BOBBY LABONTE, No.47 Kroger Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing
Can you describe your experience of visiting the hospital in Charlotte earlier this week? "That was a great visit for our guys. It kind of tells us when you're busy working on race cars a lot of times, and you get focused on that, sometimes you can forget other things that are happening. When it was mentioned the other day in a meeting at lunch about it, we were able to get with Jordan (Jemsek) and her mom and go visit -- see her in the hospital and raise awareness for her cause (Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia). It just makes you feel like you did something that day that was worthwhile. Sometimes you get up and do the same thing over and over again and that was just a great time to see her and see other kids in the hospital. It kind of brings you back down -- you get so focused on your day that you kind of forget. It gave us the opportunity to do something we all wanted to do and were able to make it happen with no effort at all, it didn't seem like when it was all over with. If you can do that every day, you wish you could -- that type of feeling. Hopefully, we can raise awareness for them and get her a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible."
How much does this opportunity with JTG-Daugherty Racing renew your enthusiasm in the sport? "A lot, you said it best. This is a great opportunity with JTG-Daugherty Racing. With their affiliation with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), this is an opportunity and team that has prospects of making my confidence grow with the right people that I haven't had in a long time. It definitely gets my juices flowing. It's still a race car, its still parts and pieces, but it's about the attitude and the people you surround yourself with as well. I think this is a great group of guys and girls that I can hopefully be able to work with and have confidence in each other and communicate to go out there and have a focus like we haven't really been able to generate the past couple years for me. As far as knowing that the resources you have at the shop -- they're giving you everything the big teams have to go out there and compete. Not worry if you tear something up. One of the first things they said was don't worry if you tear something up, we have plenty of them. That's always something good to know and they're building new ones all the time. It's going to happen. If you tear a fender up, you can fix it. It gives me the most confidence in them and I know that it's still a learning curve for me with these guys, but for me it's a great opportunity. It's one we can all view as a very legitimate front-running team."
How difficult have the last few years been? "It was -- there were definitely times of should I stay home or not if you're not going to do what you set out to do. That was very difficult. I look back on it now and I can say there were a few races in particular where I could say there was no sense in going in my mind. But if I hadn't, I don't know if that would have gotten me to today, if I would have quit, stopped. So, I look back on that today and I think if I didn't have that perseverance on it, I probably wouldn't be here today. Hopefully, that made me a better person and a stronger person. Knowing what I went through, this is a good opportunity."
How would you define a `dream season'? "I think a dream season would be being in the Chase. I think everybody's goal is to be in the Chase at the end of the year, or win a championship. You have to get to the Chase first. I think that is the goal here. Everybody says for the first 26 races we've got to put ourselves in that position. I think that would be a good season for us. These guys, Tad (Geschickter, team co-owner) has been around the sport for a long time and been Cup racing only realistically a couple years. His affiliation with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and their resources they have -- I think it's great. Hopefully it's the year they break out as far as their race team goes with Martin (Truex Jr.) and David (Reutimann), hopefully I can be right there with them. Their goals are set pretty high, they want to be in the top-12 in points like 35 cars do, but only 12 of them are going to do it. I think with the resources, if we can start off strong, gain that confidence and the communication to have the focus that this team can have, then I think we can do that."
Is there any saying or motto that makes you happy about what you're doing? "I think a new one I heard the other day is, `What happens today might not matter.' You know what I mean? Sometimes you get keyed up on the moment and whether you do it right or wrong, it might not matter in the scheme of things. There's some sayings and stuff like that. There's probably too many for me to jumble out one that sticks out in my mind. For our main goal this year is to make sure we put things in perspective because if you do, it's a whole lot better than if you just say, `Our goal is to win two races or three races.' Let's put it in perspective and we're going to give it all we can. Our focus is going to be on doing the right things."
