Terry Labonte to drive for Aikman, Staubach
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman took their time putting together a NASCAR team. They will have a champion driver behind the wheel for their first races next season.
Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte was introduced Thursday as the first driver for the new Hall of Fame Racing team. The 1984 and 1996 Nextel Cup champion will run the 2006 season-opening Daytona 500 and four more races before journeyman driver Tony Raines takes over.
"We have in my opinion one of the finest race car drivers ever to kick off the season, and give us some leadership all of us need," said former Trans-Am driver Bill Saunders, who joined Staubach and Aikman in 2003 to form the team.
With Labonte driving, the Hall of Fame team is assured of making the first five races. Even if the car doesn't qualify on speed, Labonte would get a provisional as a past champion.
"Being from Texas, it would certainly be hard to tell Roger and Troy no," said Labonte, a Corpus Christi native and Dallas Cowboys fan known as 'Texas Terry.' "It's just kind of a neat deal for me."
Raines, who has won four NASCAR truck races but never in the Nextel Cup or Busch series, will drive the balance of the Hall of Fame schedule, except for two road-course races that Labonte will drive.
After introducing the drivers and crew chief Philippe Lopez, the team unveiled its car in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway, where the Nextel Cup Dickies 500 will be run Sunday.
Since car Nos. 8 and 12 were already taken by two of NASCAR's most popular drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman), the Hall of Fame team combined the jersey numbers Aikman and Staubach wore for the Cowboys to come up with No. 96.
The car is black and blue -- a different shade of the color than the Cowboys wear. There are no silver stars, or anything else signifying the NFL team.
Labonte is also under contract to run 10 races of his choice next year for Hendrick Motorsports. That will include what is expected to be his final race at Texas next November.
"Rick thinks it will be great for our sport to have Roger and Troy involved," Labonte said. "And I get to run 17 races, instead of 10. I think it's great."
Aikman and Staubach were only casual NASCAR fans until they decided to join Saunders to form their own team. They initially planned to be racing in 2004, but stepped back and took their time.
This summer, Hall of Fame announced a three-year sponsorship deal with Texas Instruments. They also have a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing to provide engines, equipment and technical help.
"We go in with eyes wide open and recognize there will be a lot of hard work involved. But we anticipate having success," Aikman said. "We feel like we have assembled a great group of people. If we were going to do it any other way, we would have made an announcement a long time ago. We were very diligent."
Staubach, speaking by satellite from the U.S. Naval Academy where he was at a 40-year reunion for the Class of 1965, said he still hasn't convinced his grandchildren that he won't be driving.
"I'm excited about being an owner, it's got my competitive juices going," Staubach said. "I'm scared, but excited as well."
By the time they ended their football careers, the quarterbacks had led the Cowboys to their five Super Bowl championships -- Staubach two in the 1970s, and Aikman three in the 1990s.
Staubach is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Aikman is on the initial ballot for the next class, which will be voted on at the Super Bowl in February, just weeks before his first race as a NASCAR owner.
Raines has just one top-10 finish in 54 Nextel Cup races, all over the past four years. He has 181 starts in the Busch Series, where he was the top rookie in 1999 and has 44 top 10s, nine of those this season in a car owned by Kevin Harvick's wife.
Raines' best success was in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, where he has 22 top-10 finishes in 51 starts, all but two of those coming in 1997 and '98.
"Without a doubt, this is the best opportunity of my career. I kept pinching myself to make sure it was real," Raines said. "It's what every driver dreams off. I'm a big Terry fan. When I'm not doing something right, hopefully he can teach me to do it the proper way."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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