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NASCAR star comes to town

August 15, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte had no qualms about saying Thursday that he wants to be competitive with his older brother, Terry, on the track.

But the 2000 Winston Cup champion also said there's no sibling rivalry between the two.

"We're really best friends, and I love the guy, because he's helped me so much," Labonte said. "I want to beat him, but I wouldn't dare do anything to mess him up - not like Kevin Harvick."

Last Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Harvick rammed Terry Labonte's teammate, Jeff Gordon, twice from behind on the last lap, sending him into the wall just yards from the finish line.

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Labonte, who drives the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car for Joe Gibbs Racing, was in town for a fund-raiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County at R/C Theatres in Valley Mall.

About 200 fans paid $100 each to meet Labonte, ask a few questions, get his autograph and have their pictures taken with the NASCAR star, Club Director Buck Browning said. Fans also had the opportunity to win collectibles autographed by Labonte.

The event raised about $15,000 to $20,000, and 100 percent of the proceeds went to the Boys & Girls Club. Browning said he hopes to bring more NASCAR drivers in on an annual basis.

Young people from the Boys & Girls Club lined the entrance of the theater's lobby, waiting for Labonte's 6 p.m. arrival. On time, Labonte emerged from a limousine and shook the hands of the youngsters before entering the theater to cheers from some of his fans who already were sitting inside.

Labonte commented on a variety of topics, and noted that his teammate, 2002 Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, was considering driving for another team in the next several years.

"Tony's just looking at other options ..." Labonte said. "If he chooses to do something different, I figure he'll figure out it's not greener on the other side and might want to come back. That's his lesson he'll have to figure out - if he does get lured away. Right now, it looks like he might not."

Labonte also commented on another hot NASCAR topic - keeping the motorsport safe for drivers.

He said that while a few drivers have been killed on the track over the last several years, it took the death of Dale Earnhardt for NASCAR to get serious about improving driver safety.

One of the steps NASCAR took was requiring drivers to wear head and neck devices to minimize injuries during crashes. Labonte said NASCAR should have been quicker to make such a move.

"They need to step up to the plate and do the right thing right, not after it's too late," he said.

After the two-hour fund-raiser, Labonte's fans appeared pleased with the event.

Marvin and Myrtle Clabaugh of Keymar, Md., said they had no problems paying to see their favorite driver.

"It was wonderful. It was great," Myrtle Clabaugh said. "It's great that they do this for the children's fund."

Wendy and Scott Senseney of Keymar, Md., said their decision to attend wasn't difficult to make, despite the $100 price tag.

"We love him," Wendy Senseney said. "We said 'it's that close, so we're coming.'"

The Senseneys won an autographed life-size cardboard standup of Labonte and an autographed replica hood.

"It was wonderful. It was wonderful," Wendy Senseney said.

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