Bobby Labonte is a Sprint Cup champion, a future Hall of Famer and a class act on and off the track. He’s won twenty-one races that include historic events such as the Coke 600, Southern 500 as well as the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. In the ten years following his 21st Sprint Cup victory, Bobby has been forced to endure some rough times but he’s kept his head held high and persevered through it all. Labonte has enjoyed the thrill of hoisting the championship trophy and he’s also experienced the humility of having to start and park. He is a gentlemen that deserves nothing but respect and it was my honor to talk to the champ at New Hampshire last weekend.
I started by asking Bobby about his future and what it may hold for him but unfortunately, he knows as much about his 2014 plans as the rest of us do. As for next year, Bobby told me he really isn’t sure what he’ll be doing. I pointed out the fact that he could very well be the first “Triple Crown” champion (champion of Trucks, Nationwide & Cup) if he went to the Camping World Truck Series and won the title there but he didn’t show much interest in going down that road just yet. That led me to ask if he does not find a ride for 2014, what will he be doing and the answer I got was a simple; “I’m not sure…just not sure yet.”
Bobby Labonte’s passion for racing in NASCAR has far from dwindled and if you think for a second that he has no desire to continue racing, you are extremely mistaken. In fact, the man endured laser treatment and acupuncture just so he could race at New Hampshire knowing very well that JTG would be putting AJ Allmendinger in the car the two races that followed Loudon. That’s somebody who just wants to race; that’s a champion right there. He could of just relaxed, missed New Hampshire and JTG would have had no problem getting AJ to sub but Bobby Labonte is a racer and wasn’t going to do that.
As the interview progressed, I wanted to know what a 22nd victory would mean to Bobby after the tumultuous decade that followed his last triumph at Homestead in 2003; “It would be a highlight of all the wins…as any win, you’d cherish it but some of them are more important than others if you will. You’re next win is always the most important (I interject – because you never know if it will be your last). Right It would definitely be awesome; there’s no doubt about it and hopefully we can do that. I got a few more races with these guys this year and we’ll see what happens.”
It’s no secret that Bobby Labonte has been treated poorly by some of his former employers and he’s been at the receiving end of multiple raw deals so I asked him what moment in his 20 year career has been the most difficult to deal with but instead of pointing out a specific situation, Bobby instead talked about how you should deal with adversity; “I always try to make the best out of any situation no matter what happens but sometimes, you make a choice and it may not be the right one but its what feels right in your heart. At the same time, what happens, happens. You get frustrated and you get mad but at the end of the day, its part of life and you just try to respect it as much as possible and move on and try to be as good as you can at whatever you can be.”
This led me to ask Bobby if he had any regrets and once again, he answered just like a champion would; “You have points in time where you wish that you would have done something different but at the time, you make your best choices and no matter what it is, you try to make your best choices and not have any regrets. Life is going to be full of excitement and disappointments. Whether it’s based on your choice or somebody else’s choice, your best bet is to try and not let that bother you.”
Now on a happier note, I wanted to know what Bobby’s proudest racing moment was out of all his impressive achievements and he said; “There’s too many to mention but obviously, winning the championship was great. That’s obviously something you can’t take away; it will always be there. That’s a great thing and of all the accomplishments, that’s obviously at the top of the list. Then there’s just being a part of the sport for so many years and I’ve always had a passion for it.”
Then I turned my attention to the thousands of Bobby Labonte fans that have remained loyal to Bobby through all his trials and tribulations and what that support means to him; “To have the support of the fans through thick and thin…they view you in a way knowing that I’m kind of like them in ways and if I had time to listen to each one of their stories; you’d know that not everyone has had all unicorns and dandelions. The loyalty of people is amazing and they relate to me, I can relate to them and it’s cool that they like me for who I am I guess.”
Keeping on the fan topic, I wanted to know what Bobby’s strangest encounter with a fan ever was; “There’s been several…some I can’t mention. You look back on it sometimes later in life and they were all great. They were excited to see you; some overly excited…showed you things they ain’t supposed to show you but that’s their personalty, their makeup and that’s just who they are and that’s okay. There’s a lot of people who are just excited to see you I guess. There are some things like I’ve signed dogs, prosthetic arms and legs and this and that but if that makes their day; that’s awesome.”
Bobby Labonte is the perfect example of integrity, class, fortitude, and raw talent behind the wheel of a racecar. He will certainly be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day and even if you don’t think his on-track accomplishments are HOF worthy (which is ludicrous), you can’t argue the fact that he has persevered through situations that no champion like him should have deal with in the first place. I want you to honestly tell me how many NASCAR champions have been told to start and park? Tell me how many have been thrown out of their ride on multiple occasions for no good reason? (That was not a knock on JTG but rather some of his past teams) Tell me how many champions out there would endure such mistreatment and deal with it in the professional manner Bobby Labonte has?
Bobby has gone through all that and now, he faces an uncertain future and even in what very well may be the twilight of his impressive career, he fights to return from an injury that left him with three broken ribs and a punctured lung just to compete in a single race. If that’s not Hall of Fame worthy, I don’t know what is. Also, if you had any doubt regarding the humbleness of this guy, I asked him at the end of the interview what he wants people to remember Bobby Labonte for. He didn’t say “I want people to remember that I beat the late, great Dale Earnhardt for the 2000 NSCS championship or that I was a 21-time winner.” He simply said that he wants people to remember “that I was just a plain and simple guy who just made an effort to do the right things.” It will definitely be a loss for NASCAR if he isn’t involved in the sport next year. We need more drivers like him, not less. Good luck with whatever the future may hold for you Bobby and hopefully that future involves wheeling your car into victory lane at least one last time.
Check Out My Other Story On Bobby Labonte That Walks You Through His Remarkable Career: http://www.speedwaymedia.com/?p=60877