1953 Catalina Grand National, Winner John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin and Del Kuhn 50+ years of friendship
John McLaughlin (AMA) was in the Air Force during WWII, serving as a P38 pilot. He was shot down over Germany, survived the crash and ended up being a P.O.W. until the end of the war.
Once John came having his wife, Ginger waiting, he started racing motorcycles, eventually opened up a motorcycle dealership and they raised their children, Steve and Erin. Steve McLaughlin would also be inducted into the AMA for his motorcycle achievements.
During the early 1950s, Kuhn and McLaughlin became the best of friends and this friendship would last over 50 years, until John’s passing.
In the 1970s and early 80s, both owned an airplanes. McLaughlin now ‘schooled’ Kuhn in flying skills repaying him for ‘schooling’ John decades ago on how to improve his motorcycle racing skills.
In 1990, Kuhn and McLaughlin, (both in their 60s) competed as a team entering in the Great American Race. This was a cross-country L.A. to N.Y. 10 day car rally race based on precise timed checks, not speed. The vehicles had to be original pre-1936. “No calculators, no computers, only your wits.” Modern-like brakes were the only modifications allowed for safety reasons.
Kuhn previously entered this highly intense race in 1986 driving his self restored, original 1935 Chevrolet. For this 1990 race, Kuhn needed a tested reliable competitor for his navigator, someone who had stamina and “competition running in their blood.” Kuhn didn’t have to look far and asked McLaughlin if he wanted to be his navigator. Kuhn explained the stress and intensity, the long hours and the lack of car air-conditioning.
A few years back, McLaughlin had lost an arm due to a motorcycle accident but loved a challenge and competing, immediately saying “When do we go?” Kuhn laughs today and says that he knew McLaughlin would jump at the chance to compete at ‘anything’…he was ‘that kind of guy.’ When I asked WHAT kind of guy is that? Kuhn smiled and said, “My kind of guy, he loved a challenge.” McLaughlin was a ‘talker’ and had his Irish grin and charm.
Though they didn’t win any ‘leg’ of the race that year, again, like the true competitors they were, they entered the race again in 1991. This time it was from Norfolk to Seattle. They had the best time for 1 day, only losing 14 seconds ALL day and won the day’s $$ purse.
Sadly, John McLaughlin died in 2006. Kuhn still misses his friend.
RIP John. 1924-2006