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NASCAR Illustrated - Growing Up NASCAR: Labonte

June 03, 2014, NASCAR Illustrated,

Kristy Labonte shares stories from a childhood in the infield

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What was it like? That's really all we wanted to know when we talked to the children of some of the most famous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in NASCAR history. We wanted to know how it felt to grow up in racing.

The children of Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton have lived lives of incredible breadth. Travel, privilege, and excitement have been part of their lives. But their parents' lifestyle also brought stress with fathers focused on success at the expense of almost everything else.

But most of all, the children in the inner circle shared a unique and near-unbreakable bond. No matter what might have happened among their fathers on the track, they were bound by the unique opportunities and demands of their lives.

Here are the stories of Kristy Labonte.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, you can order a copy or subscribe here: -- As told to Steven Levine and Jay Pfeifer. Edited by Jay Pfeifer.

Kristy Labonte

Terry and Kim Labonte

“To us, he was just Dad. He was the type of driver that if he did have a bad day, he’d think about it on his way home and that was it. He didn’t let it carry into the next day or the next race. He always was really good about keeping it separate, you know, family and racing. I don’t remember him ever coming home upset about a bad day.

“I would stay at my grandparents’ a lot when my dad would go to the races. He’d come home after the race and he’d pick us up and I don’t know why, but I remember him coming in and picking us up and taking us back home.

“When we were younger and didn’t have motorhomes and airplanes, we spent a lot of time together in minivans driving to tracks. I remember the mornings before the races -- before they got so busy -- that he could just spend time with us before he had to go. We’d eat breakfast together, hang out and then he’d go race.

“When I was really young -- the short tracks had grass in the infield and I remember Justin [Labonte, Kristy’s older brother] and I would run and play, just do whatever we could to stay cool. Every time the caution flag would come out, I’d run straight to the infield fence and I’d just wave and hope that Dad or Bobby would see me and wave back. And almost every time, they saw me and they’d wave back.

“I think especially for Justin and me -- growing up together in that lifestyle really made us close. Because we went through it together. We had some really exciting times that we could spend together.

“One of my best friends, her dad was on my dad’s team in 1984 when he won his first championship. We were born two weeks apart -- I have a picture of us sitting in the back of a pickup truck in Daytona. She gets it. She understands. We’ve been close for a long time and she’s still one of my best friends.

“As far as drivers’ kids, hands-down the Pettys were our best friends. We all went to the same high school and grew up five minutes down the road from each other. Austin and Montgomery Lee [two of Kyle and Pattie Petty’s children], they are still my best friends. It’s a certain lifestyle that only a few of us are lucky enough to have. It was nice sharing that with some good friends.

“It’s just kind of an unspoken agreement that we’re going to support you the way you support us. I do remember Austin Petty — I don’t know how it started but one year, he’d just go around telling everyone, ‘Well, this is Kristy Labonte, she’s the 1996 Winston Cup champion’s daughter.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, you’re Austin Petty, the 1994 Man Of The Year’s son.’

“The years after [he won the championship in 1996], it was just like, ‘Whoa. This is big. And it’s getting bigger.’ Everywhere you turned, I’d see Dad -- on cereal boxes, on stand-ups in the grocery store. And it was just wild. And Bobby too -- he was everywhere during that time.”

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, you can order a copy or subscribe here: