NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 9, 2018
Bobby, you competed in the series last year at Brands Hatch. What is it about the series that you enjoyed and what sparked your interest in competing full‑time in chasing a championship?
BOBBY LABONTE: First of all, thanks for having me on.
I will have to say for the past couple of years, I've been doing some stuff in NASCAR, raced a little bit a couple years ago, did some testing for a team up until the first part of last year. So I've kept my finger or my gloves with me and helmet with me to go do some testing and racing.
When I went to Brands Hatch last year, meeting Jerome and Anne Galpin, the series that they have over there is truly exciting. It's obviously different for me, not what I've done in the past. I've done a lot of racing, different types of racing, enjoying it all.
So to be able to go over there and to race competitively with them last year at Brands Hatch, even though I've never been there before, the whole format is different, everything is different than what you would find out here in the Cup Series or Xfinity or Truck Series, it's a different environment.
But I enjoyed it. I've always kept in touch with Jerome and Anne trying to get things worked out to where I could go over there again, not necessarily for the whole year. It just turned out that making one trip is great, but we were able to put together the program. It's six weekends, 12 races. It's not like 12 weekends. So the schedule is accommodating. Get to meet new people, go to different places.
The competitors are phenomenal. It's exciting to be a part of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
THE MODERATOR: We will now open the line for questions for Bobby Labonte.
Q. With the experience you did have, could you share with us what it was like for the other competitors, the reaction they had? Must have been a huge opportunity to race with a two‑time NASCAR champion.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, well, I think it went both ways as far as I got to race with some guys, I think it was 17 different countries represented at Brands Hatch. You think about the global excitement as far as people coming from so many different countries, nationalities, having different backgrounds of how they grew up. Some of them just started racing. They come from the karting world, not Formula One, but different open‑wheel type of cars. They're looking at NASCAR going, I've never done this before, this is cool.
To be able to talk to those guys about it but also to see the ranks they came through. I would hope they would go, Hey, as a NASCAR guy that knows these cars, they'll want to come and talk and ask questions.
But the big thing that I noticed was last December when we tested in France, they had an open day of testing, people were invited to come out. I had these young kids that come up and go, How do we get into NASCAR U.S.? I thought it was really cool that these young guys would come up and want to know that.
I could tell them about my story about how I started, what NASCAR in the U.S. is about. They're all interested and wanting to grow, do the NASCAR European series, to somehow get to the K&N, to the Truck, Xfinity, grow with that. It's cool I'm able to relay the message with my experience, what I know here in the States to them.
That was the fun part, was to see people come up and want to know what is it like, how do I get there, what did you do to get there, how did you do this, what can we expect. They all want to come over here.
It was cool they were able to experience it, I could give them a little bit of insight as well and compete against them.
Q. Your motive for doing this. You talked about driver development, you're aiming to help some of these guys transition to U.S. competition. Is this kind of just a fun thing for you? What is your goal here?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, obviously it's an opportunity for myself, along with NASCAR U.S., NASCAR in Europe, to bring some recognition to the European series. It's ironic how a lot of people will know exactly what I'm talking about, then there's close friends of mine that are in the Cup Series that didn't even know there was a European NASCAR series.
To be able just to relate that message back and forth to people over here, get people interested, sponsors, drivers interested from here. Then over there especially because there's so many opportunities, people over there in Europe can come over here and try their hand in racing, whether it's in the local NASCAR short tracks, the K&N Series, whether on the East Coast or West Coast. I think there's going to be a lot of fun involved.
At the same time it's competition, going out there and racing against guys from so many different backgrounds. It's exciting to us to be able to do all of it.
So it's just not one thing. It's obviously being a part of wanting to see NASCAR grow. I kind of look at it, too, when you go over there and race, it's not like the Cup Series here. NASCAR racing over there is exciting, it's close.
What I saw in Brands Hatch last year was amazing. Two days, they have four races. The fans, they're just in awe of looking at it. They had all kinds of different things, the American Speed Fest. The way it was set up was amazing.
It's a lot of fun to be able to be a part of it. But it also gives an opportunity for guys to come over here to the U.S. start off. Maybe they come over here and they do some grassroots racing to start with, get their name familiar with people, race to win.
