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January 23, 2016

Kyle Busch

Terry Labonte

Kristy Labonte Garrett

Charlotte, North Carolina

KYLE BUSCH: My first full‑time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I had the pleasure and pressure of following in the footsteps of a living legend. Saying I had huge shoes to fill was an understatement. Early in his career, the two‑time series champion, known as the Ice Man, for his coolness under pressure, later, though, the Texan became known as the sport's Iron Man when he set the consecutive starts record. Now we have an even better name for him: NASCAR Hall of Famer.
(Video shown.)
KRISTY LABONTE GARRETT: It is now my honor on this 23rd day of January, 2016, to present the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee ring and officially induct my father, Terry Labonte, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
TERRY LABONTE: Well, thank you very much. Thank you, Kyle. It's not every day you get introduced by the defending Cup champion there, so I appreciate that. Thank you, Kristy, so much. I appreciate that. I tell you what, I look in here and walk around and I look at all these banners up here, and I think, holy smoke, I see mine. It really is true. I am in the Hall of Fame. This is awesome. But guys like Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, guys that I raced against, I'll tell you what, I might be in the Hall of Fame today with you guys, but you guys will still always be my heroes, and I appreciate everything that you guys did for our sport.
I've got to thank the France family, Mike Helton and everybody at NASCAR. What a tremendous job those guys have done with the sport that we all love. I'd like to congratulate my fellow inductees today on being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I know that's a tremendous accomplishment and something everybody is very proud of. I don't know how in the world you ever follow Bruton Smith's speech after that, though.
I've got to thank my parents. I'll tell you what, you can do a lot of things and you can choose a lot of things, make a lot of decisions, but you can't pick who your parents are, and I've got the best. Thank you.
My parents did an awful lot for me, and I certainly do appreciate everything that they did. I never will forget and thank you for all your love and support.
I've got to thank my wife. I'll tell you what, we were riding down the road the other day, and Kim looked at me, and she said, hey, have you even thought about a speech for the Hall of Fame, and I looked at her and I said, that's news to me. Nobody has told me anything about a speech for the Hall of Fame. And she said, no really I think you've got to give a speech, and I said, nope, I don't think so. And I thought right there, I said, you know what, I've got the perfect wife. We've been married 37 years, and she still believes everything I tell her.
I've got to thank my kids, Justin and Kristy. They're here today. Justin's wife Miranda, Kristy's husband Matt, they're here, also. You know, we grew up at the racetrack, raced for so long and our kids were little and I saw them grow up and they spent a lot of time at the racetrack. I never knew if Kristy was going to be much of a race fan or not. I can remember sitting there at Rockingham on Sunday morning and she looks at me and says, Daddy, do we have to stay for the whole thing? I thought, yeah, I hope so.
And of course now Justin, he was a little bit different there, and I made a terrible mistake one day at Talladega, and I allowed some of my crew members to take him on a tour through the infield one evening at Talladega, and I'm not sure exactly what they saw or what they did, but from there on, about every Saturday night when we were at a racetrack, Justin would say, dad, can we take the golf cart through the infield?
I'll tell you, it's not everybody gets to do this and race in this series, much less get to do it with your brother, and I'll tell you what, we had some great years we raced together. We have some memories that will last a lifetime, and I love you too, buddy.
I'll tell you what, it's interesting how I got here. I had to move 1,200 miles just to get to the south. South Texas is really the south, but they call this the south. But I certainly am glad I'm here. It's kind of interesting how it all happened, but what happened, I was racing at a speedway in Houston, Texas, Meyer Speedway, and we were racing there, my parents were‑‑ it was my dad's car, my parents were paying for everything. I was like the kid that every parent feared. I was still 20 years old and I still lived at home. I know they didn't think I was ever going to move out.
So we were racing at Meyer Speedway, and we were getting ready to go to the race this weekend, and I remember it was Memorial Day weekend, and my dad found some trouble with the engine, so he said, hey, we can't go and we've got to fix the engine. So we had to order some parts and all this and that, and I said, okay.
So I overheard my dad tell my mom he had to borrow some money to fix this engine, and I thought, golly. I was concerned because they sacrificed an awful lot for my racing career. So I was sitting there, and I thought, you know, maybe I need to have a conversation with my dad, and he's never heard this story.
And I thought maybe I should have a conversation with my dad and tell him, hey, maybe we should do something else or maybe start racing somewhere else that doesn't cost as much or something like that, and it just so happened that weekend was the Indy 500, so I was watching the Indy 500, and AJ Foyt won his fourth Indy 500. And of course I was watching the news that night and watching all the interviews and everything, and I can't remember the question some reporter asked AJ, and he says‑‑ but I remembered his answer, and his answer was, you know, you can never give up. He said, sometimes when the going gets tough, people just give up. You can't ever give up. And I thought to myself, you know, I was fixing to give up. I thought he was talking to me.
So I never had that conversation with my dad. So about Tuesday or Wednesday of that week, the phone rang at my house, and of course when you're 20 years old, the phone rings at your house in the evening, you run to get that phone because you've got a little brother that's about 13 that wants to see who's calling you. So I answered that phone, and it was a guy named Ed Hamlin from Meyer Speedway, the track promoter, and he says, hey, you guys going to come back this weekend and race, and I said, yeah, we've got the engine back together and we're going to be there. He said, good, I got somebody I'd like to introduce you to. So I said, okay. We went to the races, and after the races that night, Mr.Hamlin came down and he brought a guy down and introduced him to me and it was Billy Hagan. So Billy started sponsoring our car. He'd buy us some tires and send us some engine pieces, and we got to actually win the championship over in San Anton that year.
So at the end of the year, Billy calls, and he said, hey, would you like the opportunity to move to North Carolina and drive for my NASCAR team, run some races next year? And I said, let me think about it. So I told my dad, I said, hey, Billy called, and he wanted to know if I wanted to move to North Carolina and run some races with his NASCAR team next year. So my dad said, well, what did you tell him. I said, well, I told him I'd think about it, and my dad said, you said what?
So I called Billy back and talked to him, and I said, okay, I want to move to North Carolina. He said, okay, so I move up there and go to the races with the team, and actually it was Nancy Hagan who's sitting right here who encouraged Billy to put me behind the wheel of that car. So Billy calls, and he said, hey, are you ready to go run? I said, yeah. He said, well, I'll tell you what, I want to go to Darlington, and I said, man, I was thinking more like Wilkesboro, Martinsville or something, and he said, no, I want to go to Darlington. He said we're going to go to Wilkesboro and Martinsville, too, but we're going to go there first. So I said OK, so off we go. We go to Darlington. The longest race I'd ever run was a 200 lapper on a half‑mile track, so we go to Darlington for the Southern 500, and went down there and ran that race, and it lasted all day long. It lasted forever. And finally it ended, and I looked at the scoreboard there a couple times to see how many laps were left, but I never thought about looking at my car number. So I came in after the race, I had no idea we were finished, and I came in, and I finished fourth, and everybody is all excited and stuff.
I thought, man, I like this. This is pretty cool here. So we went on and ran four more races that year and then a few years later we actually won the Southern 500 down there at Darlington, and then in 1984 we had Dale Inman crew chief and Dewey Livengood was our engine builder and we just had a fantastic year. We had a team that was just unbelievable, and we won the NASCAR championship, and I thought, man, this is the coolest thing.
I had just turned 28 that weekend when we won the championship, and I thought, you know, I know this is a big deal, but I think we can do it again next year, and we raced the next year and we did pretty good, but we didn't win the championship, the next year we didn't win the championship. Then I had an opportunity to drive for Junior Johnson and we finished third in the points one year, finished fourth in the points one year and learned a lot from Junior. One of the things I learned was you better win at North Wilkesboro, because that was the most important race you're going to run and we were able to do that. But it was just a great opportunity there.
And then in 1994, I had a another opportunity of a lifetime. Rick Hendrick called me and I got to go down there and it was one of those after‑hours meetings and we went down there and I got to tour the shop with Randy Dorton and Gary DeHart and Rick, and we walked around there and I looked at all the stuff they had, all the equipment they had and the people I knew that worked there, I thought to myself, my God, this is an incredible opportunity here, I knew this place was going to be a place that could win a championship.
So we started out, we won races in '94, '95, and then 1996 we found ourselves in a battle for the championship with our teammate and the defending champion Jeff Gordon.
We had a great team that year, crew chief Gary DeHart, engine builder Jeff Andrews, and we had so many good guys on that team that it came down right to the wire, and we ended up winning the championship, and it was just incredible. Thanks to Rick Hendrick because I don't think I would have ever gotten that second championship, I don't think I would have been selected for the Hall of Fame, so Rick, I appreciate everything that you did for me. Nancy, thank you for everything that you and Billy did.
You know, '94 to 1996 driving for Rick, I'll tell you, we had one sponsor in Kellogg's and Jeff Montie is here that was with Kellogg's at the time and he was the guy that put the deals together, and thank you, Jeff, for being here. I certainly do appreciate that. I've got to thank Josh Comstock with C. & J. Frank Stoddard. I've got all my rowdy friends from Texas. Some of you all, if you're staying at the Westin, you might have seen them in the lobby over there. Thanks, guys, for coming up, and I appreciate you being here.
Got to thank all the fans out there. We've got a lot of fans over the years. I certainly do appreciate all your support. Thank you so much for not only supporting us but the entire series and the sport that we all love.
For all the guys that worked on my teams over the years, I'll tell you what, you certainly couldn't have accomplished this without all their hard work and dedication, and I hope that they all feel like they're a part of this, because they are. If it wasn't for them, I certainly wouldn't be here.
You know, I got to do a lot of cool things, got to go a lot of places, and be introduced as a to‑time NASCAR champion. But I'll tell you what: It's going to be a whole lot better introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Thank you, all. God bless you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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