Labonte nominated for NASCAR Hall
Terry Labonte, who came from Texas in 1978 to drive in stock-car racing’s premier series for a now long-gone team that was based in Thomasville, landed in select company Friday as a first-time nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Labonte, who will drive in the Daytona 500 for what he says is the final time on Sunday, had not previously been eligible because of rules requiring a driver to be retired for three years. But that changed this year when the criteria for consideration was changed to automatically include drivers who have competed for 30 years or are 55 or older.
Labonte, a winner of 21 Cup races and two championships who lived in Thomasville for years before moving to north of Lexington, qualified on both counts. He spent the early part of his career and got his first championship driving in 1984 for Billy Hagan’s team, which was located on Ball Park Road across from Finch Field. Labonte’s second championship came in 1996 driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
Bill Elliott, who won the 1988 Cup title and still holds the circuit’s qualifying record of more than 212 miles an hour, was also a first-time nominee under the new rule. Elliott raced two years ago but is 58.
Elliott and Labonte were among five first-time nominees. The others were seven-time Modified champ MIke Stefanik, driver Buddy Baker, and engine builder and car owner Robert Yates — who won a Cup championship with Dale Jarrett.
Not nominated was Mark Martin, winner of 96 races across NASCAR’s three national divisions, who raced last year but was eligible under the age and longevity rules.
A total of 20 people were nominated, down from 25 previously. Those dropped off the list were Les Richter, Ralph Seagraves, Annie B. France, T. Wayne Robertson, and Clay Earles were dropped from the ballot. Seagraves, who helped start Winston cigarette’s sponsorship of the Cup Series in the early 1970’s, France and Martinsville Speedway founder Earles was among moved to the new “Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions” ballot that begins with the 2015 class.
Richter was a race-track and NASCAR official. France kept the books for her husband, NASCAR founder Bill France. Robertson was another Winston sports marketing executive.
Returning nominees for the Hall of Fame include: driver Red Bryon, owner Richard Childress, modified champion Jerry Cook, engine builder Ray Fox, owner Rick Hendrick, driver Bobby Isaac, former Daytona 500 winner Fred Lorenzen, car owner Raymond Parks, driver Benny Parsons, driver Larry Phillips, the first black driver to win a NASCAR race, Wendell Scott, track owner Bruton Smith, pioneer driver Curtis Turner, driver Joe Weatherly, and driver Rex White.
Five will be selected on May 21 for induction in 2015.
Editor’s note: The Associated Press conttributed to this report