Stafford race, but our radios went out during the race,” said McLaughlin. “We ended up finishing fourth that day but I feel like we should have had a better result. The last time we were at Stafford we got caught up in a wreck and that race ended up getting rain shortened and we finished 11th. I didn’t have any expectations coming to Stafford the first time and I had never driven an asphalt modified before, so it was all new and a lot of learning. Sometimes when you go in with no expectations, you tend to run a little better. Gary always gives me a good car, and this is going on our third year together and we all get along really well so if we can get any luck, I think we can win a lot of races for sure.”
In 11 starts with the #77 team, McLaughlin has scored 4 top-5 and 5 top-10 finishes. Based upon those results and his previous 2 starts at Stafford, McLaughlin thinks he can be counted among the contenders to take the Sizzler® trophy home, but he knows he is going to face some very stout competition.
“I think we can definitely be a contender, we wouldn’t be going to the track if we didn’t think we could win,” said McLaughlin. “Matt Hirschman is on an absolute tear right now and he’s always pretty good anywhere he goes so I’m sure everyone has their eyes on him. Then you have your normal guys who are always good and then the Stafford regulars who are always good, so it’s going to be one of the tougher asphalt modified fields but I think we can be a contender. If we can put ourselves in a good spot towards the end of a long race, we can have a shot at winning.”
In order to be a contender to win the Sizzler®, McLaughlin will first have to qualify for the 100-lap main event through either a 40-lap NAPA Duel race on Saturday, April 29, or the Last Chance Qualifier on Sunday, April 30 before the main event. McLaughlin is excited about the prospect of qualifying through heats rather than time trials as that format is right up his alley with all his dirt racing experience.
“I’m not too familiar with the format but I’d say that every time you go out on track, if you plan to try to win, you should be in pretty good shape,” said McLaughlin. “With the qualifying races and the last chance qualifier, it’s just like dirt racing and that’s what I do 100 times a year. It’s exciting and I think that brings on good racing. You have to race hard but also race smart in the Duel races in order to save the car so you have something that you can race with on Sunday. It’s a cool format and I prefer that rather than deciding qualifying with one lap. I won the pole at Oswego once, but other than that, I don’t qualify well at all so I’m definitely a fan of the heat races for sure.”
McLaughlin’s father Mike notched a total of 6 feature wins at Stafford with 5 modified wins and 1 Busch North victory. A NAPA Spring Sizzler® victory would not only be huge for McLaughlin, but it would help turn around the fortunes of the #77 team who with McLaughlin have been so close to several wins only to see them slip away.
“A win in the Sizzler® would be special,” said McLaughlin. “My Dad has a lot of history at Stafford, we have a lot of friends in Connecticut, Gary is from Connecticut, and Stafford is a track that’s pretty special to me, so to be able to win the most prestigious modified race would be pretty awesome for sure. The Sizzler® is a race that I’ve always watched but I’ve never been able to get to it with my dirt racing schedule. We’ve been so close to winning with the #77 team, we stayed out at Richmond and Martinsville and a caution never came out, we were running third at Jennerstown and lost a lap in the pits, and then we put ourselves in contention to win at Martinsville a couple months ago and we ran out of fuel. We’ve had a lot of bummers so it would be nice to be able to turn things around and get the 77 team that big win that we’ve been so close to getting so many times. We’re all very hungry and everyone on the team is really pumped up.”
The 51st Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® kicks off on Saturday, April 29, and will consist of two 40-lap NAPA Duel qualifying races for the Open Modified division. The 40-lap races will each pay $3,500 to win and will set the field for Sunday’s NAPA Spring Sizzler®. The American Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models will also make their return to Stafford Speedway on April 29th with a 75-lap feature with over 40 cars expected for the race. Limited Late Model, Street Stock, and Vintage All-Star divisions will complete Saturday’s racing program.
Sunday, April 30th will play host to the $20,000 to win 51st NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®. Filling out Sunday’s racing card will be qualifying and feature racing for the SK Modified®, SK Light Modified, and Late Model divisions along with last chance qualifiers for the Spring Sizzler®.