Labonte reflects on Bristol classics

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Jan 22, 2018 at 4:07 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They are the two most famous finishes in Bristol Motor Speedway history and some of the most famous in all of NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt wrecks Terry Labonte on the final lap of the August Night Race not once, but twice. In 1995, Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet punches the back of Labonte’s No. 5 Chevy as they’re coming off turn four. Labonte slams into the wall right after crossing the finish line first.

Four years later, Earnhardt spins Labonte coming off turn two. Earnhardt goes on to win the race, while Labonte’s car is torn up in a multi-car wreck.

“I think back at the two Bristol races, he won one and I won one, to me, that was just Bristol,” Labonte said Sunday night at the NMPA Hall of Fame ceremonies. “That was fun, cool racing. Sure, we were competitors, but I was mad at him the one race.”

About 1995 Victory Lane

Labonte’s car is a mangled mess of twisted sheet metal with steam shooting up from under the hood as the driver and crew pose for photos.

“I remember standing there in victory lane and we’re smiling and getting our pictures made,” Labonte said. “All of a sudden, it gets slippery and the oil is coming out of the oil coolers onto the ground. I remember (engine builder) Randy Dorton was so mad. That was a good car we had and we fixed the car, but it never ran good after that. It was an exciting race.”

About the 1999 finish

“Darrell Waltrip spins me out with 10 laps to go,” Labonte said. “Here comes Dale and everybody else by. So, I come to pit road and get four tires. When you have four tires at Bristol and no one else does, you look like a hero. I’m passing everybody and I come to Dale on the last lap. We bump a little off (turn) four and go into one. I’m at a bad angle and my car bottomed out, so Dale hit me and spun me out. I’m saying, ‘Oh, shoot,’ as I’m sitting there with the nose (of my car) in the wall.”

The crowd is going crazy and it’s a chorus of boos, mainly directed at Earnhardt from a sold-out crowd of 160,000 spectators. Labonte has often been asked how he stayed calm in the moments afterward, living up to his nickname, “The Iceman,” for his cool demeanor.

“I can hear the crowd and I look up and I see that No. 3 coming off turn two after he got the checkered (flag). People after that race said, ‘You were so cool and you just got wrecked.’ The story was I got the car cranked up and I saw that 3 coming. I thought he may be going to victory lane, but that No. 5 is going to be stuck in the side of it.

“I had it timed perfect. I have it in reverse and here he comes. I revved it up and popped the clutch on that thing. It tore the gear out and I said, ‘Oh shoot,’ again. I walked to my trailer, changed clothes and got control of myself.”

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