Brothers Terry and Bobby Labonte are no longer competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series but maintain a strong presence within stock car racing circles.
They are the only brothers in NASCAR’s 70-year history to win Cup Series titles. Terry Labonte won the championship in 1984 and ’96, while Bobby Labonte claimed the title in 2000.
Younger brother Bobby Labonte’s life has always revolved around motorsports. He grew up watching Terry Labonte compete on Texas short tracks and felt a strong desire to start his own racing career. He began driving quarter midgets at an early age, winning his first national quarter midget race at age 6 in 1970.
“At 5 years old, I was racing something until I was 9 all the way to Denver, Colo., California, Huntsville, Ala., and Tulsa, Okla., from Corpus Christi, Texas,” Bobby Labonte said. “That was what my dad (Bob Labonte) wanted to do. When you’re racing that young, it might not always turn out the way you want it to. We all put so much dedication into it. I didn’t know there was anything else, to be honest with you.
“Also, our parents were all about racing,” Labonte noted. “They never asked us if we wanted to play golf or get into something else. It was always about racing.”
While other drivers were seeking rides from team owners, the Labonte family fielded their own race cars on short tracks throughout Texas. They moved to North Carolina in the late 1970s where Bobby Labonte raced while working as a fabricator and mechanic on his brother’s Cup Series Chevrolets owned by fellow Texan Billy Hagan.
“For me, the route I took was building and working on my own cars,” Labonte said. “I thought that was the best plan for me. By doing that, you can control your own destiny a little bit more. As time went on to try and get to the pinnacle, your first shot might not be the right one or the one that takes you there.
“All of them (racing efforts) are building blocks to that point. It’s not always going to happen the way you expect it to. You have to build yourself up to the top rides at that point and time as well. It’s not easy, but everybody has a little different plan. Sometimes you have to take particular rides to get to that next level.”
By 1980, Bobby Labonte had won late model championships at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., and Concord (N.C.) Speedway. He made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 1982 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and made 16 starts throughout the 1980s in family-owned Buicks.
In 1990, he formed his own team and competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, collecting six top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.
The following year, he won his first Xfinity Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in April and won again at Indianapolis Raceway Park in August en route to the series championship.
That prompted a call from NASCAR Cup Series team owner Bill Davis with a full-time ride for 1993. Two years later, Labonte began his first of 11 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing and won his first Cup Series race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“When you win your first one, that’s pretty special,” Labonte said. “We had finished second three or four times behind Jeff Gordon. That night, Ken Schrader was out front and had a problem and we ended up winning the race.
“We were so fast,” Labonte recalled. “I remember I was talking so much on the radio that Jimmy Makar (crew chief) told me to shut up because I was talking so much. I was saying things like, ‘This guy is going to crash,’ and ‘This guy is going to wreck.’ I had not ever done that before but the car was so good. I just had a feeling that night that we were going to win.”
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