Phoenix Terry Labonte's 600th Start Amazes Others

NASCAR's Iron Man Others amazed at Labonte's streak By Brett Borden PHOENIX (Oct. 22, 1998) NASCAR's Iron Man has left people hard pressed to describe what he is about to accomplish this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Terry...

NASCAR's Iron Man Others amazed at Labonte's streak By Brett Borden

PHOENIX (Oct. 22, 1998) NASCAR's Iron Man has left people hard pressed to describe what he is about to accomplish this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Terry Labonte is set to make history by starting his 600th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series event, a streak he started in his rookie season of 1979.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States then, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had just finished their college basketball careers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were beginning what would be their fourth and final Super Bowl winning season. It was so long ago that disco music was still in its first phase of popularity.

Labonte has never gone out of style, though. People who have been around NASCAR for a long time just shake their heads when asked how he has been able to do it.

"It's hard to imagine going that many races without missing one," said television commentator and former series champion Ned Jarrett. "There's so many variables, with qualifying and the injury factor, that you have to consider. It's really amazing what he's been able to do."

Fellow champion-turned-commentator Benny Parsons says it's difficult to find a frame of reference to describe the meddle it takes to be the Ironman.

"I raced against him the first time he raced," Parsons said. "This one is so difficult to achieve. I don't know what athletes go through in other sports, but so many people have been hurt in this sport since he started his streak. He was fortunate that his most serious injury happened to him late in the year (1996) and he had until February to heal.

"When you think of Terry Labonte you think of good and steady. He's a good driver, but he's also one that's going to be there every time."

Someone who was there quite often himself is David Pearson. Pearson won three NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships in his heyday (the 1960s and '70s), and 105 races to boot. But he never came close to starting 600 races consecutively.

"Starting that many races in a row could have been done easier back then than now," Pearson said. "Back then they ran 50-something races a year. It's something to run all of those races. It shows you have to be running for the championship most of the time to make all those races to begin with. And when you're running for the championship, you'll run hurt like he did there a couple of years ago."

Labonte showed the world what he was made of in 1996, when, with a championship on the line, he drove the final two races of the season with a broken hand. He finished third at Phoenix and fifth at Atlanta, and when the season was over, his second NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship trophy would be handed to him.

Bobby Labonte says Terry's accomplishment this weekend will be a testament to traits he saw in his brother while they were growing up in Texas together.

"It's going to be a big weekend for Terry," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that. He's the Iron Man, but at the same time he's the Ice Man. He really doesn't get himself in predicaments to get himself in trouble. If he does, it's not of his making.

"I think that kind of goes back to working hard on his own cars. He knew if he tore it up he'd have to fix it. Even driving for someone else, he doesn't take a chance at tearing it up. He doesn't get into trouble and he doesn't get himself hurt. I think that's the biggest factor to the streak."

Whatever the factors may be, the record just keeps getting higher and higher. Will we one day be talking about Terry Labonte making his 700th straight start?

"It will not surprise me at all," Jarrett said. "That would only be three years, and the way he's going he should be able to make it."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Ned Jarrett , Benny Parsons , David Pearson