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Five legends unveiled as 2017 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class
RELATED: See all of the nominees DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 25, 2016) – NASCAR announced today the inductees who will comprise the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017. The five-person group -- the eighth since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 -- consists of Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons. In addition, NASCAR announced that Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles won the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2017 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton announced the class and Landmark Award winner, respectively, this evening in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's "Great Hall." The Class of 2017 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the third year, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion ( Kyle Busch ). In all, 54 votes were cast, with four additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Ricky Rudd, Robert Yates, Waddell Wilson and Ken Squier). The accounting firm of EY presided over the tabulation of the votes. Voting was as follows: Benny Parsons (85%), Rick Hendrick (62%), Mark Martin (57%), Raymond Parks (53%) and Richard Childress (43%). The next top vote-getters were Robert Yates, Red Byron and Alan Kulwicki. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Larry Phillips. The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Ron Hornaday Jr., Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Hershel McGriff, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Ken Squier, Mike Stefanik, Waddell Wilson and Robert Yates. Nominees for the Landmark Award included Earles, Janet Guthrie, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier. Class of 2017 Inductees: Richard Childress Long before he became one of the preeminent car owners in NASCAR history, Richard Childress was a race car driver with limited means. Childress, the consummate self-made racer, was respectable behind the wheel. Between 1969-81 he had six top-five finishes and 76 top 10s in 285 starts, finishing fifth in the NASCAR premier series standings in 1975. Having formed Richard Childress Racing in 1972, Childress retired from driving in 1981. He owned the cars that NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt drove to six championships and 67 wins between 1984-2000. In addition to Earnhardt’s championships, Childress drivers have given him five others. Childress was the first NASCAR owner to win owner championships in all three of NASCAR’s national series, and his 11 owner titles are second all-time. Childress also owned the vehicles driven by NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champions Clint Bowyer (2008) and Austin Dillon (2013), as the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver champion Austin Dillon . Rick Hendrick The founder and owner of Hendrick Motorsports , Rick Hendrick’s organization is recognized as one of NASCAR’s most successful. Hendrick Motorsports owns an all-time record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner championship titles -- six with Jimmie Johnson , four with Jeff Gordon and one with NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte . Hendrick also has 14 total NASCAR national series owner championships, most in NASCAR history. Gordon and Labonte combined to win four consecutive titles from 1995-98. In 2010, Johnson won a record-extending fifth consecutive championship. Hendrick also owned the car driven by 2003 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champion Brian Vickers . Hendrick’s 242 owner wins in the premier series rank second all-time. Mark Martin He is often described as the "greatest driver to never to win a championship," but Mark Martin 's legendary career is so much more than that. He came incredibly close to that elusive title many times -- finishing second in the championship standings five times. Over the course of his 31-year premier series career, Martin compiled 40 wins (17th all time) and 56 poles (seventh all time). Martin saw success at every level of NASCAR. He won 49 times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, holding the series wins record for 14 years. He retired with 96 wins across NASCAR’s three national series, seventh on the all-time list. In 1998, Martin was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Raymond Parks Raymond Parks is one of stock-car racing’s earliest -- and most successful -- team owners. Funded by successful business and real estate ventures in Atlanta, Parks began his career as a stock-car owner in 1938 with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall. His pairing with another Atlantan, mechanic Red Vogt, produced equipment good enough to dominate the sport in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Red Byron won the first NASCAR title (modified, 1948) and first premier series title (1949) in a Parks-owned car. Parks’ team produced two premier series wins, two poles, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s in 18 events. Benny Parsons Benny Parsons won the 1973 NASCAR premier series championship and could be called an everyman champion: winning enough to be called one of the sport’s stars but nearly always finishing well when he wasn’t able to reach Victory Lane. He won 21 times in 526 career starts but finished among the top 10 283 times -- a 54 percent ratio. One of Parsons’ biggest victories came in the 1975 Daytona 500 . He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Parsons also was known as a voice of the sport making a seamless transition to television following his NASCAR career. He was a commentator for NBC and TNT until his passing in 2007, at the age of 65. Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR: H. Clay Earles One of the original pioneers of stock car auto racing, H. Clay Earles played an integral role in the early years of NASCAR's development. Earles built and opened Martinsville Speedway in 1947, and the short track remains the only facility to host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races every year since the series’ inception in 1949. The speedway held its first race on Sept. 7, 1947 -- three months before the creation of NASCAR. That initial race drew more than 6,000 fans to the track, which had just 750 seats ready. In 1964, Earles decided it was time for a "different" type of trophy for his race winners. He gave winners grandfather clocks, a tradition that continues today.
