Bobby Labonte embraces NASCAR Whelen Euro Series opportunity

It’s clear in any language that two-time NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte’s decision to race fulltime in the 2018 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is one popular and exciting initiative.

Labonte, the 1991 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, the 2000 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, made the announcement Monday in Charlotte. He will drive the No. 18 Yacco Toyota for RDV Competition fulltime in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.

“Obviously, it’s an opportunity for myself and NASCAR U.S. and NASCAR in Europe to bring some recognition to the European Series,” Labonte said. “To be able to relate the message back and forth and get people interested. … sponsors, drivers interested here and over there, especially. …

“There will be a lot of fun involved, but at the same time it’s competition and going out there and racing against guys from so many backgrounds. It’s exciting to us to do all of it. It‘s not just one thing, but being a part of wanting to see NASCAR grow. “

Last year, Labonte made headlines as the first American champion to compete overseas in the series. He finished 10th at Britain’s historic Brands Hatch course in his debut. This season, he will team with two-time championship runner-up Frederic Gabillon and up-and-comer Ulysse Dellsaux for the French RDV Competition team.

That opportunity to participate in the competition and meet all the people involved last year had a lasting effect and influenced his decision to race fulltime, Labonte said.

“You think about the global excitement of people coming from so many nationalities and having different backgrounds of how they grew up, some of them just started racing,” Labonte said. “They come from the karting world, different open-wheel cars. They look at NASCAR and go, ‘I’ve never done this before and this is cool.’

He continued, “The big thing I noticed last December when we tested in France and had an open day of testing and people were invited to come out, I had all these young kids come up and go, ‘how do we get into NASCAR in the U.S.?’ I thought it was really cool these young guys would come up and want to know that and I could tell them about my story, about how I started and what NASCAR in the U.S. is about. They are all interested in wanting to grow and do the NASCAR Euro Series and grow with that. …

“That was the fun part, seeing people come up and want to know what was it like and how do I get there. … How did you do this. They all want to come over here and it’s cool they are able to experience it and I can give them a little insight as well and compete against them.

It ultimately made his decision to compete full-time easy and inspired.

“I enjoyed it and always kept in touch. … to get things worked out to go again,” Labonte said. “Making one trip was great, but we were able to put together the program, six weekends, 12 races, the schedule is pretty accommodating and it’s a chance to meet new people, go new places and the competitors are phenomenal.”

And as excited as Labonte is, the series, its fans and his competition are eager to welcome him as well.

“It’s a huge milestone for the Whelen Euro Series to welcome an American champion of Bobby’s caliber to contend for the title,” said Jerome Galpin, NASCAR Whelen Euro Series President and CEO.

“This is another sign of the international appeal the series has delivered. We are proud to have a strong international lineup of 30 drivers and teams.”

Labonte’s participation is a win-win-win for the whole program. It is a huge opportunity for the Euro Series drivers to go head-to-head with a bonafide NASCAR champion at the highest levels. It’s good for the series to feature such a celebrated competitor.

“Having a NASCAR champion like Bobby Labonte compete in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is a huge win for fans and competitors alike,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief International Officer. “Labonte’s full-time involvement gives American fans an even stronger connection to the series, while offering our European fans a close look at one of NASCAR’s greats.”

And Labonte, is more than eager to participate in this new competitive venture.

“It’s also a part of wanting to see NASCAR grow,” Labonte said. “NASCAR racing over there is exciting, it’s close. What I saw at Brands Hatch [last year] was amazing. The fans are in awe looking at it.”

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it, but also gives the opportunity for guys to come over. Maybe do some grassroots racing over here, get their name familiar with people.

It’s opportunity for all involved.

“Obviously, it’s not like driving to Mooresville (N.C.),” Labonte said with a laugh about his new team, but acknowledged he has gotten to know his new team owners and is genuinely optimistic about the endeavor.

And he may even pick up a second language.

“I should probably get my Rosetta Stone books out really fast,” Labonte said laughing. “Maybe, I’ll just go with nodding my head at first.”

The 2018 Whelen Euro Series schedule will include races in six different countries: Spain, Italy, Great Britain, France, Germany and Benelux – on famed circuits from England’s Brands Hatch, to Hockenheim, Germany. On June 30-July 1, the series will hold its only oval event of the season in Tours, France.

The series begins the 2018 season April 14-15 in Valencia, Spain on the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. And all the races will stream live on starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on Saturday and 6 a.m. ET on Sunday.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.