Texas II: Labonte, Hendrick Friday wake-up call, part 1

Nextel Wake-Up Call with Terry Labonte, No. 44 Kellogg's Monte Carlo SS, and Team Owner Rick Hendrick Dickies 500, Texas Motor Speedway ON REFLECTING BACK ON HIS CAREER AND FINISHING FOURTH AT DARLINGTON: TERRY LABONTE: "Well it was an awful...

Nextel Wake-Up Call with Terry Labonte, No. 44 Kellogg's Monte Carlo SS, and Team Owner Rick Hendrick
Dickies 500, Texas Motor Speedway

ON REFLECTING BACK ON HIS CAREER AND FINISHING FOURTH AT DARLINGTON:

TERRY LABONTE: "Well it was an awful exciting day and to run my very first race at Darlington. I was driving for a gentleman named Billy Hagan from Louisiana who I actually won the championship for in 1984 and drove several years for him. He gave me the opportunity to move to North Carolina and run his NASCAR Nextel Cup car. We went to Darlington. When he called me and said let's go to Darlington and run that I was kind of hoping we'd go to Martinsville or Richmond or Wilksboro or someplace (else) since I had never run a track that big. We went down there and finished fourth that day, so that's kind of how we got started there so it was pretty exciting."

ON BEING A NATIVE TEXAN AND WHAT IT MEANS TO END HIS CAREER HERE:

TERRY LABONTE: "I consider it my home track I guess. When we were in the limited schedule a couple of years ago, I felt like it was appropriate to run my last race here in my home state. It's where I got started racing so I felt like this was the perfect place to run my last race and here we are. It seems like the past two years have gone by a little bit quicker than I thought they would but anyway this Sunday will be the last race."

ON THE INTEREST IN NASCAR SINCE HE FIRST STARTED RACING TO NOW:

TERRY LABONTE: "I can remember growing up down here in south Texas. I raced at Corpus Christi and Houston and San Antonio. About all the media coverage on racing was you'd have to read the newspaper on Monday to see what happened on Sunday at the races. It seemed like if A.J. (Foyt) wasn't in the race they didn't cover it much. He was the biggest name in Texas for racing. I can remember the old Texas World Speedway days. We ran a couple of events there and probably didn't have 20,000 people there total in the infield and the stands. When they announced they were going to build a speedway here, of course times had changed, the sport had grown a lot and things were a lot different. I can remember coming out to the ground breaking out here. There were more people for the ground breaking here than (had) ever went to one of those races at College Station. I was a little bit concerned because I remember those days at College Station and probably a lot of guys didn't remember that. After I saw the turnout that they had, I felt like it was going to be a huge success and of course this area up here was the perfect area to build the speedway. I don't think the people really envisioned what kind of facility it would be. It's just a show place and it's pretty neat to see it evolve into what it is today and to see the support that we have is just incredible."

ON SITTING ON THE POLE AND IF IT ATTRACTED A LOT OF ATTENTION:

TERRY LABONTE: "Not really, the sport was no where near what it is today. You've got to remember those days we could go to Bristol and race and not have 20,000 people there too. The sport has just changed a lot. In Texas if it wasn't high school football or the Dallas Cowboys it didn't get a lot of attention so it's definitely changed though."

HAS IT SUNK IN THAT THIS IS YOUR LAST CUP START? CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS?

TERRY LABONTE: "It has. I guess it has. Boy if hadn't I guess it's going to pretty soon. Like I've said before, I really feel like I've been awful fortunate to be able to compete in this sport for as long as I've had and to have been able to win a couple of championships and some races and do the things that we did are really special. I'm thankful for what we accomplished and I'm kind of looking forward to this weekend and kind of moving on and doing something else. I'm not sure what that's going to be exactly yet."

HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED IN THIS SPORT? WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?

TERRY LABONTE: "I think the biggest accomplishments were the two championships by far. As far as how I want to be remembered, I don't really care (laughs). I guess that would be up to whoever wants to figure out what they want to remember. I don't know. I guess that's how I am. It doesn't really matter, as long as it's not a bad thing."

WITH SUNDAY BEING YOUR LAST RACE, DOES IT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH OR RACE STRATEGY?

TERRY LABONTE: "Yeah, I think if I need a caution I'm going to throw some roll bar rubber out because I figure what the heck they can't suspend me (laughs). If they fine me I'm not coming back anyway so I don't have to pay that. No, I don't know. We've worked on our car a little bit since Charlotte. We've had some pretty good runs here at Texas and hopefully we'll have a good car. I know Mike Baumgardner my crew chief has really worked hard on it. We brought the best car we could bring and hopefully we can have a good run. That's the key. We would love to have a good run. Sure, we'd love to win but there's 43 other guys that would love to win too. We'll do our best and get what we get and go on."

ON THE DINNER LAST NIGHT AND MONEY RAISED FOR SPEEDWAY CHILDREN'S CHARITY:

TERRY LABONTE: "It went great. I got to thank Eddie Gossage (Texas Motor Speedway president) and everybody here at Texas Motor Speedway for putting that event on. They really have been very accommodating this weekend and have put a lot of effort into this final race and myself and Kellogg's and Hendrick Motorsports. It's really exciting for all of us to be a part of it. Those guys here at the speedway have gone way out of their way and done some really special things for us and we really appreciate it. I think my uniform sold for $16,000 or something like that and they sold some other things. I think they had a pretty good night out there. We had a great turnout. It was a fun event. I really didn't know what to expect. They surprised me a little bit with a couple of things but it was a good event."

