Richard “Slugger” Labbe was a longtime fixture in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area, but more than 30 years on the road every weekend took a toll on the Maine native.
He worked for a number of NASCAR’s elite teams, earning five victories as a crew chief at stock car racing’s top level. Two of those came in two of the sport’s biggest events — the Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip in 2003 and the Brickyard 400 with Paul Menard in 2011.
He also worked with a multitude of other drivers, including Austin Dillon, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, David Gilliland, Jeremy Mayfield and Kenny Irwin Jr.
However, after losing his job at Richard Childress Racing midway through the 2017 season, Labbe decided it was time for a change.
“I’d been in NASCAR for 34 years with the last 20 as a crew chief,” Labbe explained. “I just got to the point where the normal grind of being a crew chief and working 80 to 100 hours a week was too much for me. Being 50 years old, I finally had enough of the NASCAR grind every week.
“So I decided to kick back and slow down my work ethics. I really didn’t do anything for three months. I did a little work for NBC as an on-air analyst, I did some stuff for MRN, just kind of trying to stay relevant in the sport.”
After a few months away from racing, an opportunity arose for Labbe to join Toyota Racing Development.
“A good friend of mine, Andy Graves, who runs Toyota Racing Development, called me a couple of times about coming to work for TRD,” Labbe recalled. “Lowe and behold I’m closing in on two years.”
The opportunity was far too good to pass up. Fast-forward two years and Labbe still works for Toyota Racing Development. His official title is Engineering Manager, Vehicle Support.
“Basically, anything TRD offers up to the teams, if it’s NHRA, if it’s NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Truck Series, ARCA Series, K&N, any support that TRD offers up kind of funnels through me and I make sure teams get everything they need,” Labbe said. “It could be anything from time on the simulator at the office to simulation data acquisitions, programs, so many things that we offer to our teams. I just make sure the teams are utilizing everything we have to offer to help them win races.”
Labbe says his position at Toyota doesn’t include the same stress he dealt with when he was a NASCAR crew chief.
“The biggest thing with NASCAR is the grind is huge. I will say when you’re a crew chief you have a big old target on your back. It’s called performance,” Labbe said. “If you don’t perform, you get that arrow right in the center of the back.
“Here, in my current position, the stress level is way, way low. When you’re a Cup crew chief, the stress level is way, way high to perform,” he continued. “After doing it for so long, I just had to realize what was more important and, to me, it’s spending more time with my family and spending more time at home. To do that I couldn’t be a crew chief anymore.
“So it was either stay out of the sport or stay at the office and be an R&D manager or just do something completely different. This here, working for TRD, is my completely different.”
Labbe’s travel schedule is much lighter now, allowing him to spend more time with his family.
“The NHRA series is 24 races, I’ll probably attend 18 to 20. I also go to quite a few of the truck races,” he noted.