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

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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.

“SHOE-Y! SHOE-Y! SHOE-Y!”

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).

 

In tears after the Indianapolis 500, Santino Ferrucci is proud of his third-place finish

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INDIANAPOLIS – Santino Ferrucci was in tears after last Sunday’s 107th Indy 500.

The AJ Foyt Racing driver from Woodbury, Connecticut had just driven the best race of his career, only to have the final yellow flag of the race fly just a second or two before he would have been in position for the win.

The field had just been given the green flag with four laps to go and Ferrucci was charging in the No. 14 Chevrolet into Turn 1, about to pass both Josef Newgarden for second place, which would have put him in prime position to draft past Marcus Ericsson for the victory.

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But IndyCar race control issued the third red flag stoppage in the final 15 laps of the race and with Ferrucci 2 inches behind Newgarden’s Chevrolet, he was lined up third.

When IndyCar had the remaining drivers refire the engines for three-quarters of a lap behind the Pace Car followed by a one-lap green and white flag dash to the finish, Ferrucci knew there was little he could do to get past the front two cars.

Newgarden passed Ericsson on the backstretch and went on to take the checkered flag for his first Indianapolis 500 victory. Ericsson was just 0.0974-of-a-second away from winning the Indy 500 for the second year in a row and Ferrucci was 0.5273-of-a-second away from winning his first career NTT IndyCar Series race.

It was a fantastic effort for Ferrucci, but to come so close to winning the biggest race in the world, the kid from Connecticut was heartbroken.

“We were so good this month,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports after climbing out of his car. “When you are that fast all month long, you just want it that much more. The way we did everything to finish the race under green, it’s great for the fans, IndyCar did the right thing, but sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow restarting third like that when you are really second.

“It’s all timing and scoring. That doesn’t lie. If it says we are third, we are third. It’s very bittersweet.”

When Ericsson and Newgarden were both “Unleashing the Dragon” with the draft-breaking zigzag moves at the end of the race, Ferrucci admitted he was hoping it would play into his favor if those two made contact ahead of him.

“I was hoping and praying because when you are third, that’s all you can do – hope and pray,” Ferrucci said.

His prayers were not answered, but his determination to win the Indianapolis 500 remains undeterred.

He has never finished outside of the top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. Ferrucci was seventh as a rookie in 2019, fourth in 2020, sixth in 2021, 10th last year and third this past Sunday.

“I love this place,” the driver said. “I love coming here. I’m always so comfortable in the race. We are good at avoiding all of the accidents that happened in front of us.

“We will win it eventually. We have to.”

Ferrucci has proven he likes to rise to the big moments.

“I like the pressure,” he said. “We do well under pressure.

“But you have to take third, sometimes.

“We had a really good shot at winning this race. We made the most of it.”

Ferrucci continues to display the uncanny knack for racing hard and avoiding trouble. When he took the lead in the No. 14 car made famous by his team owner, legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner AJ Foyt, many of the fans in the crowd of 330,000 roared with approval.

Ferrucci was in front for 11 laps and was in prime position to pounce at the end, before the final 15 laps brought out red flag fever.

Because of that, and the timing of where he was when the last yellow light came on before the final red, put him in a difficult position to win the race.

“It’s just emotional, bittersweet,” he said. “It was emotional getting in the car, which was kind of strange because you feel like there’s a lot of people that really want this, the team really wants this.

“We worked so hard to be where we were. We ran out front all day long. It’s definitely one of the more difficult races that I’ve probably ever run, and just we also knew that we had a really good car.

“We got really close with Felix Rosenqvist when he was wrecking so very thankful, we were able to avoid that. And then yeah, coming to the end, I think on the second to final restart, me and Marcus battling it into 1, and obviously it going red when it did, it’s part of this place, it’s part of racing, it’s part of the Speedway.

“I’m just bummed. I’m sure Marcus Ericsson thinks the same thing I do.

“All three of us could have won it at any point in time.

“Yeah, it’s bittersweet.”