ONCE YOU STOP RACING WILL YOU SIT BACK AND WATCH SOME RACES AND JUST BE A FAN?

TERRY LABONTE: "I don't know. It's a little harder for me to watch them (the races) than I thought. I've only watched a couple (from) start to finish. It's definitely different. You can watch it on TV and watch how everything takes place. You get to watch a lot of ads and commercials. It's different. My brother once called me and said did you see this and that and I'm like yeah. Then I was like well I think I must have been outside or gone somewhere during that but I didn't want to hurt his feelings. It's pretty hard to sit there and watch the whole thing for me anyway. I can't sit still that long. It's different definitely. I like it better at the race track but I watch some of them."

IF YOU HAD TO PICK, IN YOUR MIND WHO ARE THE GREATEST DRIVERS YOU RACED AGAINST?

TERRY LABONTE: "That's really hard to pick anyone. There were so many of those guys that were just so awesome and were incredible to be able to race against like Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby and Donnie Allison. In the IROC races I got to compete against Mario Andretti and Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt of course ran some IROC and Cup races. I got to really race against some real legends in motorsports. Then today racing against guys like (Jeff) Gordon and Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, guys that are going to continue to be stars for a long time in our sport. I've really gotten to race against a lot of guys. I think one of the guys that always impressed me the most and what he's accomplished is Jeff Gordon, to win the Brickyard 400 like four times and the Daytona 500. The races that he's won has been pretty incredible I think. All of those guys I really look up to and really admire."

ON COMING OUT OF CORPUS CHRISTI AND BECOMING THE STAPLE THAT YOU HAVE IN THIS RACE:

TERRY LABONTE: "It was really incredible to be able to have that opportunity. I was racing in Houston, Texas at a place called Meyer Speedway. We were leading the points out there and we didn't go to the race this one weekend. The promoter called and wanted to know why we didn't show up. We had lost an engine the week before and we had to sit out a week because we really couldn't afford to put it back together. We were going to go the next week anyhow and he said come on up because I've got someone I want to introduce you to and it was Billy Hagan. Billy and the track promoter worked out a deal where they would pay me first place money every night that I would go there kind of as a guarantee. If I didn't win the race I'd still get paid first place money. That's kind of how the sponsorship started and then it kind of evolved from there. Billy would buy us some tires and help us out and give us some money along the way. He sponsored us there for a couple years racing in Houston and San Antonio. Then he gave me the opportunity to move to North Carolina. When I moved to North Carolina I wasn't driving the car. I was just working on team. He said to come up here and go to all the races with him and see how everything is done and get it figured out before you run some races. During that time I didn't really like that that much. I (was thinking) man, I don't know about this. I stuck it out and then he called me at home one night and said what about running Darlington. I went 'Oh boy.' I said 'OK, I think that's a pretty tough place from what I remember.' So we went there and that was how we got started I guess. It was just an incredible opportunity. There's so many people that had as much or more talent than I did but you don't ever get the opportunity. I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time. If I would have gone to the race that weekend, I would have never gotten that phone call from the track promoter and I would have never met Billy Hagan so it's pretty amazing really."

WITH YOUR SON JUSTIN RACING, HOW MANY WEEKENDS WILL YOU STILL BE AT THE TRACK?

TERRY LABONTE: "I don't know. It just depends on what Justin does and if I go to some of the races with him. I'm sure I will. How many, I don't know. It just depends what he's doing. He's working a truck deal for next year and he's running the truck series race tonight. It will be his first one. He's got a late model and a dirt car. Some of the most fun we had this summer was going to the races with him and watching him run his first dirt race down in Corpus Christi. He did awesome. I couldn't have done near as a good as he did. So we got home and we've got a dirt car now. It just depends. I'm sure I'll go to the races with him. At what level, I don't know."

ON WHAT A GREAT RACE CAR DRIVER TERRY LABONTE IS:

RICK HENDRICK: "I think I told this story last night. I saw him at North Wilksboro right before we hired him and run on seven cylinders and lead the race all day until they pitted for tires. He's just been a great asset to our company. He's taught a lot of our young guys how to race and how to race for points and to be able to win a championship for us. I think the neatest thing about the whole Labonte family is just the caliber of people they are. He's become one of my best friends. We enjoy doing things away from the race track so we're going to enjoy doing some fishing. He has really been a tremendous asset to the success of our company in so many ways. I said this last night too. It's nice to see a guy on the track that all the fans pull for if their guy isn't doing well. They're all a Terry Labonte fan so it's been real special to have him as a part of our organization."

ON THE NEXT WIN FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS BEING THE 150TH FOR THE ORGANIZATION:

RICK HENDRICK: "It doesn't seem that long ago we got the 100th win. Nothing would mean any more to me and our organization for us to have the 150th win here in Texas with Terry. That would be like a championship to us. That would probably be the biggest celebration you'd ever see from our organization with all of our cars. It's a real milestone. You look back at how hard it is to win a race today and you look at those races and you add up some of the all star races and other deals and we've been very fortunate. That's because of guys like Terry Labonte that have stuck with us. I'd love to see Terry Labonte get that 150 here. That would be the ultimate deal for us."

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Michael Andretti , Mario Andretti , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Donnie Allison , Billy Hagan , A.J. Foyt , Cale Yarborough , David Pearson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports