Texas Motorsport Hall of Fame 2009 inductees

BOBBY LABONTE, BRUTON SMITH INDUCTED INTO THE TEXAS MOTORSPORTS HALL OF FAME FORT WORTH, Texas (April 1, 2009) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Bobby Labonte and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith were inducted into the...

BOBBY LABONTE, BRUTON SMITH INDUCTED INTO THE TEXAS MOTORSPORTS HALL OF FAME

FORT WORTH, Texas (April 1, 2009) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Bobby Labonte and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith were inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame during Wednesday evening's gala at The Speedway Club at Texas Motor Speedway.

The two were honored along with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing and IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Labonte and Smith join previous inductees A.J. Foyt (2003), Johnny Rutherford (2003), Terry Labonte (2004), Lee Shepherd (2004), Kenny Bernstein (2005), Jim Hall (2005), Eddie Hill (2006), Mark Martin (2007) and Jim McElreath (2007) into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Labonte's presenter for his induction was none other than his older brother and 2004 inductee, Terry Labonte.

"It's a great honor," Labonte said. "Just having the career and starting out in Texas. This is just a neat factor to come to this. This is pretty cool. I always enjoyed following in Terry's footsteps."

Labonte was honored with a special announcement at the conclusion of the ceremony. Interstate Batteries CEO Norm Miller and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch unveiled the special paint scheme Busch will run during Sunday's Samsung 500.

The paint scheme is a replica of the No.18 Interstate Batteries car that Labonte drove during his 2000 Sprint Cup Series championship year while at Joe Gibbs Racing. The scheme pays tribute to Labonte's induction with "Congrats Bobby Labonte! Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame 2009 Inductee" on the deck lid of the car.

"That was some good times," Labonte said of his replica paint scheme. "It does bring back some memories. It's just a really neat deal. I can't say enough about Interstate Batteries and Norm Miller. I was with them for 10 years. I learned a lot, not just how to race and win championships but everything in life that goes along with it."

For Busch, it was his idea to honor Labonte with the throwback paint scheme and pay tribute to his 2000 championship season.

"I remember watching it in the day and winning the championship in that scheme," Busch said. "I thought about it earlier this year and asked Norm about doing a retro scheme from the 2000 days. He thought it was a cool idea. So we went with it and it was fitting here at Texas where he's being inducted into the hall of fame. It's a pretty special weekend."

Labonte, in the midst of his 17th season of Sprint Cup Series racing for his new team Hall of Fame Racing, has helped the family name become synonymous with NASCAR racing.

Labonte, who started his NASCAR career driving for his own Nationwide Series team in 1982, earned his first NASCAR championship in the Nationwide Series in 1991. He would later go on to win the 2000 Sprint Cup Series championship while driving for team owner Joe Gibbs. Labonte became the first driver to win championships in both of NASCAR's premier series (Sprint Cup and Nationwide) and with his latter championship the Labontes became the first brothers to each win a Sprint Cup Series championship.

Smith brought back NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing to Texas in 1997 with the construction of Texas Motor Speedway. Since then, he has continued to develop "The Great American Speedway!" into one of the premier sporting venues in the country.

Smith, with the help of racing star Curtis Turner, opened Lowe's Motor Speedway in 1960 and hosted the first World 600 that year. Since that time, Smith has set the standard in marketing and promoting motorsports as he has turned SMI into one of the most recognizable brands in NASCAR.

In February of 1995 the company became the first motorsports company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Smith now owns and operates eight of the premier venues on the NASCAR circuit that consists of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Infineon Raceway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

"My first race I went to I was eight years old," Smith said. "And I thought, `this is unbelievable.' A lot of noise and speed. It was just that exciting and I never got rid of that feeling."

Smith took pride in the finished product that became Texas Motor Speedway, which was built in 1997. He plans to see this facility remain successful for many years to come.

"I might be a frustrated builder anyway, but this was a great joy in doing what we have done here. I understand that this speedway here will last a lot longer than the Roman Colosseum," Smith joked. "If you see the pictures, it has crumbling. This speedway will not do that. I'm proud of it and I hope all Texans are proud of it, too."

Hendrick was awarded this year's Bruton Smith Legends Award. The honor is a lifetime achievement award given to a legendary figure in motorsports. Hendrick is known for establishing one of the winningest organizations in NASCAR. The team owner of four of NASCAR's most recognizable drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin) has set the standard of excellence in motorsports.

Since the organization was formed in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports, under his guidance, has gone on to win eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, six Daytona 500s and 11 car owner championships in NASCAR national series competition, tying him with Richard Childress for the most all time.

Edwards, who became the first Sprint Cup Series driver to sweep both races at Texas Motor Speedway last year (the Samsung 500 and Dickies 500), earned the Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year. Edwards led nearly half the Sprint Cup Series laps run last year at TMS, leading 335 of 673 laps. His two wins placed him atop the list for most wins by a Sprint Cup Series driver at "The Great American Speedway!" with three. With the help of his two wins at TMS, Edwards finished a career-best second in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His nine wins overall last season was a series high.

"It was really cool to be the recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year Award," Edwards said. "It's an honor. The coolest part is you get guns when you win there. You get to stand there in Victory Lane and shoot guns. It's a lot of fun and the Berettas they give away for qualifying and for the race wins are great. It would be really cool to add more guns to my case."

Dixon received the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award. Dixon earned his first TMS victory during last year's Bombardier Learjet 550k en route to the IndyCar Series championship. He also became the first driver since Arie Luyendyk to win IndyCar Series' two marquee events, the Indy 500 and Bombardier Learjet 550k, in the same season. Dixon dominated the 2008 season winning six times, matching the record for the most wins in a season.

The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony benefits Happy Hill Farm Academy, located just south of Granbury, Texas. The 500-acre working farm provides specialized services for children who need another start in life. Happy Hill Farm Academy serves children with a broad range of behavioral and academic issues sometimes a result of abuse and neglect. The environment provided at Happy Hill Farm Academy allows residents to flourish in a non-traditional setting.

-credit: tmhof

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About this article
Series Automotive
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Kenny Bernstein , Arie Luyendyk , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Chip Ganassi , Jim McElreath , A.J. Foyt , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing