HOMETOWN FAVORITE, TERRY LABONTE, DRIVER OF THE NO. 44 KELLOGG'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS, VISITES WITH MEDIA: ON HIS "ROAM FOR A HOME" CHARITY MOTORCYCLE RIDE (runs April 13 - 15) "This is the fifth year of the ride we started in Corpus Christi...
HOMETOWN FAVORITE, TERRY LABONTE, DRIVER OF THE NO. 44 KELLOGG'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS, VISITES WITH MEDIA:
ON HIS "ROAM FOR A HOME" CHARITY MOTORCYCLE RIDE (runs April 13 - 15) "This is the fifth year of the ride we started in Corpus Christi (TX) and it is to benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Corpus Christi. When we started out the first time, I think we had 40 guys on bikes. We went to Galveston and back down to Corpus. This year we are going from Corpus to Austin and back through the hill country outside of San Antonio and then back to Corpus. In the five years, we have gifted the Ronald McDonald House over $300,000, they get all their operational money from donations so it is a pretty big event for those guys. I have fun doing it. It has almost gotten to the point where we have way to many people who want to go, so we have to limit it just because it would get to large. When you have over 100 to 120 motorcycles going from point A to point B, you have to manage it. It has been a huge success and it benefits a lot of families in the South Texas area, not necessarily people who live in Corpus, but people who live in the surrounding areas who have a child in need of medical care at the hospital in Corpus. This provides them with a place to stay and be with other families who are maybe going through the same thing and get support. It is a really neat situation, it takes a lot of volunteer work. We are glad we are able to help them out on the financial side a little bit. They have big expenses every year. They have three or four events they do every year to raise money, this is the one we try to help with and raise the awareness and the biggest thing, to raise some money for them.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DO THIS EVENT?
"We had been talking about trying to do some kind of event in South Texas, in Corpus particularly. Kim (Mrs. Labonte) and I had been kicking around some different ideas then a friend of mine, Randy Hicks, came up with this idea and it sounded good to us. We tried it the one year and it was a success and everybody had a good time so it has kind of gone from there. Once you start something, every year you want to make it bigger and better, but sometimes it is kind of hard to do. We have made a lot of good friends on the ride. We have people who come from Corpus, San Antonio, Houston and all of South Texas area. When you go visit the Ronald McDonald house and see some of the kids there, and it is so unfortunate that a lot of them don't have a good ending to their story, but yet these people appreciate what we are trying to do.
"Last year we went and visited the Ronald McDonald House and there was a man there and he and his wife had been living in their car for two weeks while their child was in the hospital and the doctors found out about it and told him they needed to go to the Ronald McDonald House. They took them in and put them up. The guy was so happy that we were there, he didn't know anything about it. It was so nice to see the happiness on his face that at least they had a place to live now and people to communicate with and things like that, it was a big help for them. What was really sad about it was their little boy didn't live but he came out and thanked us. That was 'Wow'. That he made a point to come out and thank us while we were there even after his little boy had passed away. One of the rides, I think it was the first one, I was signing autographs at one of the stops and this little boy comes up to me, he wasn't very big. I asked what was his name and he told me, then he looked up at me and said that he had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, I didn't know what to say. I know he didn't have fun, I noticed a scar on him. I know he had open-heart surgery. His parents were there and they donated $500. It is a cool deal for me to be involved in and to be able to see what good it does."
ON HIS FINAL SEASON SCHEDULE.
"Darlington has always been one of my favorite tracks. It would be kind of neat to have the success we had the last time we were there. We won our first race there, we won our last race there so hopefully we will have a good run there."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST WIN AT DARLINGTON?
"We were running third or fourth and everybody went down in the corner and about half the guys hit the wall and I didn't. There must have been something on the track but I didn't hit it. (David) Pearson was leading the race, he had brushed the wall, he was coming off of four and coming for the white flag, I don't think he ever saw me coming, so I just passed him. Beat him to the flag and we got the white and the caution so the race was over and came around and got the checkered flag. That was the first win for me. The first race I ran there, I think I finished fourth, the second one I finished third and won the third one, it was the Southern 500. I had a pretty good track record for that race, but then it got harder. I haven't quite figured that out, I thought this place isn't that hard, but it was. It took me a while again to figure it out.
"Somebody was asking me last week about David Pearson. I said, you just don't know. This guy was awesome. He was so good at Charlotte, you just don't know. He won something like 10 poles in a row, or some crazy number, and I have never seen anyone as good as he was at Darlington, he was just awesome and a really big star back in his day, that is for sure. "
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF DARLINGTON THE FIRST TIME YOU WALKED IN THE GATES?
"I thought this place looks awful narrow. I went to the rookie meeting there, the car that was in the highlights for the rookie meeting of things not to do was the car I was driving. So I sat there and said to myself that whatever I did, don't make next years highlights. I listened as much as I could and I went out there and man, I was just terrible. There were some serious wrecks at Darlington back then. I didn't make the highlight tape, I stayed out of trouble, finished the race and didn't put a scratch on the car."
WHEN YOU FIRST CAME TO NASCAR, WERE YOU IN AWE OF THOSE GUYS - PEARSON, PETTY, YARBOROUGH
"Oh yeah. I remember when I was a kid, 10 or 12 years old, going to watch the Daytona 500 on closed circuit TV in a theater in downtown Corpus Christi with my Dad because there was no television coverage then. I remember going and doing that because being from Texas, we didn't get a lot of racing news back then and the racing news we did get was more the Indy car side with A.J. Foyt being from Houston so they covered him a lot, so naturally, I was a big A.J. fan. At the time I was growing up, he was climbing in stock cars and winning, the 500 and others. He was my hero. When I first started racing, they guys like Bobby and Donny Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Pearson, these were guys that I had only ever seen in a stock car racing magazine or the closed circuit TV deal, so it was pretty neat really.
"One of the neatest things, the first race I ran, I will never forget this, at Darlington when I finished fourth and Bobby Allison came over and congratulated me after the race. I thought that was neat. I had actually raced against them one time at a short track at Mobile, Alabama and of course, they didn't know who I was. "
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE AUSTIN SPEED-O-RAMA?
"I think I raced there one time. It was a tight quarter-mile track and I finished third. It was a big race and we had never been there. Texas is pretty much a football state so it took racing a while."
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE OLDER DRIVERS ARE IMPATIENT WITH THE YOUNGER DRIVERS NOW?
"I don't think we had to go through what these guys have to go through now. The sport has changed completely and there is a lot more pressure on those guys now than there used to be. First off, a young guy never got the opportunity. It was just unheard of for a young guy to get an opportunity to get in a topnotch car. The owners just didn't want their cars tore up. They couldn't afford it. The veteran guys got all the good cars.
So if you came in and ran good for four or five years then you might get a chance. But today, it is different. Everybody is looking for that next superstar and if they get some young guy and put him in the car. If he doesn't produce pretty quick, then he is out looking for another car.