MAD FOR GATORS: Max McLaughlin scores second DIRTcar Nationals win, Big Gator points lead

Heinke-Baldwin Racing earns its first 1-2 finish since 2015 with Max McLaughlin and Jimmy Phelps
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The first three times Max McLaughlin asked Volusia Speedway Park for its iconic gator trophy this week it said “no.”

With every “no,” frustration grew. A third; an eight; and then a second. The latter, causing dejection to take over his posture.

Friday night, during the fourth round of DIRTcar Nationals Super DIRTcar Series action, “Mad Max” no longer asked politely. Feeling like he should’ve already had a 2022 gator resting in his trailer, the Mooresville, NC driver extracted every ounce of grit he had for 30 laps to wrestle his way to victory.

Jimmy Phelps, Mat Williamson and Demetrios Drellos tried to deny McLaughlin another win, but his patience triumphed, and he was handed his second DIRTcar Nationals little gator trophy – along with the Big Gator Championship points lead.

“At the start of the drop of the green I thought we were going to go backward in a hurry,” McLaughlin said. “I was really tight. I was like, there’s no way we’re going to be able to get off the bottom. The track had a lot of grip and the car kept getting better and better. Man, it was fun to drive.

“My guys worked their asses off this week. We changed a motor and brought out a backup car. I got the best team in the world and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

McLaughlin showed his speed early, claiming the Billy Whittaker Cars Fast Time Award. That earned him the pole for his Heat Race but had to settle second at its conclusion after Peter Britten bested him for the win.

Luck helped him in the Albany-Saratoga Speedway Redraw, placing him on the front row, alongside polesitter Demetrios Drellos, for the Feature.

The two young stars raced side by side for the first lap before Drellos edged ahead and left McLaughlin to fend off Williamson. McLaughlin’s fear of fading soon set in as Williamson easily slid by him for second.

Then, a caution arose that not only changed the complexity of the race but the Big Gator Championship. Then point-leader Peter Britten slowed on the backstretch due to a broken shock.

On the restart, McLaughlin tossed his F.X. Caprara #8H machine to the bottom of the track, blowing by Williamson and pulling even with Drellos by the center of the first corner. He was able to maintain his pass on Williamson, but Drellos again got the better run off the turn.

The caution flew again on Lap 14 due to Matt Sheppard suffering a flat tire. When the race resumed, McLaughlin again powered his way into the first turn, getting an advantage on Drellos and pulling ahead of him down the backstretch. By sliding high and blocking Drellos’s run, the orange and white #8H got breathing room to drive away.

Behind him, Williamson and Phelps were on the move, both passing Drellos to fill out the podium. With six laps to go, they were given a final shot at the 21-year-old when Britten blew a tire and brought the caution out again. According to officials, Williamson jumped the gun on his attack during the restart and was moved back a position before the next attempt. That placed Phelps alongside his teammate for a six-lap duel.

The veteran was unable to match McLaughlin in those final laps but earned his second runner-up finish of the week and helped Heinke-Baldwin Racing bring home its first 1-2 finish since 2015.

“It says a lot. It says we came down here prepared,” said Phelps, of Baldwinsville, NY. “We typically, me personally typically, haven’t run strong down here and they gave me a great race car.”

Williamson was unpleased with the rule of being put back a position for jumping the start and stated his car had an issue with restarts all race.

“We ran a harder tire and just couldn’t fire on the restarts,” the St. Catharines, Ontario driver said. “Hats off to Max and Jimmy, they ran a great race.”

With Britten’s issues causing him to finish 22nd and Stewart Friesen missing the race due to his NASCAR commitments, McLaughlin catapulted to the Big Gator Championship points lead with one race to go – currently leading Williamson and Phelps by five points and Britten by 18.

In his first week back with Heinke-Baldwin Racing – after a two-year absence – winning in just their fourth race together, the defending Big Gator champion now has his sights set on asking Volusia for a gator one more time.

“We’ve been so damn fast. It’s been so much fun,” McLaughlin said. “Tonight, was a great race. Last night was a great race. We just need to keep the momentum rolling.”

UP NEXT
The Super DIRTcar Series returns to Volusia Speedway Park for the 51st DIRTcar Nationals finale, Saturday, Feb. 19 – the Big Gator Championship night. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the race, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

RESULTS
DIRTcar Nationals Feature #4 (30 Laps): 1. 8H-Max McLaughlin[2]; 2. 98H-Jimmy Phelps[6]; 3. 88-Mat Williamson[3]; 4. 99L-Larry Wight[15]; 5. 3J-Marc Johnson[11]; 6. 111-Demetrios Drellos[1]; 7. 2L-Jack Lehner[7]; 8. 23C-Kyle Coffey[5]; 9. 35M-Mike Mahaney[10]; 10. 3H-Justin Haers[26]; 11. 215P-Adam Pierson[14]; 12. JS98-Rocky Warner[13]; 13. 16X-Dan Creeden[12]; 14. 30W-Joseph Watson[20]; 15. 8S-Rich Scagliotta[9]; 16. 54-Steve Bernard[24]; 17. 12S-Darren Smith[25]; 18. 14-CG Morey[19]; 19. 1K-Rick Laubach[22]; 20. 1-Andrew Smith[16]; 21. 35LJ-LJ Lombardo[23]; 22. 21A-Peter Britten[4]; 23. 1G-Darwin Greene[21]; 24. 83-Brian Swartzlander[17]; 25. (DNF) 9S-Matt Sheppard[8]; 26. (DNF) 19-Tim Fuller[18]