CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The final stop on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Thursday at Joe Gibbs Racing was a reunion of sorts with former JGR drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart making special appearances.
The 2011 season marks the 20th anniversary of JGR’s entrance into NASCAR, and members of the Gibbs fraternity took the opportunity Thursday to reminisce about JGR’s 1991 debut.
“Twenty years ago we had 16 employees in a small leased building,” Gibbs said. “Today we have more than 400. This is a good time for us. We’ve had two of our most important sponsors re-up in the middle of this financial situation. We’re also adding a Nationwide team this year.”
Jimmy Makar, the team’s first crew chief and current vice president of racing operations, remembered scrambling to put together the new team.
“We bought a bunch of stuff from Rick Hendrick so we could get started,” Makar said. “We had to design, find and build a race shop. We had a few things working against us, but we got it together quickly.”
Following a brief video message from Dale Jarrett, who was the first driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet and winner of the 1993 Daytona 500 for JGR, Gibbs welcomed both Labonte and Stewart to the stage. Laughter quickly followed.
“He [Stewart] had three girlfriends, and I was trying to figure out which girlfriend he was with,” said Gibbs recalling the difficultly he had trying to track Stewart down to sign him to a NASCAR contract. “So I’m trying to figure out which girlfriend is he with? I would literally call the house and I’d always know if I hit it right because they’d be real friendly. ‘Oh yeah, I’m with Tony, I can get Tony.’”
Stewart quipped back, “I’m just hoping [Gibbs] still remembers a couple of those girls’ numbers because I don’t know where I put them.”