Scott McLaughlin has won the past two V8 Supercars championships and the Bathurst 1000, but he rates the Western Bulldogs’ drought-breaking premiership in 2016 alongside those two individual achievements. And he isn’t just saying that.
The 26-year-old may have been born in New Zealand and only spent a fraction of his life in Melbourne, but he has red, white and blue blood coursing through his veins.
It started when McLaughlin and his family relocated from Christchurch to Point Cook. He knew no one in Melbourne and had never heard of our game until his mum suggested he try ‘Aussie Rules’ to help make friends at his primary school.
That was back in 2003 when he raced Go Karts and dreamt about becoming the next Mark Skaife or Marcus Ambrose.
Fast forward nearly two decades and McLaughlin’s obsession with the Western Bulldogs has reached a level where he takes his mobile phone onto the starting grid to get score updates if his race overlaps with a game.
The DJR Team Penske driver was on the grid for a night race in Perth last year when emerging star Aaron Naughton was tearing Richmond apart on an unforgettable Saturday night at Marvel Stadium.
The then 19-year-old slotted five goals and hauled in 14 marks, including nine contested grabs, to lead Luke Beveridge’s men to a stunning 47-point win.
McLaughlin had to wait until after the race to watch the highlights of a performance many compared to Wayne Carey, but it helped inspire him to another win during a brilliant 2019 season.
“I honestly rank the 2016 premiership as the top three all-time sporting moments of my career. I’ve won Bathurst and championships, but watching your team win a grannie – and that whole month – was unreal,” McLaughlin told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“I remember the first final against West Coast; I didn’t think we were any chance to win; then they won, and I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I sat down in my house the whole prelim against GWS. Then the Grand Final, we had a massive party at my house, and it was one of the best days of my life, no word of a lie.
“I 100 per cent no word of a lie put it up alongside those two [V8 supercars championships and Bathurst]. Watching your team win a Grand Final was phenomenal. That whole two weeks of the prelim and Grand Final was so sick. It was such a cool period as a fan.”
McLaughlin has spent time in the Western Bulldogs’ rooms after games in recent years and has built a friendship with Naughton since having the budding star into the pits at Mount Panorama in 2018.
The young West Australian isn’t the only key forward McLaughlin has become tight with during his emergence on the V8 Supercars scene. He now counts Richmond dual premiership star Jack Riewoldt as a close mate after first crossing paths at a Fox Footy shoot a few years ago.
When Riewoldt implored him to sit down with mindfulness expert Emma Murray – who has been one of the hidden weapons behind Richmond’s success since 2016 – at the end of 2017, their relationship changed.
McLaughlin had just coughed up a final round lead to lose the title in heartbreaking circumstances. He had heard Dustin Martin mention Murray’s name after winning the Brownlow Medal, but was sceptical. Now Murray is part of team McLaughlin and continuing to make a name for herself as one of the best mental skills coaches in Australian sport.
“To be honest, I was never a fan of Jack. I thought he was a bit of a flog; he knows that,” McLaughlin laughs.
“When Richmond were in the finals one year, AFL 360 wanted to get Jack into the car before the prelim. Jack got clearance from the team and came out to Sandown one day and we have just stayed in touch ever since.
“We got really close over that off season through the mindfulness stuff. He reached out and helped me with that when he didn’t really have to do that. We’ve got really close and do a podcast together as well. He’s tried so hard to get me on the Richmond bandwagon, but that will never happen.”
Much like the AFL season, the V8 Supercars are gearing up to restart after the coronavirus pandemic pulled the brakes on the campaign at the completion of round two.
McLaughlin will return to racing on June 27 eager to continue his form after finishing second and first in the first two races to lead seven-time winner Jamie Whincup in the standings.
“Initially I wasn’t allowed to really leave my house. Slowly it has started to open up. I’ve been able to do some personal training and a lot of conditioning on my own. I’ve enjoyed that part of it – training myself and getting myself in shape,” he said.
“I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard. But it has been hard for everyone. It is frustrating and been up and down but now we’ve got a date that we’re coming back to race it makes you feel a lot better.”
The first half of 2020 has been challenging for the world. But now the real challenge starts for McLaughlin as he looks to win his third championship in a row – and for the Western Bulldogs, who started the season as one of the premiership favourites.
McLaughlin won’t be in the crowd this season, but he will be watching on from afar, maybe even from inside his Ford Mustang on the starting grid.