Ryan: The shoey fits for Scott McLaughlin as IndyCar gains appealing new star in St. Pete


ST PETERSBURG, Florida – The NTT IndyCar Series’ newest winner was asked if he wanted a bottle of water, and an exhausted Scott McLaughlin politely declined with a question of his own.

“Why is there no beer?” a weary McLaughlin said with a smile while sitting on the aeroscreen of his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet during the procession of postrace sponsor photos. “Yeah, like, we need beer.”

Team Penske marketing and PR reps quickly huddled to make a phone call to the hospitality suites, and a gold can of Miller High Life was ferried over within minutes. As soon as McLaughlin popped the top, the chant began from a group of fans who had been shouting “We love you!” from just beyond the barriers surrounding victory lane.


McLaughlin immediately stood up in his cockpit, removed his right shoe and emptied in 12 ounces of alcohol with an elaborate flourish. In a triumphant pose, he guzzled down the champagne of beers to raucous cheers.

“Doesn’t taste any better,” he said while immediately re-donning the boot that was now ruined.

It wasn’t McLaughlin’s first shoey – a victory celebration that is popular Down Under and made famous by Australian Daniel Ricciardo after his F1 wins.

But it surely won’t be McLaughin’s last in IndyCar, whose 2022 season opener christened a budding star Sunday.

Scott McLaughlin said the last time he performed a shoey was when won the Bathurst 1000 (Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment).

As a rookie last year, McLaughlin started a #ScottLearnsAmerica social media campaign to introduce the Christchurch, New Zealand, native to the wonders of the NFL Red Zone channel, various U.S. landmarks and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

And now that he’s burst out this weekend for his first career pole position and first career victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, America will be getting to learn Scott McLaughlin.

And there’s a lot to like beyond his mastery of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course that he coolly tamed with aplomb while coming under fire from defending series champion Alex Palou in the final 10 laps.

He’s got the prim and proper Team Penske routine down pat (subtly sliding in sponsor mentions while keeping a positive attitude about seemingly everything), but he clearly knows how to party, too.

And he also has a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor. “My butt is getting burnt,” McLaughlin told NBC’s Marty Snider after leaning up against his car’s exhaust to start his winner’s interview.

That was just after a pratfall began his initial celebration. Jumping off the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet sidepod, McLaughlin tried a half-corkscrew but was unable to stick the landing and tumbled harmlessly onto the asphalt.

“I couldn’t believe it,” McLaughlin said. “I jumped — no shit — and my legs just were jelly, bro. And when I hit the ground, I’m like, I’m done. I tried to make it as delicate as I could, and I just looked like an idiot. I looked like a wombat, man. It was bad.

The sequence from left to right of Scott McLaughlin’s winning pratfall in St. Pete (Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment).

“You guys hear of wombats? Or a kiwi? Kiwis don’t fly, that’s why they fall over when they come down from the sky. That’s what we did just then.”

For those unfamiliar with New Zealand ornithology, the kiwi is a flightless bird endemic to the country – and quite the opposite trajectory of its latest favorite son in racing.

McLaughlin, 28, has taken flight in a skyrocketing career that has him firmly following in the successful footsteps of six-time IndyCar champion and fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon.

Already a three-time champion for DJR Team Penske in the prestigious Australian Supercars Series, McLaughlin ranked third on Penske’s all-time win list before his Sunday breakthrough in St. Pete. “To win on both sides of the world is pretty cool,” he said after his 57th Penske win.

But there still was an element of New Zealand sorely missing from the win that McLaughlin ranked among the top four moments of his life  (with his wedding day, Bathurst 1000 triumph and first Supercars title).

His parents, Wayne and Diane, were unable to attend. Because of pandemic travel restrictions in his native country, McLaughlin last saw them in January of 2020.

When he climbed out of the car, his wife, Karly, handed over a waiting iPhone so he immediately could FaceTime them with his mom and dad, who had been up since 1 a.m. in New Zealand watching the race. The tears flowed especially for his father, who wears his son’s racing gear and shouts at the TV while watching races.

