Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – WATKINS GLEN, NY – Max McLaughlin was excited back in February when he announced that he would make his NASCAR Xfinity debut at Watkins Glen.
The weekend is finally here for “Mad Max.”
“The year has really flown by,” McLaughlin said. “Excited to get my shot and finally running in an Xfinity car.”
McLaughlin will be racing the No. 96 FRS Racing Chevrolet. McLaughlin has known team owner Collin Fern for a while and has had conversations about racing when Fern was the technical director at Brandonbilt Motorsports.
“He found some sponsors to come on board with us, and it’s pretty cool,” McLaughlin told RPW Wednesday. “A lot of fun times together, and now he’s an Xfinity Series owner. It’s cool to work with your friends.”
It’s a special place for McLaughlin to make his Xfinity Series debut. In 2019, he was pursuing a NASCAR career with Hattori Racing Enterprises, and in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA Menards Series East division), he won his first career NASCAR race at The Glen. McLaughlin led all 34 laps and beat drivers like Ty Gibbs, Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Brandon Jones, and Tanner Gray.
“It’s a better feeling that you at least know the track and have had some success there always helps,” McLaughlin stated. “Just have a solid car that turns and can get off the corner. It’s tricky. The Bus Stop is one of the unique corners in racing. A track that I’ve grown to like and hope I prepared enough.”
The paint scheme, too, throws back to his lone NASCAR/ARCA win, per Collin Fern’s idea.
“It was cool,” McLaughlin said. “We were a low-buck team in the ARCA stuff, too. We didn’t wrap our cars every week. That was the story of it. It was a joke when we won at Watkins, ‘the guy with the orange hood won.’ Hopefully, have a good run for the guy with the orange hood again.”
How does McLaughlin prepare for racing an Xfinity car for the first time with minimal practice? iRacing is the answer, especially when unable to access the giant Chevrolet Performance simulator.
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” McLaughlin commented. “Gonna do more of it [this week] and be prepared as long as I can, make sure everything’s comfortable at the track Friday, hope we’re solid in practice and qualifying and get a good starting spot.”
McLaughlin told Jayski earlier this year that he knows WGI like the back of his hand. Not only does it relate to watching his father Mike race here (and win in a 1997 Xfinity race), but also playing the track on video games all the time as a kid.
“We’d pick the track every time with my buddies in North Carolina [on NASCAR 2003.] Probably Dad’s best track. Has a lot of family history and a place I’d like to have a great debut at.”
The first step is to make the race. A successful weekend? Bringing the car back in one piece and passing as many drivers as possible. But it will be tough with Cup drivers like Kyle Busch, Gibbs, and Alex Bowman running a tuneup race before the next day’s Cup event.
“Lot of good cars,” McLaughlin stated. “The Cup guys make it a tough field trying to get ready for Sunday. I don’t know what to expect. I’m just gonna go do the best I can and pass as many cars as possible.”