CONCORD, N.C. – “Drivers, start your engines!”
The honor of delivering that line Sunday night at Darlington Raceway will belong to new NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte.
The two-time NASCAR primer series champion, who raced for Hendrick Motorsports for more than a decade, will serve as the grand marshal for this weekend’s Southern 500.
This year, the historic race is back on Labor Day weekend, and the track is celebrating the occasion with the hashtag #TraditionReturns.
It only makes since that Labonte would earn the honor for this weekend’s event. After all, it was Labonte who won the race the most recent time it was held on Labor Day weekend – his final win for Hendrick Motorsports in 2003.
“Darlington is where I won my first race and my last, and I’m honored to serve as grand marshal for the first time at the Bojangles’ Southern 500,” Labonte said. “I love the Labor Day tradition, and Darlington always brings back special memories for me. I look forward to being part of such a historic weekend for NASCAR.”
Labonte earned 12 wins for Hendrick Motorsports in a tenure that was highlighted by the 1996 season, when he won two races and earned four pole positions, a career-high 21 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s en route to his second Cup championship.
In his career, Labonte found Victory Lane 22 times, but perhaps most impressive was his ironman streak of 665 consecutive starts – a record that stood until 2002. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Great Drivers in 1998 as part of the sport’s 50th anniversary.
His first Cup championship came in 1984 – making him the only driver to win his first two championships so far apart. He is one of only six drivers to have won premier series championships in two decades.
"I didn't plan it that way," Labonte laughed. "I really felt like when we won the championship in '84, I thought, 'This is really pretty cool.' I said, 'I think we've got a good shot at it the next year.' That next year took 12 years to finally win the second championship.