Hall's call: 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class revealed
RELATED: More on the Hall of Fame " See all of the nominees CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two phenomenally successful contemporary car owners, a champion driver-turned-beloved-broadcaster, a driver with a prolific winning history and the man described as NASCAR racing's "original car owner" are the newly elected members of the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France introduced the new inductees on Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, calling this group of five perhaps "the greatest class yet." The new members, selected from a group of 20 nominees, include 1973 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and 1975 Daytona 500 winner Benny Parsons, who later became one of the most revered television broadcasters in the sport's history; team owner Rick Hendrick, who has notched a record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles; driver Mark Martin, whose 96 career victories across NASCAR's three national touring series are sixth all-time; car owner Raymond Parks, whose cars won the first NASCAR modified title in 1948 and NASCAR's first premier series title a year later; and car owner Richard Childress, whose pairing with Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt produced six championships and 67 victories in NASCAR's top division. Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles is this year's recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. MORE: Hall of Fame reaction pours in Parsons, who succumbed to lung cancer on Jan. 16, 2007, was named on 85 percent of ballots cast by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Committee. Parsons had been on the ballot for eight years. "This is the biggest honor of Benny's life," said Terri Parsons, his widow. "It summarizes everything he has ever worked toward. Every job he has ever had, be it as a race car driver in all divisions, host of NASCAR radio shows, NASCAR color commentator for TV networks each were just as important to him as the next. "He lived his life for NASCAR fans and helping to make the sport of auto racing a better sport for them to enjoy. I know he is smiling his big smile tonight saying, 'Unbelievable!' " In a career that spanned 25 years, Parsons won 21 Sprint Cup races in 526 starts, but he was a top-10 machine, recording 283 for a staggering percentage of 53.8. Hendrick, who received 62 percent of the vote, has won car owner titles in the Sprint Cup Series with three different drivers -- six with Jimmie Johnson , four with Jeff Gordon and one with fellow Hall of Famer Terry Labonte . Hendrick's 242 owner wins in the premier series rank second all-time. "I'm extremely proud to go in with Benny Parsons and Mark Martin , who drove for me, and then Richard Childress, who's one of my closest friends in the sport," Hendrick said. "Parks… I watched the video on him, and he kind of helped the sport get started. "So I'm really humbled to be in the position I'm in. I've been doing it now for 33 years, and I hope that we've got some more things to accomplish, but I'm very, very appreciative of the fact that I got voted in while I’m still racing." Martin, who garnered 57 percent of the vote, boasts the highest Sprint Cup victory total (40) of any eligible driver not already inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In addition, Martin has 49 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins to his credit (second all-time), along with seven wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His 56 Sprint Cup poles rank seventh on the all-time list. PHOTOS: Martin, other inductees through the years Martin, who was runner-up in the final Sprint Cup standings on five occasions, most recently in 2009 at age 50, described his selection to the Hall of Fame as the "crown jewel of my career." "I didn't expect it," Martin said. "And I'm so grateful to the people who helped me get there… I have so many great memories of the sport. The class that I'm being inducted in, I’m humbled to no end." Parks, named on 53 percent of the ballots, funded his racing operations through his successful real estate ventures in Atlanta. With mechanic Red Vogt tuning his cars, Parks dominated stock car racing in the 1940s and 1950s, teaming with Red Byron to win the inaugural modified title in 1948 and the first premier series championship in 1949. Also included on Parks' roster of drivers over the years were Bob Flock, Roy Hall, Fonty Flock and NASCAR Hall of Famer Curtis Turner. Park, who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for eight years, passed away in 2010 at age 96. Childress, who was included on 43 percent of voting panel ballots, started his career as a driver but found considerably more success in the sport as an owner. In addition to the races and titles he won with Earnhardt, Childress holds 11 owner's championship trophies in NASCAR's top three series, second only to Hendrick's 14. Childress performed the posthumous induction of close friend and driver Dale Earnhardt into the first