Max McLaughlin

50th DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator Championship Goes to McLaughlin

BARBERVILLE, FL – Max McLaughlin walked into Volusia Speedway Park with one mission —  win races. He captured one victory, three top-fives and four top-10s to take the 50th DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator championship for the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds.

The banner win came with a dose of redemption that had been on McLaughlin’s mind since he drove for Heinke-Baldwin Racing in 2017. 

“Not only have I wanted to win at this race track for a long time, but to get a DIRTcar Nationals championship is really special,” said McLaughlin, of Mooresville, NC. “I almost got one in 2017 when I tied with Brett Hearn. He ended up winning the final night which gave the championship to him. It’s been bothering me for a few years that we didn’t win it. Now, this makes up for it.”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the multi-discipline race car driver at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile. The 20-year-old driver of the #32C made contact with seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard in Turn 1, Lap 1 during the rain-delayed Feature on Feb. 11. McLaughlin went on to win the race with Sheppard finishing fifth, however the drivers were involved in an altercation afterward.  

“I made a mistake hitting the water on Lap 1 and got into Sheppard and got punched in the face for it,” McLaughlin said. “That’s alright. Whatever. I got one black eye, one busted lip, and one DIRTcar Nationals championship.”

Sheppard was penalized

McLaughlin now has his first two Super DIRTcar Series wins with the Sweentener’s Plus Big Block. 

“Thank you, Vic Coffey and everyone at the Sweetener’s Plus race team, for giving me the opportunity,” he said. “We won our first Heat Race of the week and I remember saying in an interview that this team has won here before and now it’s up to me and that’s what we did.”

McLaughlin finished in an average position of 4.5 and accumulated 594 points in four completed 30-lap Features. Just behind him was The Franklin Flyer Billy Decker in his Gypsum Wholesalers Big Block who finished with 589 points. Decker had four top-five finishes to finish the week in second place overall which is a good indicator that the #91 will be contending for a Super DIRTcar Series championship in 2021. 

Michael Maresca finished in third place overall and came out with his first career Super DIRTcar Series win. The St. Lawrence Radiology #7MM is off to a strong start in 2021.

Check out the final Big Gator championship points standings here.

The Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds start up the championship points season at The Nasty Track, Can-Am Speedway, on Saturday, April 10. If you can’t make it to the track DIRTVision will have you covered for the broadcast. 

Be sure to follow us on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also bookmark SuperDIRTcarSeries.com for the schedule, features, race reports, and more. 

HALF-SECOND HERO: McLaughlin Edges Decker for First Career DIRTcar Nationals Win

BARBERVILLE, FL – Max McLaughlin raced home to his second Super DIRTcar Series win and his first trip to Volusia Speedway Park’s confetti-filled Victory Lane on Thursday night during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals.

The 20-year-old pilot of the #32C Sweetener’s Plus Big Block Modified was just barely able to box out future Hall of Famer Billy Decker in a wild finish where the two swapped lines on the track trying to block and slide each other at the same time. Hard charger Michael Maresca in the #7MM car cruised from 19th to third in an amazing run through the field.

After a lengthy rain delay, drama built quickly in the 30-lap Feature as McLaughlin made contact with seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard on the first lap, sending Sheppard’s #9S up the race track and into Peter Britten’s #21A. Sheppard made his displeasure with McLaughlin known during the caution flag, but was able to recover for a fifth-place finish. 

“I got into the water there on lap one,” said McLaughlin, of Mooresville, NC. “It was a bonehead move, I guess. They checked up and he [Matt Sheppard] started pushing and I figured I’d go right below him. The left front hit the water and pushed up and I got into Matt. I hate that. That’s kind of what I was thinking about the whole race.”

When the race returned to green flag action, McLaughlin had to contend with some heavy hitters. “Mad Max” found a way around defending Series champion Mat Williamson as well as “The Baldwinsville Bandit” Jimmy Phelps, who started on the outside pole. 

However, once McLaughlin took the lead on Lap 15 there was no time to relax. Decker had his Gypsum Wholesalers #91 at full song around the top side of the speedway in pursuit during the closing stages.

“I didn’t really know where he was but I knew he was coming around the top,” McLaughlin said. “I knew I had to change something and I saw the [signal] sticks get smaller and smaller. I had to do something different.”

With an adjustment of his line, McLaughlin was able to hold Decker’s crimson #91 at bay. 

Decker did all he could to try and pass for the lead.

“We had to go where he wasn’t,” said Decker,  of Unadilla, NY. “I think we were as good as he was on the bottom, but he fired a little better on the restarts than we did. After a few laps, I think we got it rolling so it was one of those deals where he had to stick to his lane. I started hazing the outside and closing the gap. He obviously got the signal from the infield to move. If he didn’t, he was going to finish where I did. He had to move and I didn’t get him soon enough.”

Decker will look to improve just one more position tomorrow night for a coveted 50th Anniversary DIRTcar Nationals win.

Michael Maresca, from Pierrepont, NY, advanced 16 positions to capture his second consecutive third-place finish. The #7MM started the night behind the eight-ball.

“We buried ourselves in a hole in qualifying,” Maresca said. “We had a really good car all night. I think with it being a little bit wetter, I think it threw me off on my gear selection. We were able to capitalize on good restarts.”

A fast, widening race track gave him what he needed to work through two-thirds of the field in 30 laps. Unfortunately, for the pilot of the St. Lawrence Radiology Big Block Modified, Decker and McLaughlin were just a click faster. 

“Congrats to Max and Billy,” Maresca said. “I couldn’t keep up with them. I think I was just a little bit under-geared for that. But I know our car is good so we are just going to keep trucking and hopefully contend for a win tomorrow.”

Catch all the action in person or on DIRTVision on Friday, February 12 at Volusia Speedway Park as the Super DIRTcar Series take on The World’s Fastest Half-Mile for the fourth night in a row alongside the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models. 

Keep up with the Super DIRTcar Series at SuperDIRTcarSeries.com and on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Full results available here

Feature (30 Laps) — 1. 32C-Max McLaughlin [5][$4,000]; 2. 91-Billy Decker [11][$2,000]; 3. 7MM-Michael Maresca [19][$1,000]; 4. 88-Mat Williamson [4][$800]; 5. 9S-Matt Sheppard [3][$700]; 6. 25-Erick Rudolph [15][$650]; 7. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [2][$600]; 8. 23-Kyle Coffey [21][$550]; 9. 21A-Peter Britten [6][$500]; 10. 1D-Tyler Dippel [10][$450]; 11. 8-Rich Scagliotta [14][$400]; 12. 7F-Tim Fuller [12][$375]; 13. 4-Billy VanInwegen [23][$350]; 14. 16X-Dan Creeden [26][$325]; 15. 118-Jim Britt [9][$300]; 16. 19M-Jessey Mueller [13][$300]; 17. 17D-Marcus Dinkins [25][$300]; 18. 1-Darwin Greene [22][$300]; 19. 20-Brett Hearn [16][$300]; 20. 14-CG Morey [29][$300]; 21. 88T-Tyler Jashembowski [17][$300]; 22. 30-Ryan Godown [8][$300]; 23. 6-Matt Stangle [1][$300]; 24. 2-Jack Lehner [7][$300]; 25. 33T-Cass Bennett [27][$300]; 26. 01W-Justin Wright [24][$300]; 27. 17-Rob Pitcher [20][$300]; 28. B52-Brandon Hightower [28][$300]; 29. 26-Derrick McGrew [18][$300]. Hard Charger Award: 7MM-Michael Maresca[+16].