Bobby Labonte-NASCAR Driver
Bobby Labonte joined TRG Motorsports at the close of the 2009 NASCAR season and was quickly chosen to be the team�s full-time driver for 2010 in the No. 71 TRG Motorsports/TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet Impala SS. Labonte brings 17 full seasons of Sprint Cup experience to TRG Motorsports in a time of tremendous growth for the organization.
At the age of five, Labonte strapped himself into his first competitive machine, a quarter-midget, and began his path to success. Bobby, the younger brother of two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte, is a native of Corpus Christi, TX. He grew up not only watching his older brother compete, but deciding for himself that he wanted to be a winner too.
The early start to his racing career was met with good fortune. He won his first national quarter-midget race at the age of only seven. His pre-teen days were spent winning numerous quarter-midget races throughout the United States. Like champions, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who made their starts in quarter-midget racing, it was Labonte who dominated the scene years before.
The stepping stones complete, Labonte's racing career took more of a concrete shape during his teen years. His brother worked up the ranks of Sprint Cup, and Labonte moved with his family to North Carolina in 1979. It was soon after when he was first introduced to NASCAR and Sprint Cup. Labonte worked for Hagan Enterprises in 1982 as a mechanic and fabricator on the cars that his brother raced to a third-place finish for the national championship. The introduction into Sprint Cup racing convinced Labonte that he wanted to be a champion. A goal reached later in his career.
First, however, Labonte had to prove that he was a championship-caliber driver and had the commitment to the sport it commands. Labonte didn't take this challenge lightly. While continuing to work at Hagan Enterprises, he raced late models throughout North Carolina and in his spare time began building his own NASCAR Nationwide Series car. Labonte wanted to show others his skills of building his own car, taking care of his own equipment, and being a winning driver was better than none. This approach is almost unheard of in today's young gun' era where drivers rarely work on their own cars or have ever owned the machines they have driven.
The hours of work were countless, but the time was well spent. Labonte made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in 1982 at the age of 18 at Martinsville Speedway. The youngster finished 30th and took home just $220. The humble beginnings were the start of Bobby Labonte Racing, and the platform used to propel him into the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Throughout the 80's Labonte continued making Nationwide Series starts for his own team, but really honed his driving skill racing late model stock cars at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., and Concord Motorsports Park in Concord, N.C. Labonte won the late model championship at Caraway Speedway in 1987 and won six times at Concord Motorsports Park in 1988. His best Nationwide Series finish was fourth at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C.
With proper funding finally in place, Labonte was able to take his own team and compete in his first full season on the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 1990. His first full season was successful, and he scored six top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. Labonte finished fourth overall in the series and also was named the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver. Labonte proved that he could master the sport's most difficult tasks of being a driver/owner. He solidified that fact by winning the 1991 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, and also won his first Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in April and won again at Indianapolis Raceway Park in August. The highly rewarding 1991 season marked another first for Labonte when he made his Sprint Cup debut driving for his own team at Dover International Speedway. He finished 34th after running into engine problems.
Labonte continued his success in the Nationwide Series in 1992. He won three times and finished second in the championship by just three points - the closest in any of NASCAR's major touring series. Bobby Labonte was a household name, and like older brother Terry, proved that he was a champion. Labonte's biggest break came at the start of the 1993 season when a call from winning car owner Bill Davis came. Davis offered Labonte a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup series. His dream was now being fulfilled.
Labonte's first full season in Sprint Cup earned him his first career Sprint Cup pole at Richmond International Raceway, and he finished runner-up in the rookie-of-the-year standings to Jeff Gordon, while scoring a top-five finish and two top-10 finishes. Labonte returned to race for Davis in 1994 and finished 19th in points. The 1995 season was when Labonte finally made a move that would be very long-term, especially in terms of motorsports - he began his first of 11 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. That first season Labonte won his first career Sprint Cup race at the Coca-Cola 600 at what is now Charlotte Motor Speedway. Labonte also won both of the races at Michigan to help him finish 10th in the point standings.
Labonte made starts for Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries machine for 10 more seasons and won 18 more times. The 2000 season, however, was the season that fulfilled all of Labonte's dreams. He won the Sprint Cup championship after posting four wins, and along with brother Terry (1984 and 1996), became the first brothers to win the Sprint Cup championship. The championship put Labonte in the field of the elite and made him a part of Sprint Cup lore forever. He finished his career at Joe Gibbs Racing with 21 wins including a win in the prestigious Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and finished in the top 10 in championship points seven out of his 11 seasons.
Labonte made the decision late in 2005 to drive for Petty Enterprises and take the reins of the famed No. 43 Dodge. In 2006 Labonte had everyone on their feet at tracks nationwide as he posted three top-5 and eight top-10 finishes. The 2007 season saw Labonte give Petty Enterprises its best points finish since 1999. After three seasons in the No. 43, Labonte made the decision to leave the organization and join Hall of Fame Racing for 2009 and finished the 2009 season with TRG Motorsports.
Labonte looks to the 2010 season as a fresh start and a chance to grow in a winning relationship. Crew Chief Doug Randolph, who worked with Labonte at Petty Enterprises, will take the director's seat and, with team owner Kevin Buckler, the No. 71 is focused on finding Victory Lane in 2010.
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