NASCAR Hall of Fame Class. "I was really, really honored and proud that day," Childress said. "I didn't really expect to get in because I was told that the only way you were going to get in was to retire or be deceased -- and I sure liked the first one better, and I haven't got plans to retire yet either." Landmark Award winner Earles had a simple business philosophy that made Martinsville Speedway one of the most pre-eminent short tracks in the country. "The secret to success in our business is giving the customer what he wants," Earles said before his death in 1999. "When a man plunks down his money, he deserves the best. You try to make him comfortable, give him a great show and make sure he gets his money's worth. And we've always tried to do just that. "Your customers are your greatest assets, and that will never change. You actually sell the customer a memory as much as a race. If their memories are good, they’ll keep coming back." Note: Hendrick and Childress will field a combined seven cars in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX).
Pursuing NASCAR's triple crown intrigues Bobby Labonte
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Bobby Labonte quietly bowed out of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition at the tail end of the 2013 season. No retirement tour, no gifts. Certainly no ponies. The 2000 premier series champion has selectively dabbled in the sport since, however, with a handful of unremarkable starts at Indianapolis and the restrictor-plate tracks, knowing the pack racing may be his last remaining shot at picking up his first -- and likely final -- Cup victory in more than a decade. Labonte will run in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway , his second of a scheduled four-race slate in 2016. While not sure if this same type of deal will continue to be available to him in future years, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte hinted at an interestingly hush-hush opportunity that could be coming down the pipeline later on this season. "I do have a couple other possibilities I am excited about that might come to fruition later on in the year that I didn't see coming around the corner but they are opportunities that might lead to something that I have been more excited about than anything I have done in my career," Labonte said Friday at Talladega. "Racing is still a big passion of mine and I know I am not going to go do a lot of things I used to do but there are still some opportunities out there that are still up on my radar that I would like to do." But what does he have left to prove? What racing goals remain? "That is a great question, too. Winning any race. It might be a bicycle race. Racing at the Sprint Cup level has gotten so intense that if you can't do it every weekend … (Talladega) is different as we all know. Last weekend and next weekend is different than here," Labonte said. "It is one of those things that I guess I kind of want to race more in a way but I don't want to race more in some ways. I don't want to do it every weekend but I know there are different series you can do that aren’t quite as strenuous as this. "My brother told me one time after about two years of retirement, 'You know, you will have a lot more friends later that you didn't know you had.' And that is true. I am enjoying that. As far as racing goes I am enjoying it and my opportunity is only four times right now through a little bit of what I want to do and a little bit from other people." One remaining goal is obvious: becoming NASCAR's first Triple Crown winner by notching a championship at each of its three national series levels. Labonte has the two arguably tougher feats down, winning the XFINITY Series (then Busch Grand National) title by 74 points over Kenny Wallace in 1991, then taking his first and only Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) title by a wide, 265-point margin over Dale Earnhardt in 2000. It's a long shot, and Labonte admits that "everything has to line up right," but he's at least considered the prospect of running for a Camping World Truck Series title. He has 10 career starts in the series, with one win (2005 at Martinsville). "It is absolutely something that we have talked about and met with some people about," Labonte said. "I couldn't just make it happen by snapping my fingers and we couldn’t quite get it all lined up. I definitely had it in my mind that it was something I really wanted to do. I would still entertain that but there is also a point where if you can chase the championship that is one thing, and you can do it in a lot of ways. "When I started racing when I was little, the passion was to race and win and that is what you want to do. You want the chance to do that. We did it back then and I think the Truck Series is very appealing to me. I loved it when I did a few of them for a couple of guys and won a race and finished in the top five quite a bit. It is definitely a different level and the garage area is a lot calmer there than it is in the Sprint Cup Series and it kind of, at this point in time, is very appealing."
