DETROIT (Nov. 16, 2000) - Anyone that watched last Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the celebration that ensued afterwards when Bobby Labonte clinched his first Winston Cup title and Pontiac's first since 1989. But the members of Joe...
DETROIT (Nov. 16, 2000) - Anyone that watched last Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the celebration that ensued afterwards when Bobby Labonte clinched his first Winston Cup title and Pontiac's first since 1989. But the members of Joe Gibbs Racing that were in south Florida on Sunday were just a fraction of the 200-plus people that contribute to the Gibbs operation, based in Huntersville, N.C.
While everyone on the team is thrilled with what Labonte's Interstate Batteries Pontiac team achieved this year, there is a special group of eight that are especially proud. Despite working in the high-turnover world of motorsports, they have all been at Joe Gibbs Racing since the day the team entered the sport in 1991. During that time they have watched the program grow from a fledgling group of 14 people fielding used equipment to what is arguably the premier organization in all of NASCAR. Robin Lambe, David Wagner and Doug Shaak are three of those people.
THOUGHTS FROM ROBIN LAMBE, ASSISTANT TO JIMMY MAKAR
...how does it feel to have won a championship?: "I can't believe it. I just cried Sunday. In fact, I called a couple of the wives to see when the guys were landing at Concord (Regional Airport) Sunday night and I went out there to hug them. They said, 'You didn't have to do this.' I said, 'I needed to do it. I couldn't wait until tomorrow.' I just can't believe it."
...where did you watch the race Sunday?: "About 30 of us came to the shop to watch it together in the auditorium. That made it a little bit more fun. It was better than my 19-inch TV at home. It was exciting. "Even Saturday night I didn't sleep good and I was like, 'What can I do about it?' But I just kind of woke up several times and thought, 'Oh, tomorrow could be it.'
...what has been the biggest thing you've seen change over the course of nine years at Joe Gibbs Racing?: "Jimmy Makar. He has just grown so much. I've worked closely with him and he has just matured so much as a person, as a manager - it's just neat.
"In the beginning - his nickname is 'Mad Dog' - and that was pretty literal. In fact, the guys would come and ask me questions about whether we were going to have a certain day off or things like that. I'd say, 'I don't know,' and they'd say, 'Well, why don't you ask him?'
"I remember the first time I asked him something like that. I think it was Memorial Day in 1992. See, I had never worked in racing, so I didn't know. I went to him and said, 'Are we going to have to work Memorial Day?' He said, 'Let me tell you something. If you want banking hours and holidays, then you just pack up your stuff, and you go down the street to that bank and see if you can find yourself a job.' I said, 'OK, so I guess that means we're working.'
"He was pretty intimidating, but now he has just mellowed out so much. I think it's from having kids and becoming a Christian. I just love working with him. It's really been fun for me to work with him."
THOUGHTS FROM DAVID WAGNER, SHOP FOREMAN
...what does this championship mean to you?: "It's a really big deal. I've been in racing nearly all my life and it's something that I've worked for all my life. To me, Winston Cup racing is the highest you can go. It's the best. To win a championship on top of that tells you that you are the best - at least this particular year."
...did you see it coming a few years ago?: "I knew we were gaining momentum and building, and getting stronger and stronger every year. There is so much luck involved in a win that you never know you're going to win it, but I knew that we were getting close."
...was it tough to stay focused around the shop during the past couple months?: "It really wasn't. We never really talked about it much. We never had any meetings about it. Everybody just did their job exactly like they had done all year. I think each person knew in their own way that if they did the exact same thing they did all year, and didn't try to do anything special, that it would take care of itself."
...how tough will it be to go after a second championship?: "There will be a lot of pressure. I don't know if there is ever as much pressure to win the second one as there was the first one. I don't know - I haven't had to run for the second one, yet. But the first one, there was a lot of pressure just to get it done, especially the way we were - so close to running away with it, but yet just couldn't quite get away. We could have lost it as easily as we won it. We didn't want to give it up, by no means."
THOUGHTS FROM DOUG SHAAK, MACHINIST
...on winning a Winston Cup championship: "Actually this is the second time I've been on a team that has won a championship - 1988 was my first one working with Bill Elliott. This one feels much better - more relaxing. I was stressed out in '88. I was the motor man then, so there was a lot of pressure on you to make sure everything was done right. This is the first year I haven't gone to the track. Maybe that's why they won it?"
...how tough was it to stay focused and not get caught up in what you might accomplish?: "It wasn't hard. It was a yearlong thing. And it was always 'if' when we did talk about it. We never talked about 'when' we won or anything like that. It was always an 'if.' We're all grown people here and have been in the sport for a lot of years, and know that anything can happen. You just can't count it out."
...how has Joe Gibbs Racing changed over the years?: "Oh, you're talking about night and day. We came in here at night, and now it's day. We started the team with nothing. We got some old stuff that Hendrick Motorsports no longer wanted, and that's what we ended up buying. We started with a few people and not much backing - besides what we started out with. The first year we were pretty satisfied with our outcome, and then started the second year by winning the biggest race of the year - the Daytona 500. That was huge for us. Then to have a season like we had the rest of the year in '93 - we probably raced beyond where we should have been that year, even more than what we did this year."