Does it seem like 10 years have passed since NASCAR lost Dale Earnhardt? "It does seem like, in one way, like 10 years ago. I think the sport has changed a lot in 10 years, so it's seems like it's these 10 years have gone slower than the 10 years prior. With the way things have gone, I guess. When you come to Daytona, for the past 10 years, you think about it. People always bring it up, I wouldn't have thought about it. Six weeks ago if nobody would have brought it up to me, that was just 10 years. Obviously, you reflect on things you do when you get to a track or you get to a town. Remember that time this or remember that time. Obviously, it was a big event, a big thing that changed our sport with what happened 10 years ago."
What do you remember about the 2001 Daytona 500? "We were in a wreck on the back straightaway before that. (Tony) Stewart landed on my hood and windshield. I was mad and mad at the world and got in the airplane. Here you are mad at the world and fixing to get on the airplane and get to go home and you get a phone call, or actually I had my scanner with me and kind of listened to the radio. I'll never forget my wife and I, and my kids didn't know at the time, they were wondering why we were crying. So, here I was an hour before that, mad at the world because I got crashed, in my own airplane leaving and realized what happened. That's something that you won't forget how your emotions are and kind of what meant the most that day. It wasn't the fact that I was in a crash, it was the fact that we lost a true friend more than anything else. We left and it changed us -- it puts you in a different place."
Can you reflect on any specific encounters you had with Dale Earnhardt? "There were times when he grabbed me. Fortunately I didn't get the, `Boy you need to straighten up' thing. There are a lot of things that he did for me and for the sport that a lot of people don't know about. He had conversations with Mr. (Joe) Gibbs (former team owner) when Dale Jarrett was leaving, `Hey you have to get him to drive that car.' Talking about me. I didn't know that until later on. My on-track experiences that I've gone through with him had been me racing pretty hard and pretty clean. I know I made him mad probably a couple times and he made me mad a couple times, too. The respect was at a high level. I tell a story about one of the greatest moments I had with him. It wasn't at a race track, it was at his farm. We went there for a meeting with Gibbs and some NASCAR people and we just happened to have it in his office with Theresa (Earnhardt) and afterwards he asked, `What are you doing?' `The wife is taking me home, I got to go home.' `Come here.' He spent two hours showing me the shop, and you could see that Dale. It wasn't the same one you saw at the race track. To me, I learned a lot more about him that day than I had ever, because when you see someone at the race track, they have their race face on. This was not the same one. As much as we've sat in the NASCAR trailer and argued or listened to him argue, I've sat with him in an airplane with Ricky Rudd and I was a rookie flying to Chicago together. I saw a picture with me and him the other day, I think it was in 1990 and a lot of guys were in it -- that was some awesome stuff right there, and he was the champion and I was the Busch champion that year, maybe 1991. I can go on, those are some good times. Just knowing we finished first and second here (Daytona), he finished first and I finished second and the next weekend we took provisionals at Rockingham, he goes, `Ain't this the crap. Last week we're at the top and now we're at the bottom.'"
Is this the safest the sport has ever been? "Yes it is. In the past 10 years, it's just come ten-fold. I can look at race cars in my shop from 10 years ago and I can't believe I drove that. It's definitely come."
Were you wearing the HANS device on that day? "No. We started the Hutchens device the next week until I finally got comfortable with the HANS a few weeks later."
Do you think the sport would be safer if it hadn't lost its biggest star? "No. It's the same thing at an intersection with a caution light. Somebody has a fatality and they put up a stop light. Unfortunately things like that had to happen to make that happen. It was a bad time in our sport. We lost three other drivers. Dale Earnhardt was the most recognized between Adam (Petty) and Kenny (Irwin) and Tony Roper at Texas. That was some tough times. It was no different than my wife and I at Charleston (South Carolina) when we wanted to say it was a three day vacation and we got the phone call about Adam Petty and again we cried our eyes out then loaded up our stuff and went home right away because we couldn't enjoy ourselves. We looked at each other and said we have to go home to be with our family. All those things had a lot of impact. Dale gets recognized because of his popularity in the sport."
-source: toyota motorsports