'Iceman' Terry Labonte shows emotion in induction
RELATED: NASCAR inducts Class of 2016 into Hall of Fame For one wintry Saturday afternoon at least, the Iceman almost cracked. Terry Labonte struck the perfect blend of class and appreciation in his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech Saturday afternoon, joining four additional worthy members of the Class of 2016. His accomplishments were celebrated, but so was the manner in which he achieved them -- with a steady, understated style that earned him the Iceman nickname. There was plenty of ice in the Charlotte area with accumulation still lingering from the fringes of Winter Storm Jonas, which delayed the ceremony from its original Friday date. But the two-time premier series champion, rarely given to heavy doses of emotion, nearly melted during his heartfelt 12-minute, 15-second acceptance speech. "Well, if I ever have to give another speech or anything like that, I'm not going to let my wife sit on the front row because I looked at her and she was crying, and I looked at my mother and she was crying, and I thought, 'Oh, God, I'm going to cry, too,' " Labonte said after the ceremony, the seventh induction gala for the NASCAR shrine. "I can't look at them no more. I don't know, I wasn't anticipating that at all. "But you know, my family is very excited about it, and it's quite an honor to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame." Provided with a tough act to follow after Bruton Smith's entrancing speech before him, Labonte welcomed the crowning accolade with exceptional grace. The soft-spoken Texan showed his appreciation for the NASCAR Hall of Famers who preceded him in enshrinement before thanking NASCAR for their devotion to the sport of stock-car racing. SEE THE SPEECHES: Bruton Smith " Labonte " Jerry Cook " Turner's daughter " Isaac's family When Labonte's speech turned to his family -- many of whom were in attendance at the Charlotte Convention Center -- the emotions hit home. "He was telling a story about his parents and he knew they hadn't heard that, and he told me that he might get a little emotional at that point," said Kim Labonte , Terry's wife of 37 years who sat front and center for the ceremony. "I was trying to keep it together. It means a lot when you look back at his career and just the things he's accomplished and sacrifices that people made, like his parents. It just brings all the memories back closer this last week, getting ready for the Hall of Fame induction. "I kept trying not to tear up, but they were just there and I couldn't stop them. When he saw me, it triggered the same response in himself." For Bobby Labonte , who joined his brother as a premier-series champion in 2000, the quiver in his older brother's voice resonated as he mentioned the measures his parents took to further their racing careers. "It probably didn't hit me until his speech just how big it really is," Bobby Labonte said. "I kind of came in here like, this would be a nice little dinner or lunch, so anyway, when it was all said and done, I was watching like, 'Holy cow.' I'm looking around and going, 'This is pretty big.' It's exciting to see. "Being his little brother and watching him all those years, good gosh, I got to see all that stuff. So it really is cool to see his accomplishments and what all he's done and being able to follow right behind him watching him. It gave me goosebumps when I was listening to him." RELATED: Best images from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction The elder Labonte's on-track prowess did much of the talking for him. His 22 wins and 27 pole positions in NASCAR's top division were only surpassed by the two championships, spread a record 12 years apart in 1984 and '96. He transformed from Iceman to Iron Man by setting the sport's longevity record with 655 consecutive premier-series starts, a mark that stood until 2002. Asked to pull a favorite memory from his 37 seasons behind the wheel, Labonte actually recalled a race where he finished fifth. The 1996 season finale came on a chilly November day at Atlanta Motor Speedway , where Labonte led 28 laps and recorded his 21st top-five result in 31 races. It was enough to make him a two-time champion. RELATED: See the past champions of the sport's top series His younger brother joined the celebration in Victory Lane, but his attendance there was compulsory. Bobby Labonte led a dominant 147 of 328 laps to win the season-ending race from the pole position, touching off a brotherly bash in one of the sport's most memorable moments. "For our parents, they're standing there and kid No. 1 and kid No. 2 are both in Victory Lane on the same day, at the same time, the moment, in the same race," Bobby Labonte said. "How does that work? How many times does that happen? That was a pretty surreal moment that that all took place for me to be able to win, he was able to win -- all in the same day. It was like, wow -- that kind of blew us away. Our emotions don't get too high, but that blew us away." The emotions ran high for most of the two-hour ceremony for Terry Labonte , his family members, and the estimated two dozen "rowdy friends" who made the long-distance trek from his home state. Labonte ended his speech by saying that he'll fondly recall being introduced as a champion two times over, but that recognition as a NASCAR Hall of Famer trumps all. "You don't start out saying, 'I want to be in the Hall of Fame someday,' " Labonte said. "It's something that, you know, when you look back and you kind of race from week to week and season to season and you win some races and win some championships and when it's all over and said and done with and you're selected to be in the Hall of Fame, then that's quite an accomplishment."