I think there's a lot of ways we can look at it. Obviously with NASCAR behind the series, they're really excited about helping to grow the series with Jerome and Anne. I think everything is falling into place as the series is getting stronger and bigger, NASCAR being more involved in it. Get the word out, hopefully there will be more interest from both sides.
Q. A little bit more about your team. Sounds like you'll be paired with a veteran and a young up‑and‑comer to make for an interesting mix. How much do you know about the team and getting to know them as you prepare for this weekend?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, obviously it's not quite like driving to Mooresville. It's a little bit different. I talked to (indiscernible) on the phone, emailed him back and forth. Fred that drives the first car, I tested with him back in December while we were over there visiting with Jerome and Anne. I was able to spend two days with him, test in the same car back and forth. We tested tires, as well. I got to know him and speak to him.
When this deal came about with (indiscernible) to drive his car, obviously knowing Fred, I guess he gave them a thumbs up. For me to meet some of the guys on the team won't come until when I get there this coming week.
At the same time I feel like with spending two days with Fred, knowing they've got competitive racecars, have won races in the past, the excitement that they have going forward, I think this is a great opportunity.
Again, my relationship with Fred over last winter, the past couple days, I talked to him on the phone the other day, they're all willing to do whatever they can to go fast. At the end of the day, that's what it's about.
Q. The schedule makes stops in Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, all over. Have you boned up on any second languages or tried to bring a translator with you?
BOBBY LABONTE: No, but I should probably get my Rosetta Stone books out really fast (laughter). I think I'll just go with maybe nodding my head, Yeah, that will be good, see how it goes before I have to figure out which one I need to learn, which language I need to learn.
Q. In your experience with the fans, how do you contrast or compare the U.S. fan culture of NASCAR to how they exhibit it in Europe? We see what F1 fans are like. What was your experience?
BOBBY LABONTE: In Brands Hatch, obviously in England, and I've been to Goodwood Festival of Speed two or three times, that was probably the closest thing you're going to get to what I've already experienced or there in the past few years. But we made trips to the grandstands, went back in the back, behind, watched some races while we were there.
From that experience, I can only speak to that, is when they had the national anthem, it was like some people, they heard it before, but it was not something they would hear on a regular basis.
I do believe the fact me walking up there, looking at the fans, what they're interested in, it's just like going to a NASCAR event here. They were interested in racing, in close racing, and it's what they got with the NASCAR cars.
One thing I noticed they did really well was they were able to engage the fans afterwards that came to the race. They were able to go out there with their own cars, make laps around a famous racetrack at Brands Hatch. It's really geared towards the fans, what they were able to see and do.
I saw, again, the fans' excitement is just like here in the U.S. They were excited to see some close racing. They pulled for their drivers, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Bobby, before we wrap‑up, I have one more question for you. With the exception of Brands Hatch, these are going to be new tracks for you that you've never raced on before. This is a car you're not too familiar with, apart from your experience in that one race. Give an overview of how you prepare and how you get ready to go over for the season without the experience you're used to having.
BOBBY LABONTE: A couple things. You're right, there's five out of six tracks I'll go to that are not conducive‑‑ not something I've ever been around. I'll have to go to the YouTube videos, maybe some iRacing stuff, something like that, definitely go with Fred on his experience as well.
Yeah, it's going to be exciting to go to places I've never been before. Last year at Brands Hatch, I was like, Dude, when you get over there, what happens? Where do you have to go? Turn right over there behind those trees? I had no idea.
It was kind of fun to be able to go somewhere new and exciting. I'll get to do that a lot this year. My learning curve will have to be pretty sharp. You just have to get ready with watching some video, talking to Fred. If there's some iRacing, something like that that might be online you can do, just kind of get your bearings straight when you get there so when you leave pit road, you'll kind of know which way to go.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
With that, we'll conclude today's teleconference. Fans can watch all of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series live on fanschoice.TV. The first two races of the season are this weekend in Valencia, Spain. Race one will be Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. eastern time, race two will be Sunday at noon eastern time. Thank you all for joining us today.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports