NASCAR BGN Food City 250 Preview: #34, Mike McLaughlin
21 August 1997
#34 Mike McLaughlin, Royal Oak Charcoal Chevrolet Monte Carlo NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Food City 250 Advance Bristol Motor Speedway VETERAN WINSTON CUP STAR TEACHES McLAUGHLIN ABOUT BRISTOL BRISTOL, TN - During the 1997 NASCAR Busch Series season, Mike McLaughlin made a huge turnaround at Bristol Motor Speedway. While participating on the Kyle Petty Charity Tour, which left from Texas and ended in Bristol, McLaughlin was introduced to Veteran Winston Cup Star Harry Gant. Holding the race speed record, winning the 1992 spring race and earning a pole position at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gant was just the man McLaughlin needed to get advice from regarding his woes on this particular track. After several conversations with Gant, McLaughlin thought long and hard about the race at Bristol, which was only a few days away. "Harry explained to me his style of driving, and how he worked with the car," said McLaughlin. "I took that into consideration for that particular weekend. Set-up wise I could not use what he had, but I tried a few of the adjustments he suggested and they seemed to help. "Gary Cogswell also suggested a different type of car than what we had used in the past, and that worked." McLaughlin qualified the #34 Royal Oak Chevrolet in second position, his best start ever at Bristol and his second outside pole of the 1997 season. On April 12, 1997 he placed second in the Moore's Snacks 250, his best finish at that point in the season, wiping away any doubt of his abilities to perform on the series' toughest track. Bristol was a challenge for McLaughlin early in his career, particularly during his first full NASCAR Busch Series season in 1994. Although his rookie year was filled with positives and negatives, Bristol Motor Speedway left an eye sore on his stat sheet during that season. McLaughlin had two chances that year to place his Fiddle Faddle Chevy in the field at the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, McLaughlin failed to qualify for both events, the only two races he missed that season. "It's always disappointing when you don't qualify for a race," expressed McLaughlin. "It wasn't that I didn't like the track because I did. I am not sure exactly what was going wrong, except for the fact that I could never cut a fast lap." Heading into his second full season in the NASCAR Busch Series, McLaughlin, still with Team 34 Racing, was looking forward to using the experience he had gained from the previous year to be more of a threat to his competitors. Even though McLaughlin picked up the pace and came away with a third place finish in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings, Bristol Motor Speedway still got the best of him. On April Fool's Day, 1995, McLaughlin started the French's Mustard Chevy from the 35th position, only to end up finishing 30th in the race. In August of the same year, he began the race on the 0.5-mile oval from 26th and finished 21st overall. "Each time we went there to race we felt prepared," McLaughlin said. "Then when we didn't perform well, it was pretty frustrating." McLaughlin and Team 34 Racing added Royal Oak Charcoal as their primary sponsor on the NASCAR Busch Series in 1996. Going into Bristol for the May race last season, McLaughlin hoped his new red and yellow flamed Chevy would bring him a more positive outcome in the Tennessee mountains. However, McLaughlin qualified the car 25th and finished the race in 27th place. Three months later, McLaughlin's luck changed for a day. He qualified the #34 Royal Oak Chevy in 13th position, his best start yet at the infamous track. On lap 11, he was involved in an accident and never got the chance to redeem himself as his Royal Oak Chevy could not finish the race. Erasing all fears and doubts in the 1997 spring race, McLaughlin and Team 34 Racing head back to Bristol for the Food City 250 with a positive attitude. "I am looking forward to going back to Bristol," McLaughlin said. "We are going to take the same car we used in the spring, and we will see what it brings us." With McLaughlin battling for a top-five finish in NASCAR Busch Series point standings and eight races remaining on the 1997 schedule, he is thinking of nothing less than a first-place finish for the #34 Royal Oak Charcoal Chevrolet at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night, August 22. By Events & Outings, Inc.