Consistency, humility carry Terry Labonte into Hall
RELATED: Learn more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Some label Terry Labonte the NASCAR premier series' least flamboyant champion. Perhaps it just seemed that way, when measuring Labonte alongside such colorful contemporaries as NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. His calm, quiet demeanor at least partially explains why Labonte became known as "The Iceman." The Corpus Christi, Texas driver may not have personified flash, but Labonte got the job done. Labonte won his first of two championships in 1984 and figuratively fell off the radar for a dozen years before resurfacing to claim a second title driving for Hendrick Motorsports . MORE ON 2016 CLASS: Jerry Cook " Bobby Isaac " Bruton Smith " Curtis Turner His 22 premier series victories don't accurately measure the breadth of Labonte's career. Consistency is a much better measure: 17 different seasons among the top 10 in the championship standings along with 361 top-10 finishes, the latter ranking 10th all-time. Labonte also won in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, as well as the International Race of Champions (IROC) and shared the GTO class-winning entry in the 1984 24 Hours of Daytona. Rick Hendrick believed Labonte's attitude -- which often put others first -- may have kept him from winning more frequently. " Terry could've accomplished even more in his career had he been a little more selfish," Hendrick told The Associated Press in 2006. "But there's not a selfish bone in his body. He's a great talent, but he's just a great human being. "He'll always do what's best for the team, even if it puts him in an awkward spot." Labonte will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina on Jan. 22, along with the other four members of the Class of 2016: Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, O. Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner. Ceremonies will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. Born Nov. 16, 1956 and raised in south Texas, Terrance Lee Labonte was introduced to racing by his father, who worked on race cars for friends. He was a quarter-midget champion by age nine and won stock car titles in Corpus Christi, Houston and San Antonio from 1975 to 1977. Labonte met Louisiana oilman and sports car racer Billy Hagan, who fielded the NASCAR premier series team that carried Skip Manning to the rookie of the year title in 1976. Labonte joined the Stratagraph Racing team for the final five races of 1978 and became Hagan's permanent driver the following season in which he finished 10th but lost rookie of the year honors to Earnhardt. Labonte notched his first premier series victory in the 1980 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway . With sponsorship from Piedmont Airlines, Labonte , Hagan and NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman captured the 1984 championship with victories at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Riverside (California) International Raceway road course. Success, however, was fleeting. "We weren't supposed to win it and we didn't know what to do with it," said Inman, who left the team to rejoin Richard Petty. Labonte agreed, reminiscing after his second title, "I thought it was a pretty neat deal and we'd win it the next year. Next year took a long time coming." Labonte departed the Hagan outfit for Junior Johnson's Budweiser team, then went to Precision Performance followed by a second stint with Stratagraph. He joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1994. "I looked at his statistics early in his career and I couldn't believe how well he'd run with the equipment he was in," Hendrick later told The Associated Press. Labonte responded by winning the 1996 championship, edging Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 37 points. His younger brother, Bobby, won the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the two celebrated together. Bobby Labonte became a NASCAR premier series champion himself in 2000, making the pair the first brothers to win a title in the top division. Terry Labonte continued fulltime with the Hendrick team through the 2004 season, winning for the final time at Darlington in 2003. He continued to race on a part-time basis, calling it an 890-race career at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 19, 2014. Labonte has said his two favorite victories were those in his home state -- at Texas Motor Speedway . But he may be better-remembered for a pair of slam-bang races at Bristol battling the late Earnhardt. In 1995, Labonte won a final-lap duel despite a shove by Earnhardt that sent his car into the wall. Fast-forward to 1999, when Earnhardt spun and wrecked Labonte on the final lap and famously said in Victory Lane, he was "just trying to rattle his cage." The driver -- and his fans -- were livid, but Labonte admitted 15 years later in a Popular Speed Magazine interview that he was at least partially to blame for the ruckus. "If I had gotten into the corner at a better angle then he wouldn't have got the chance to hit me. But I was passing him low and couldn't carry the speed into the corner and he took advantage of it," Labonte said. "I don't think he really intended to wreck me. He wanted to move me out of the way. That was his only shot. I had four new tires and he didn't. "It was just one of those deals." Labonte is a member of the National Quarter Midget Hall of Fame and in 1998 was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. Tickets are available for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Dinner and Ceremony (limited quantities available). Individual ticket and ticket packages are available at ticketmaster.com, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Box Office or by calling 800.745.3000.
Terry Labonte to be Southern 500 grand marshal
MORE: Buy tickets for Darlington " SHOP: Darlington gear Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte will serve as grand marshal for the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 6 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio). Labonte is a sentimental favorite for the honor, as he is the series' last driver to win the Southern 500 when it was held on Labor Day weekend -- Aug. 31, 2003. It was the Class of 2016 Hall of Fame driver's final victory in Sprint Cup . "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 in a press release Thursday. "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." RELATED: Darlington's throwback paint schemes Labonte will give the command to drivers to start their engines accompanied by Bojangles' CEO Clifton Rutledge. Bojangles' has had the naming rights to the Southern 500 since 2012 and extended the partnership through 2019. " Darlington Raceway has such a rich history in NASCAR and the State of South Carolina, and it is truly a privilege for Bojangles' to have our brand aligned with such a memorable event," Rutledge said. "The Bojangles' Southern 500 is returning to Labor Day weekend where it belongs and that is a big deal to everyone, including all of us at Bojangles'. For me, being a part of giving the command to start engines with a NASCAR legend like Terry Labonte is a huge thrill." Labonte's two wins at Darlington in 1980 and 2003 were landmarks in a career marked by 22 wins, 182 top-five finishes and 27 poles in 890 starts from 1978 to 2014. His 361 top-10 finishes ranks 10th all time. Known as both the "Iceman" and the sport's "Iron Man," he will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 22, 2016 along with Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, O. Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner. In 1998, Labonte was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, a perfect fit to participate in Darlington's throwback celebration that features remembrances of numerous NASCAR legends. MORE: Cale Yarborough throwback scheme " Bowyer's Baker tribute car Labonte won his first championship in 1984 driving the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet owned by Billy Hagan with Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman. Labonte's second series championship came in 1996 driving the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
#TBT: Terry Labonte takes checkered sideways at Bristol
It seemed as though Terry Labonte had the 1995 Goody's 500 won, as he propelled around Bristol Motor Speedway in his No. 5 Chevrolet. The Hendrick Motorsports wheelman had led 59 of 500 laps at the historic short track and had developed a lengthy lead over the second-place car of Dale Earnhardt. Granted, the black No. 3 is likely not the car any driver wanted to see in their review mirror in those days. As the laps dwindled down, Earnhardt continued to shave away at Labonte ’s lead, lessening the gap to 1.6 seconds with eight laps to go. But with Bristol only 0.533 miles in length, the task seemed daunting, even for the ruthless "Intimidator." As the white flag was waved, Labonte began to battle lapped traffic, allowing Earnhardt to reach his bumper. In the final corner, the "Intimidator" tapped Labonte's bumper, turning the No. 5 car sideways -- but still first across the finish line to take the checkered. The front end completely destroyed and leaking fluid, Labonte drove his No. 5 Chevrolet into Victory Lane, ready to commemorate what would become one of NASCAR's most memorable finishes. "That was a finish, wasn't it?" Labonte said with a grin in Victory Lane."… (Earnhardt) gave me a little shot in the back there, I just stood in the gas and we beat him across the line. " … Think I used up a pretty good race car, but we'll get another one." In great spirits, Labonte then climbed out of his heavily damaged car, the Kellogg's rooster on the front bent in several directions and the front end smoking. "I think I ran all night long, didn't put a scratch on it until the end, but that’s the way it goes." Labonte said, smiling. "We won."
