Scott McLaughlin was nervous after the 8:45 a.m. Team Penske press conference on Fast Friday, May 20, ahead of Indianapolis 500 practice. For the first time in two and a half years, he was going to see his parents, Wayne and Diane, in person.
They were set to land in Indianapolis after more than 24 hours of travel from New Zealand on Thursday night, but delays pushed their arrival time until 6 a.m. Friday morning. Twenty-seven months and counting were going to have to wait a few more hours.
Scott’s wife, Karly, picked her in-laws up from the Indianapolis International Airport while Scott was getting ready for what ended up being a challenging day on track. They were in his motorcoach waiting for him to return from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center.
“I was just nervous,” Scott said. “It was weird, right? You just build up that energy.”
Scott opened the door to his RV, and his mother all but fell out of the RV and into her son’s arms for a hug she hadn’t received 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 ahead of the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge this Sunday (11 a.m. 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 was racing in the Australian V8 Supercars series, and Wayne and Diane lived in New Zealand. When the world locked down to prevent the spread of the virus in March 2020, the family was separated as borders were closed.
By the end of 2020, a rapid turn of events sent Scott and Karly even further away: Scott had won his third consecutive Australian V8 Supercars championship and was given an opportunity to join Team Penske’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES program.
Ahead of a full season in 2021, Team Penske wanted McLaughlin to get his feet wet in the series by competing in the 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg that October.
Scott wanted to say goodbye in person, but the risk wasn’t worth it. Borders were still tightly guarded “down under,” and with Karly being an American citizen, they weren’t sure how long the process would take for her to get into New Zealand.
So, McLaughlin simply told his parents goodbye over a FaceTime video call and jetted off across the world. He was able to give an in-person and heartfelt goodbye to his sister, who visited him at the Bathurst 1000 and left in tears at the idea of not knowing when she would see her brother again.
“We just didn’t expect (the pandemic) go on for so long,” Wayne said. “(Samantha) rang up heartbroken, and we were heartbroken, because we weren’t able to say goodbye. And now he’s moving to a category (racing series) that is the best in the world, and we couldn’t be there.”
It hit McLaughlin on the plane ride to the United States that he had no idea when he would see his family next.
“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 stuff and it’s a big race. Then we finished and I was at the airport, and all of a sudden, I’m at the boarding gate.
“I called (grandmother) Nana, and that was hard. I haven’t seen Nana in three years.”
Scott’s transition to North America’s premier open-wheel series was an added 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 they had the best equipment with all safety measures and that their son was in good hands with them. The conversation put them as much at ease as possible.
“They knew that we were apprehensive, and they pushed the safety side of things and explained so much and made it worthwhile,” Wayne said.
For the last year and a half, Wayne and Diane woke up sometimes at 4 a.m. local time to watch Scott compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in the No. 3 Chevrolet. Some races were bad, like his St. Pete debut when he finished 21st. Others were good, like when he finished second in his Texas Motor Speedway oval debut in 2021.
And some were incredible, like when he won his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES race in February at St. Petersburg. 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.
Still, being thousands of miles away just wasn’t cutting it.
“We talk on the phone, and you can hear it in his voice – I can read him like a book – and you can feel it,” Wayne said. “I suppose that made it even harder, because we just wanted to get here.”
Finally, over PPG Armed Forces Qualifying Weekend, which set the starting lineup for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Wayne and Diane got to see their son drive an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car in person for the first time.
The incredible speeds, which were some of the highest this race has seen in 26 years, had them on edge as they watched Scott complete his four-lap qualifying attempt from pit lane.
“To see him go out for qualifying, honestly I was looking for a bucket,” Diane said. “I had my sunglasses on, but I had tears.”
This Sunday, Wayne and Diane will see it all on a different level as 32 other drivers will join Scott on the famed 2.5-mile oval competing to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Last year, McLaughlin admitted he got emotional during pre-race festivities because his parents weren’t a part of his first Indy 500.
This year, he doesn’t expect he will be emotional with his family in attendance, and the nerves have subsided. He’ll be excited and proud that they get to see him race in the largest single-day sporting event in the world.
The family affair doesn’t end there. Wayne and Diane will be in the United States for the next three months, road-tripping around the country and catching every NTT INDYCAR SERIES race this summer as they watch their son race in person for the first time since February 2020.