News & Media

Twenty-year reunion turns into story hour at Gibbs

January 28, 2011, Mark Aumann,

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Current stable joined by past drivers and longtime members of the JGR family

There's nothing like a family reunion.

In honor of the 20th season of Joe Gibbs Racing, the team asked former drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart -- plus Dale Jarrett on video -- to reminisce during Thursday's stop on the NASCAR media tour. And it turned into a wildly funny session of "can you top this?" story-telling.

"We started our first year with a pretty good-sized budget. Dad was still coaching the Redskins, and we let him know, 'Hey, we're almost $500,000 over budget.' ... By the grace of God -- and Makar firing a few guys -- we're still in business today."


While other shops held their media meetings in somewhat sterile surroundings, Joe and J.D. Gibbs held court in a wood-paneled room. They were surrounded by their current stable of drivers -- Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Brian Scott -- plus Labonte, Stewart, long-time employee Jimmy Makar and Interstate Batteries chairman Norm Miller. And then the stories began to flow.

Joe Gibbs on the team's first Daytona 500: I'll tell you what a novice I was. I was down there talking to Jimmy Makar and it was a qualifying race. And Jimmy was sweating, walking back and forth, and I wondered why he was so upset. He said, 'If we don't make this thing, we're not racing.' And I was like, 'What? Are you kidding me?' I had no clue. We tear up our car and go to the backup, and Dale goes from the back to the front. My wife was up there and Pat's pretty tight with the buck. So she's watching really close. And we're all like, 'Hey, this is a piece of cake. We're going to win every race.' And about halfway through that race, they got three abreast on the backstretch and tore our car up. Dale got hit about five times. Of course I'm totally depressed and I'm back there with Norm. They've got TV cameras all over the place, our car's torn up, Dale's wobbling and Norm says, 'Hey, this isn't so bad. If we're not running good, the best thing is to wreck. We're getting a lot of attention here.' I go back to find my wife in the motorhome and throw open the door and she's laying on the bad. She says, 'I don't think I like this.'

J.D. Gibbs, who was still in school when the team formed, was one of the first 15 employees, working at a makeshift shop with a handful of cars purchased from Rick Hendrick. Twenty years later, now president of Joe Gibbs Racing, he said joking around and having fun is a great release from the pressures of racing at NASCAR's highest level.

"Obviously, there's a serious part to it," J.D. Gibbs said. "And you have to do those things well or you're not here very long. You spend so much time together, it has to be fun. You're not doing this just for the paycheck, it has to be fun. And I think our guys do a good job of having fun at the appropriate times.

"Compared to any other sport, we have a long season. To endure it and have fun and do well, it really makes a difference."

Joe Gibbs on whether football players or race drivers have caused him the most problems: That's easy, isn't it? Both of them are up here. I'll let you pick out who it is. We go through the whole thing with Tony Stewart. ... Finally Tony says he's going to start his own team and I say great. Well, not great because we didn't want that to happen. And we [had] Kyle. And later that year, I looked up and said, 'Lord, what are you saying to me?'

Miller's company was the first major sponsor to sign with the team, a decision that he admitted was "crazy." But he's been a loyal member of the Gibbs team ever since, and explained why.

"Joe is a strategic thinker," Miller said. "He immediately looks at the [challenge] and figures out what is the best way to do it, then the timeframe. And he makes up his mind to do it. So that's the kind of people he [recruits]. He told me one time, 'There are drivers with extreme capability, mind-set and desire. And then there are guys with talent. I've got to go with the talent.'"

Bobby Labonte: "How many years were you here?"

Tony Stewart: "Twelve, total."

Bobby Labonte: "Did you get a watch?"

Tony Stewart: "Nope."

Bobby Labonte: "Good. I didn't, either."

J.D. Gibbs: "Contract labor."

All joking aside, the Gibbs family is all business when it counts. They understand the economics of the sport, because they've survived and thrived.

"There's no franchises," J.D. Gibbs said. "If you have a few bad years, you cease to exist. And that's definitely motivation to keep going. We started our first year with a pretty good-sized budget we thought at the time. And Dad was still coaching the Redskins, and we let him know, 'Hey, we're almost $500,000 over budget.' He almost choked. By the grace of God -- and Makar firing a few guys -- we're still in business today."

Joe Gibbs on dealing with egos: The first year I was down at Daytona with Bobby, and he's getting ready to pull out on the track and the guys were there, and they said, 'Hey, they're coming off Turn 4 and I don't think you catch that pack,' and he says, 'They can't outrun my car.' And five wins later, he was like, 'This piece of junk ...' So, Joey, if you win five races, you can become a jerk, too.

Stewart was asked what he learned most from his time at Gibbs.

"I learned, 'Don't come back for a 20-year reunion,'" Stewart said. "Honestly, a lot of things we do at Stewart-Haas Racing are things I learned from Joe. The one thing about this guy, he's been successful in three different forms of professional sports, two of those being motorsports and professional football. You can't be that successful without a common denominator, and that's him. Joe knows how to organize the right people for the right jobs."

And regretfully, it was over way too soon. For as many stories that were shared, there were countless ones still waiting to be recalled.

"There are so many more stories," J.D. Gibbs said. "We probably need to sit down and actually record them before we forget them."