The father of NASCAR champions Terry and Bobby Labonte says he thinks the NASCAR Hall of Fame being pursued by North Carolina officials should be built in Daytona Beach, Fla., not in Charlotte, and that no public funds should be invested in the project, regardless of its location.
NASCAR should pay for its own museum, Bob Labonte, who lives in Trinity and is a city councilman there. “I don’t think taxpayer money should go to build hall of fames, or ballparks, or race tracks.”
Earlier this week, Charlotte officials submitted their bid for the museum to NASCAR. According to published reports, the project’s construction is tagged at $137.5 million and will be financed, in part, by an increase in the area’s hotel tax from 6 to 8 percent. The tax increase is expected to raise $65 million. Atlanta, Daytona Beach, Kansas City, and Richmond are also vying for the facility.
Charlotte leaders and race fans tout the area as the birthplace of stock-car racing, and rely on its fabled history to argue that a Hall of Fame and the Nextel Cup all-star race belong in North Carolina. Labonte said he saw signs with that general message around Charlotte while fans were in town last week for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. But that’s a narrow interpretation of the sport’s roots, he said, and ignores racing that took place at Daytona and in Texas, where the Labontes lived before moving to North Carolina. “Hell, people raced everywhere. We raced in Texas just as long as they’ve raced here,” he said.
Labonte, who was elected in November 2003, said that he used to think that offering incentives packages was good public policy, but that he changed his mind as he’s seen the practice get out of hand. He said he knows millionaires who, when they build new race shops in the Charlotte area, look for incentives from local governments. “Hey, I’m gonna build me a new shop if they’ll give me ten grand, whatever,” said Labonte of what he described as the incentives juggling act.
Despite pulling for Daytona, Labonte thinks Charlotte will secure the Hall of Fame because the sport’s heavy hitters, such as Lowe’s Motor Speedway Chairman Bruton Smith, and President H. A. “Humpy” Wheeler, are well-connected and want it there. NASCAR is expected to announce its choice later this year.
Councilman Labonte’s older son, Terry, is a two-time NASCAR champion, winning what was then known as the Winston Cup in 1984 and 1996. His younger son, Bobby, won the series championship in 2000. The Labonte racing legacy continues to unfold through Busch series driver Justin Labonte, who is Terry’s son and Bob Labonte’s grandson.
Donna Martinez is associate editor of Carolina Journal.