DOVER, Del. (May 10, 2011) – – Before arriving at the high-banked concrete oval of Dover International Speedway, No. 47 Kingsford Toyota driver Bobby Labonte detours to the golf course with his son Tyler for the 10th annual Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del. on Thursday. The event helps raise awareness and funds to serve people affected by autism and their families throughout Delaware. Since 2002, the Drive has raised awareness and $3 million.
“I think DW (Darrell Waltrip) and I are two of the longest running players in the tournament,” Labonte said. “It’s for such a great cause and Artie (Kempner) does an amazing job bringing it all together. I enjoy participating and it’s something my son Tyler and I do each year.”
After the 18th hole, it’s back to business as usual. With one win (1999 from the pole), 11 top-five, 14 top-10 finishes and three pole awards in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Dover International Speedway, it’s safe to say that the Monster Mile has been a good track for the JTG Daugherty Racing driver.
“I’ve had some success at Dover,” said Labonte, who also has a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at the notable track. “It’s a challenging racetrack, but at the same time it is so fun to race. There are a lot of grooves and it’s not like any other track on the circuit as far as drivability. It has its own challenges, but it’s a great race for fans to watch. You definitely need a good handling car to get around that place.”
Labonte is coming off a solid performance at Darlington Raceway entering the 11th race of the season with his No. 47 Kingsford Toyota Camry. While closing in on the top-10 Saturday night, a last lap accident not of his own accord derailed his efforts forcing him to cross the finish line 18th with a severely damaged racecar.
“Darlington was a step in the right direction because we ran really well and that has us really looking forward to Dover this weekend,” said Labonte. “We ran in the top 15 all night at Darlington and hope to build upon that on Sunday. My crew chief and a few team guys are from the area too. So, it would be nice to have a good finish for them and, of course, for all of our wonderful sponsors.”
For three JTG Daugherty Racing team members, it is a homecoming of sorts. Crew chief Frank Kerr hails from Bensalem, Penn., tire specialist William “Billy” John is from Pitman, N.J., and front tire carrier Dave Kulak is from Runnemede, N.J.
“Dover is one of the faster places we go to and my hometown is one hour north of the track,” crew chief Frank Kerr said. “I used to race quarter midgets there. I have a picture when I was 10 years old of Richard Petty handing me a trophy, which is pretty cool. Ironically, Billy John and I grew up 15 minutes from each other and didn’t know it.”
Since 1989, John has worked with great teams, such as, Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing, Roush Racing and Robert Yates Racing. In 2009, John made the move to JTG Daugherty Racing.
“The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race I ever went to was in 1981 at Dover that Jody Ridley won – – I think he had been two laps down and won the race,” Billy John said. “Going back to your home track makes you feel different than when you go to any other track because you are on the road for so long. There’s just something about home and having your friends and family come out to watch your race and it means a lot to run well at your home track.
“Bobby, some of the crew guys and I are also going to have a little fun out at Airport Speedway in Wilmington racing Micro Sprints,” John continued. “That track helped me get my start in racing. Guys like Brad and Todd Parrott would come up and race and I got to be a helper. It was a great way for me to network and get into racing on the NASCAR circuit.”
Before joining JTG Daugherty Racing in 2009 as a front tire carrier and an IT director, Kulak cut his teeth in NASCAR as a fabricator and tire carrier for Michael Waltrip Racing.
“Dover was the first NASCAR track I had ever been to,” Kulak said. “Because of the speed, being on top of everything, for me, Dover is my Bristol. It’s not only my favorite track for the speed and in your face action, I also consider it my home track. I grew up and lived in the area most of my life (Runnemede N.J., and lived in Middletown, Del.). When I was younger my family would come down for qualifying and the occasional race. Now, they come to see me race. It’s really ironic. This area, the Delaware Valley, was a great place to grow up. So, it’s nice to come back to your old stomping grounds.”
Live coverage of the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks airs on FOX at 1 p.m. ET and MRN Radio at 12 p.m. ET.