Terry Labonte humbled by great honor
Terry Labonte recalls his career and gives thanks to those that helped him achieve his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.
Terry Labonte reflects on career ahead of finale
Two-time champion to run his 890th career race and 61st at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In 1979, Terry Labonte climbed into a car to compete at Talladega Superspeedway in NASCAR's premier series for the first time. Sixty starts later, he'll be doing it for the last time Sunday, tying the record for most career starts at the 2.66-mile track at the same time as he ends a storied career. After 37 seasons of racing, Labonte is retiring -- and this time, he says, it's for good. Labonte first announced his retirement during his last full-time season as a driver in 2004, but it didn't take much for the veteran driver to heed the call to return to the track. "The first time, I guess, it was about halfway through the next year and Rick Hendrick called me, and Michael and Darrell (Waltrip) had asked him if he'd give me a call and see if I'd go run Michael's car," Labonte said. "So I ran a few races in that car and then I thought, 'You know, that was kind of fun, just running a few races here and there.' " The two-time premier series champion, who topped the circuit in both the 1984 and 1996 seasons, has been a constant in the sport across changes in safety, race car technology and rules, as well as a generational change of competitors. Among the 12 remaining drivers in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, six had not yet been born when Labonte began his premier series career: Joey Logano , Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski . Despite his age difference compared to many of today's top contenders, Labonte said he still would want to compete in this year's new elimination-format Chase, but he also enjoys watching the added pressure and excitement of the playoffs. There is, however, one thing that makes Labonte happy he missed the current format: Winning the title hangs on a track he's not so strong at. Of all the tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, his worst average finish is at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 26.1. "The only thing I don't secretly care about is, I think they should take the last race and move it around to different tracks, kind of like the Super Bowl does," Labonte said. "So I think it would be really cool, because when you've got three or four guys that are really good at that track, and I'm never very good at that track, I would not look forward to that last event going up there against some of the guys that are very good up there." Labonte also addressed rumors that circulated concerning a life in public office, something his brother and nephew took advantage of, making yard signs and posters for Labonte's "campaign." "I'm like 90 percent of the people in here -- I'm way too overqualified for that," Labonte joked in the media center. "I had no idea how that started or where it came from." The Corpus Christi, Texas, native plans to be around the garage every so often, but as a member of his marketing company, SSG/Brandintense. The North Carolina-based firm works to bring marketing to live events for a face-to-face interaction between a company and its customers. In February, Labonte was added to the list of names under consideration on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 ballot. With 22 wins and 361 top-10s in now 890 starts -- not to mention two championships -- his career features a long list of accomplishments. His favorite memory of that career, however, has less to do with himself than his supporters. "It was actually the first time, I think, I ever noticed the crowd. I was passing Dale Jarrett," he said, recalling a 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway . "We had been running really good all day and they had just beat us on the pit stop, and I ran him down and passed him with less than 10 laps to go, and I saw the whole place stand up. And I had never seen the crowd, actually noticed the crowd stand up at the track, and I thought to myself, 'Oh, man, I better not screw this up, 'cause I think there's 200,000 people there pulling for me, and they're gonna be mad if I don't win this thing.' " MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Terry Labonte
From his first win at Darlington Raceway in 1980 to his last 23 years later at the same track; Texas Terry Labonte has always been one of NASCAR's ironmen.