Retired Two-Time Cup Champion Has Short Track Plans by Mike Twist
Busch East Driver Aims for Breakthrough Season
Terry Labonte might be done with Cup racing, but he's still going to a few short tracks here and there. (NASCAR Photos)
You can’t keep a true racer from going to the racetrack.
After two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte hung up his helmet after last fall’s Nextel Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, some people expected him to ride off into the sunset. Others expected him to resurface at the track before too long, and that is exactly what Labonte is planning to do. The twist is that Labonte is making plans to attend a pair of big short track races, and not looking to slide behind the wheel of a Nextel Cup car one more time.
On March 31st, Labonte will serve as the Grand Marshall of the NASCAR West Series season opener at Thunder Hill Raceway in Kyle, Texas. Labonte’s son Justin, a former regular in the NASCAR Busch Series, has entered the race.
And while serving as a Grand Marshall could be considered more of a symbolic thing, what the elder Labonte has planned for this summer is anything but. Labonte will return to the driver’s seat to take compete in one of the biggest short track races in the United States, the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway, on July 22nd.
“It’s a fun race, but it’s a tough, tough race,” Labonte said. “I remember the first time we tried to qualify; we looked around and saw something like 100 other cars. I’m hearing that they’ve already broken that record by a bunch. You just have to get up on the steering wheel and go after it.”
Labonte has three previous starts in the 250. In the 1980’s, he drove the Norseman Motor Inn entry twice, finishing 27th in 1983 and 41st in 1986. In 1992, he finished a career-best 17th in the race driving a steel-bodied Sunoco #94 car under NASCAR Grand National North (now the NASCAR Busch East Series) rules.
This time around, Labonte will drive a Late Model fielded by the Richard Moody racing team as a teammate to two-time 250 winner Ben Rowe.
“It’s an honor to have Terry Labonte drive one of our cars,” said team owner Richard Moody. “We love racing. We race different cars in different series all over the country, and Terry has always been that kind of driver, also. He still has that competitive fire, and I don’t think it will take him much time at all to show everyone that he hasn’t forgotten how to get around Oxford.”
Rowe is looking forward to working with his new teammate.
“Terry was one of those drivers I always admired growing up,” said Rowe. “He is a clean racer, but a hard-nosed racer, too. To me, he will always be the ‘Iron Man.’ He and Dale Earnhardt had those two great finishes at Bristol that none of us will ever forget. It‘s going to be a blast working with him.”
The Labonte family is known for being from Texas, but there they also have family ties to the Western Maine area. Terry’s father Bob was born and raised in nearby Rumford.
“I’m excited to get back to Oxford and be part of that great TD Banknorth 250 tradition,” Labonte said. “My family has roots in the Rumford area, and I’ve always been fortunate to have a lot of friends and fans up there. It’s a race I have always wanted to win, and I believe this is going to be my best chance yet.”