IndyCar Scott McLaughlin shoey
Scott McLaughlin talks to his parents via FaceTime after his first IndyCar victory (Mark Brown/Getty Images).

“They are just over the moon,” Karly McLaughlin told NBC Sports in victory lane. “They’re his biggest supporters. It’s hard, and it especially hurts more often on days like today and yesterday with his first pole and his first win. It stings. I wish they could be here for him.”

His parents will be coming to visit in May for the Indy 500 and then staying for three months, but Scott McLaughlin still had several family members in victory lane Sunday.

Karly is a native of New York (she and McLaughlin met at a party in Las Vegas), and her parents, Denise and John, attended the St. Pete race along with her sister Taylor and her fiancée, Sean.

“They’re our biggest support system,” Karly said. “We’re so lucky to have them.”

IndyCar Scott McLaughlin shoey
Scott and Karly McLaughlin celebrate with family members who attended his victory Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida (Nate Ryan).

Scott McLaughlin did have one Australian on hand this weekend, a mechanic from his Supercars team who recently moved to America in pursuit of racing work. It’s the first familiar face that McLaughlin had seen from the corner of the world where he was raised since October of 2020.

“I miss them dearly,” he said of his parents. “They’re the ones that got me here and made me believe in myself. My mom and dad have been infatuated with the U.S.A. for many years, and that put the love of the U.S.A. and the want to come over here to the big leagues when I was a young kid, even way before my Supercars success.”

As if being homesick wasn’t hard enough in 2021, McLaughlin also struggled through a mostly lackluster rookie season by his lofty standards. Amid a few brief highlights (a second at Texas), he finished 14th in the points standings on a team that had three series champions and two Indy 500 winners.

“I wasn’t kidding myself, but at the same time it’s hard to go from the mindset of win every week and that’s all that matters, nothing less, to going, ‘Hey, I’d love a top 15,’ ” McLaughlin said. “I don’t work like that. I’m a competitive bloke. I want to win. I want to get poles. I want to dominate races and not even worry about things.

“I did that for four years, and then coming here, basically, it just mucks with your head. You’ve got to be realistic about things, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, like, ‘Why am I sucking in qualifying when I’m good?’ It’s a mind game, man, and you’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to just believe in yourself.

“As a professional sportsman you go through highs and lows. You’re getting paid good money and you’re running 15th, it’s not good. For me it’s not good. I drive for the biggest motorsport team in the world. For me it wasn’t good. But I feel like today, this weekend, we proved that (with) hard work, perseverance, you can get there, and I felt very proud of that.”

There was reassurance from team owner Roger Penske, who told McLaughlin that “it’s a long story not a short one” when it comes to careers in racing.

McLaughlin also credited his wife, whom he called “an absolute rock. She’s put the belief in me. I would be nothing without her.”

IndyCar Scott McLaughlin shoey
Karly and Scott McLaughlin (Nate Ryan)

“I’m so proud of him,” Karly said. “He wanted this so bad. He was so hard on himself last year. It didn’t go the way he wanted. We just said be patient, it’ll come. You’re an amazing athlete in what you do. And it’s only up from here.

“(The team) have all the faith in the world in him, and he knows that. He’s just harder on himself than anybody else, of course. But now the monkey’s off his back, and confidence is his biggest drive. And it’s on.”

The McLaughlin family wasn’t flying home until Monday, so the party was on Sunday night in St. Petersburg.

But Scott McLaughlin already was balancing the celebration with the preparation of being back in a driving simulator Wednesday to work on upcoming races at Texas and Long Beach.

“I’ll have a few beers, don’t you worry about that,” McLaughlin said. “But I’ll make sure that I get back on the horse. It’s going to be hard, but I’m there.”

The shoey in St. Pete showed he definitely is here now.

And it’s an arrival that IndyCar can be very happy about.

This might be the first of many shoey celebrations for Scott McLaughlin in IndyCar victory lane (Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment).


The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

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‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500