Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes


A conversation with NASCAR Cup champion Bobby Labonte

posted by Chad Bonham

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Bobby Labonte, driver of the #47 NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There’s no question, Bobby Labonte has earned his place as one of NASCAR’s modern day giants. He’s the only driver to have won both the Sprint Cup (in 2000, then sponsored by Winston) and the Nationwide Series (in 1991, then sponsored by Busch) championships. He and his brother Terry are also the only brothers to have both won a Cup title.

Although he’s approaching the tail end of his career, Labonte was hired by JTG-Daugherty Racing to continue developing its #47 car program. According to Brad Daugherty, Labonte’s championship experience was just what the team needed.

And while Labonte still has plenty of competitive drive left in him, he’s much more reflective these days upon the importance of faith and family in his life. He share those thoughts and more in a one-on-one conversation that took place at Kansas Speedway:

Chad Bonham: How often do you think about what you and your brother Terry have accomplished and what your last name means to the sport?

Bobby Labonte: I don’t think about it a whole lot. It’s just not one of those things that we sit there and dwell on. We’re proud of it but we don’t think about it. We don’t play off that. We’re glad we’ve done what we’ve done. Its kind of one of those things where in 10 years you might realize it’s bigger than what we think today.

Bonham: You’ve gone through a lot of changes and driven for various race teams over the past few years. How do you deal with it?

Labonte: The competition is a big part of it—the passion you have for the sport and the knowledge you have. You’re not just going to wake up one day and say, ” think I’ll do something different.” This is what I’ve done my whole life. My competitive nature and my passion for the sport, those are the things that keep you wanting to do better each and every Sunday.

Bonham: What did you learn from Joe Gibbs when you were over there driving in the #18 car?

Labonte: There’s not one thing, obviously. There’s hundreds of things that I learned like where you put yourself in life and what’s important and what’s not important and how to conduct yourself with not just employees and press and fans but with your family which is the most important thing. You learn how to be a better person not just on the track, but all around.

Bonham: How challenging is it to balance the demands of this sport and still make family a priority?

Bobby Labonte driving the #47 Toyota during Daytona 500 practice (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Labonte: That is tough. Yesterday I played golf in Hickory. I drove home for 45 minutes and then turned around to Statesville to fly out here. But I figure 45 minutes at home is way more important than sitting around somewhere for three hours. It is hard to balance. I do struggle with that and I think everybody does to a certain extent. I was looking at my calendar today. It’s crazy, but sometimes it gives me structure to know how much time I’m going to have at home. It keeps me from goofing off too much. I’ve got a great wife that takes care of our kids. That’s good but it’s still not enough. When I’m at home, I try to be a better parent. It’s hard because my mind is still on this sometimes and it needs to be on my family. I try to work on that every day. If you come to the race track and you’ve got problems at home, it’s not going to bode well for you. It’s hard to focus on this when you’ve problems there. When you’ve got a better perspective on what’s going on at home, it makes this more enjoyable.

Bonham: How much do you rely on ministries like Motor Racing Outreach and consistent Christian fellowship?

Labonte: You’ve got your friends and this is extended family. I’ve got more friends here than what I have around where I live. When you talk to (former chaplain) Tim Griffin or Dale Beaver who was there for years, you always have them to fall back on to discuss your episodes with. Having someone you can talk to that you can trust is important. We use that a lot.”

Bonham: How are things going with your new job driving in the #47 car for JTG-Daugherty Racing?

Labonte: It’s obviously good to have the security and it lets me work with some great people. It’s a great organization with a lot of resources. They’ve got all the stuff that’s going to make them get better and better and they have the drive to get better and better. They have people that work there who are focused on that goal.

Bonham: Why do you think they chose you to fill that seat?

Bobby Labonte of Corpus Christie, TX appears with Governor Rick Perry at a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway on April 17, 2010 (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Labonte: I hope its stability on my part. I want to be stable for them so they can build towards whomever the next guy is to drive that car. That time is going to come. But for right now, I want to get them in a position where they can give me their confidence and then hopefully I can give them stability and success that they can build upon.”

Bonham: Charitable work is pretty commonplace in NASCAR. Why so?

Labonte: It’s not like monkey see, monkey do. When you have a group that’s together every weekend, we’re always comparing notes and seeing how we can make our individual charities better. It helps to be in a community where everybody gets along and makes it easy to do the right thing. We’re blessed to have what we’ve got. We make more than we should. When somebody says they’ve been following you for years, it makes you want to give back to the fans.

Bonham: How do you feel about the strong faith element within NASCAR and how does that separate racing from other sports?

Labonte: It should be the contagious part of our sport for others. It should be in other sports. We shouldn’t be different from other people. Everybody should be like us. That should be more prevalent in other sports. My wife’s family is very tight knit family. We’re kind of used to that so we don’t see it as abnormal. I know that we’re thankful that Darrell Waltrip and Lake Speed started it with Max Helton. They started it and we kept it growing and it’s been a great way to enjoy our weekend. Without them, I don’t think it would be right. There needs to me more MRO’s of the world in other areas of sports. If you’re going to hope for a change, you’d better start to pray for a change. If you’re just hoping, you ain’t going anywhere.

Follow Bobby Labonte’s racing season by clicking HERE.



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