This is the second of a five-part series in advance of the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 31. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.
When you grow up with a sibling you watch their every move and ultimately you want to be just like them when you grow up. On May 22,2019 Bobby Labonte learned he would be inducted into the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame just like his brother was in 2016.
“The emotions were amazing, Amber called first and Winston texted next and I’m still riding my bike,” Labonte said. “I don’t recommend doing all that at the same time for most people, but we stopped. With Terry already being in the Hall of Fame, I thought of my Mom and Dad right away.
“I’m thinking Bob (Labonte) has never deviated for both Terry and I for doing something different. We’ve always had a passion for racing and he and my mom were always there for that. They never did anything different and as my Mom and Dad turn 87 this year, it’s just amazing with the support that was given to us.”
Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas he started his racing career like many young drivers by driving anything from quarter midgets to go karts. While Bobby was learning his craft in the early 70s, his brother Terry was already racing at the top level in NASCAR in 1978.
In 1982 he made his first appearance in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the Martinsville Speedway racing for his dad Bob Labonte and he finished 26th in his debut. He continued his passion for racing by working as a fabricator for Hagan Enterprises, the same team his brother drove for.
While being a fabricator he also continued to race in the Xfinity Series part time he also raced at the grassroots level in North Carolina at Caraway Speedway. During his time racing late models at the track he had a dominating season in 1987 and was crowned track champion.
As the 90s began all the hard work paid off for him when he had enough money to run his own car in the Xfinity Series during the 1990 season for his family owned team. His first full-time season resulted in him finishing fourth in the points standings.
The 1991 season didn’t have the best start after Labonte crashed in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. However, the season began to pick up for him and his family owned team during the spring when he captured his first win at Bristol Motor Speedway. He went on to pick up a second win at Lucas Oil Raceway (Indianapolis Raceway Park) and capped the year off with a championship.
Like any other driver in the Xfinity Series moving to the NASCAR Cup Series would be the next big step in the stock car ladder. He made his full-time debut with Bill Davis Racing in 1993. In his rookie season he finished the year with six top-10 finishes and second in the Rookie of the Year standings.
Following his time with Bill Davis Racing, Labonte made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 1995 and found success rather quickly in his new partnership. In his first season with the legendary car owner he earned his first win at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.
“The Coca-Cola 600 in 1995, when you win your first race it’s nothing better than that.” Labonte said. “Leading up to that we had finished second three or four times behind Jeff Gordon. This is kind of a twofold story, that race was amazing in its own way because we were so fast.”
“I remember it and Jimmy (Makar) was on the radio saying shut up because you gotta drive,” Labonte said. “I was commentating from the seat because I was talking, this guy is going to wreck, this guy is going to do this, I never done that before, but I had that feel for this night. When (Ken) Schrader had a problem and I took the lead and I ended up winning the race and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I won the Coca-Cola 600.’ So, when you win your first race, that was amazing and still give me chills still today.”
As his career at Joe Gibbs continued to improve, the year 2000 would be a season Labonte would never forget. That year he won four races, including two of NASCAR’s crown jewel events – the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500. He solidified his championship after a crucial win in the fall Charlotte race.
With the championship the Labontes became the first pair of brothers to both win the NASCAR Cup Championship. He also became the first driver to win both the NASCAR Cup Championship and NASCAR Xfinity championship.
Just one year later after his NASCAR Cup Championship he added another big trophy to the case after winning the 2001 IROC Championship.
Even though Labonte’s last Cup race was in Talladega in 2016, he still continues to race in the NASCAR Euro Series
“I just categorize it as probably as crazy but just I love experience, I love racing and competing. I just love that part and to keep doing it,” Labonte said. “The best story I finally figured it out last year talking to some folks in Europe. When they asked the question why are you doing this?
“When I was a kid growing up, I watched AJ Foyt in the Houston Astrodome, I watch my brother race, I always wanted to be in racing. I was fortunate enough not by my choice but when my parents moved to North Carolina, I became part of racing far as go-karts.
“Then I was a mechanic, I got to drive car and I was good at it and got to win things. Then I drove so more and now I’m doing other things and I’m still in the sport. So, I’ve been a fan, it’s been my passion all of my life. It’s hard but you want to do that and staying busy for me it’s good.
“We’ve been able to travel a lot to Europe to still do some racing and that’s been exciting for me. I don’t know how to explain it but a little bit crazy, I enjoy it and I love doing it, the fans and the people.”
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