A few days have passed since Ferrucci was crying when he got out of the race car. He celebrated his birthday on Wednesday by mowing his lawn after a 12-hour drive back to his home in Texas. On Thursday morning, he flies to Detroit to get ready for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Detroit.

It has given him a chance to reflect on the biggest weekend of his career.

“Everybody saw on national television I was basically crying,” Ferrucci said. “It’s just one of those competitor things in you that there was so much riding on that race, and it was going so well up until that — it finished really well.

“It wasn’t just pressure to perform but emotional pressure to just be there and to know that we probably had that race won, had it gone yellow two seconds later, it’s just kind of heartbreaking. But still, at the end of the day, you come home in third, to join Helio Castroneves and one other driver, (Harry Hartz, who finished second, second, fourth, fourth and second from 1922-1926), in five of your first five starts in top 10s. And, then you really start to look at what you’ve accomplished at the 500 in your first five starts with four different teams and what you did with A.J. Foyt — what we’ve done at AJ Foyt Racing, who hasn’t had a podium or top 3 since the year 2000 at the Speedway.

“There are so many positives, and that day could have been so much worse. We had so many close calls between pit lane and some of the crashes on track that at the end of the day I was just really, really happy.

“I went to bed that night knowing that I did the best I could, the team did the best they could, and that’s the track.”

Ferrucci stressed that he didn’t have a problem with IndyCar race control doing everything in their power to make sure the race finished the distance under green.

“The way that IndyCar finished under green was 100 percent correct for the fans,” Ferrucci said. “It didn’t affect anything for me. What affected me wasn’t the red, it was the yellow.

“The second it went yellow, had it gone yellow two seconds later had they waited, which you can’t wait when you’re crashing, so there’s nothing you can do, I was in third, I was about 6 inches behind Newgarden, and that’s very clear in the video.

“At the end of the day, nothing changed for me. The fact that they actually went red and restarted the race gave me that opportunity to win again. I just didn’t have a great restart because it’s chaotic when you just go. You’ve got to also remember there’s no restart zone.

“At that point when you’re going green for one lap, it was really cool to see the shootout, I’m not going to lie, but you know that they’re going green, so you were literally at the hands of the leader on a completely random — you could start going into 3 in the middle of 3 and 4 out of 4. He could start the race whenever he wanted to start the race instead of in the zone, so it was completely unpredictable.

“(Ericsson) had a really good jump, and I did not. That’s what took me out of the win at the end of the race. It had nothing to do with IndyCar or the red in my opinion.”

Ferrucci and rookie teammate Benjamin Pedersen helped put a smile on 88-year-old AJ Foyt’s face in what started as the one of the saddest months of Foyt’s life after his wife of 68 years, Lucy, died.

Foyt returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dealing with grief, but for the past three weeks, he was able to see his racing team return to prominence.

I think he was really proud,” Ferrucci said of Foyt. “There’s truly two people that understood my emotions and felt my emotions on Sunday. A.J. was one, and Michael Cannon (his engineer) was the other.

“If you look at some of the photos from that day, you can kind of see it in my eyes, just — you really have to have it in your hands and then lose it in your hands to kind of understand that feeling of when you work that hard. You have to understand you’re coming from a team with two cars, a budget that’s a quarter of the size of Penske and Ganassi, and that’s all month long. We wanted it probably that much more than everybody else that day.

“To come up that short, A.J.’s finished second and third on dominant days in the ’70s, and he talked about those races, where we had the car to win. We were by far the best car at the end of that race. Once the Team McLarens were out of it and the 10 car and the 21 had the incident in pit lane, that left us.

“We were the car to win, and yeah, just sitting third knowing there’s nothing you can do, after all that hard work, yeah, it’s a feeling that very few people would understand.

“But he was incredibly proud of I think what the organization accomplished. I’m very proud of Larry and what Larry Foyt has done with the team because Larry has had control of this team since 2007, and to see him get his first podium as a team boss and team owner at the speedway was huge.

“I think everybody was incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500