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Reunited, and It Feels So Right: McLaughlins Together Again

Reunited, and It Feels So Right: McLaughlins Together Again

Scott McLaughlin was nervous after Team Penske’s 8:45 a.m. press conference on Fast Friday, May 20, ahead of practice at the Indianapolis 500. For the first time in two and a half years, he would see his parents, Wayne and Diane, in person.

They were due to land in Indianapolis on Thursday evening after traveling more than 24 hours from New Zealand, but delays pushed their arrival time to 6 a.m. Friday. Twenty-seven months and counting would have to wait a few more hours.

Scott’s wife, Karly, picked up her in-laws from the Indianapolis International Airport as Scott prepared for what would turn out to be a challenging day at the track. They were in his coach waiting for his return from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center.

“I was just nervous,” Scott said. “It was weird, wasn’t it? You just build up that energy.”

Scott opened the door of his RV and his mother nearly fell out of the RV and into her son’s arms for a hug she hadn’t gotten since February 2020.

Scott’s sister, Samantha, arrives in Indianapolis this week, and for the first time since December 2019 at Scott and Karly’s wedding, the entire McLaughlin family will be reunited as one for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge this Sunday (11 am ET, live on NBC, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

The COVID-19 pandemic kept the family apart for so long. Scott and Karly lived in Australia when he raced in the Australian V8 Supercars series, and Wayne and Diane lived in New Zealand. When the world went into lockdown in March 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus, the family was separated because the borders were closed.

Towards the end of 2020, Scott and Karly were sent even further afield by a rapid turnaround: Scott had won his third consecutive Australian V8 Supercars Championship and was given the opportunity to participate in Team Penske’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES programme.

Ahead of a full season in 2021, Team Penske wanted McLaughlin to get wet in the series by competing in the 2020 season finale on the streets of St. Petersburg in October.

Scott wanted to say goodbye in person, but the risk wasn’t worth it. Borders were still closely guarded ‘down under’ and as Karly was a US citizen, they were unsure how long the process would take before she would enter New Zealand.

So McLaughlin just said goodbye to his parents over a FaceTime video call and flew around the world. He was able to personally and sincerely say goodbye to his sister, who visited him at the Bathurst 1000 and left in tears at the thought of not knowing when she would see her brother again.

“We just didn’t expect (the pandemic) to last this long,” Wayne said. “(Samantha) called heartbroken, and we were heartbroken because we couldn’t say goodbye. And now he’s going to a category (race series) that’s the best in the world, and we couldn’t be there.”

During the plane to the United States, it dawned on McLaughlin that he had no idea when he would see his family again.

“Before I got on the plane, I broke down a little bit, because it hit me,” Scott said. “I had Bathurst and I was focused on Bathurst and doing things and it’s a big race. Then we were done and I was at the airport, and suddenly I’m at the gate.

“I called (grandmother) Nana, and it was difficult. I haven’t seen Nana in three years.”

Scott’s transition to North America’s premier open-wheel series was an additional wrinkle for the family. Scott was a decorated champion in V8 Supercars, which are more like stock cars than open wheel cars.

Wayne and Diane never wanted their son to race in open wheel because of perceived danger. But Team Penske assured them that they had the best gear with all the safety precautions and that their son was in good hands with them. The conversation put them at ease as much as possible.

“They knew we were worried, and they pushed the safety side of things and explained so much and made it worthwhile,” Wayne said.

For the past year and a half, Wayne and Diane would sometimes wake up at 4 a.m. local time to watch Scott play in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in the No. 3 Chevrolet entered. Some races were bad, like his St. Pete debut when he finished 21st. Others were good, such as when he finished second in his Texas Motor Speedway oval debut in 2021.

And some were incredible, like when he won his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of his career in St. Petersburg in February. Still in Victory Lane after celebrating his win, Karly handed the phone to Scott with his parents on FaceTime so they could soak up as much of the win as possible.

But thousands of miles away just wasn’t enough.

“We’re talking on the phone and you can hear it in his voice — I can read it like a book — and you can feel it,” Wayne said. “I think that made it even harder because we just wanted to get here.”

Finally, during the PPG Armed Forces Qualifying Weekend, which formed the grid for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Wayne and Diane got to see their son in person for the first time in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car.

The incredible speeds, which were some of the fastest this race has seen in 26 years, had them on edge as they watched Scott complete his four-lap qualifying attempt from the pit lane.

“To see him go for qualifying, I was honestly looking for a bucket,” said Diane. “I had my sunglasses on, but I had tears.”

This Sunday Wayne and Diane will see it all on another level as 32 other drivers will join Scott on the famed 2.5 mile oval battling to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Last year, McLaughlin admitted to getting emotional during the pre-race festivities because his parents weren’t part of his first Indy 500.

This year, he doesn’t expect to be emotional when his family is around, and the nerves have subsided. He will be excited and proud to see him race in the biggest one day sporting event in the world.

The family affair doesn’t stop there. Wayne and Diane will be in the States for the next three months, road tripping across the country and attending every NTT INDYCAR SERIES race this summer as they watch their son race in person for the first time since February 2020.

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