Sophia, NC — When Caraway Speedway opens for it’s 56th season on March 14th, the speedway’s 1987 Late Model Stock Car Champion, Bobby Labonte, will compete in the Southern Modified Auto Race Tour’s “SMART 99” on the .455 mile asphalt track located near Asheboro, NC.
Labonte first competed at Caraway Speedway in 1980 in a Sportsman race won by another guy race fans might remember, Dale Earnhardt. When asked what he remembered about that race, “Labonte said he remembered starting beside Gene Glover”. Funny he remembered drivers like Glover, Monk Tate and others but had to be reminded Earnhardt won the race.
Six years would slip by before Labonte would return to Caraway to compete. His brother Terry left Hagan Racing eliminating Bobby’s position there. He went to work for car builder, Jay Hedgecock and bought a car and engine with his savings to compete at Caraway Speedway in 1987. “Caraway was the logical choice since it was only a few minutes from home and the race shop”, said Labonte.
“I learned a lot competing at Caraway in “87”. It became my first real “home track” and the experience I gained there was immeasurable. Competing against Dennis Setzer and other Caraway regulars like Herbie Poole, on a track like Caraway helped steer my career in the right direction” said Labonte.
That 1987 season saw Labonte and Setzer dominate the winners circle. The duo entered the final race of the season and to win the track title, Bobby needed to win the event. Not only did he take the win, his 13 checkered flags, edged Setzer by one win and the tie-breaker gave Labonte the title. His winnings for the season totaled $14,270.00.
On his way back to Caraway Speedway, Bobby represented his “roots” well with 21 wins and 26 Pole Awards in the “Cup” series to go with the Winston Cup title in 2000, the Busch Series crown in 1991 and the IROC Championship in 2001.
I asked Bobby what moved him towards the Modifieds. “My friend, Chris Williams was driving some in a Modified at Bowman Gray Stadium and he asked if I would help him out one Saturday morning. I hesitated a bit but decided to take him up on his offer. He told me to bring my uniform and I might get a few laps as a bonus. I did get some laps in that Saturday and got to run a race for Burt Myers at the end of the 2019 season”, Labonte said. When a positive COVID-19 test sidelined John Smith last year at Florence, SC, Terry Hall asked if I would drive their car there. We qualified on the pole and finished fourth and the rest is history”, said Labonte.
During the off season, Labonte put together sponsorship from the Cook Out chain of restaurants. With 250 locations and growing, Cook Out is the first “major” company to invest in some of the most exciting and entertaining racing in the southeast.
-Caraway Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo