No time to breathe
Busy schedule still keeps Labonte on his toes
Updated: Monday January 08, 2001 7:26 PM
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- This is NASCAR's offseason, but it hasn't felt like it for Bobby Labonte.
The past two months have been a whirlwind for the 2000 Winston Cup champion and it continued Saturday when Labonte flew back from a four-day peacock bass fishing trip on the Amazon River in Brazil to attend the annual Winston Cup preview.
"We took some time to settle down, but now it's back to work," said Labonte, who spent more than three hours signing autographs at Saturday's daylong charity event.
Labonte's day was extended when a woman waiting in line to meet him had a seizure. The woman was treated on the scene, and Labonte visited with her before moving on to an interview session.
"I just wanted to make sure she was all right," he said, "and, thankfully, she was."
There hasn't been a lot of rest and relaxation for Labonte since his championship season ended Nov. 20.
Except for a two-day Christmas trip and the fishing -- an event planned eight months ago for Labonte, crew chief Jimmy Makar and executives from his race team -- Labonte has been busy being a champion and trying to figure out how to win a second title.
"We've spent some time sitting back, evaluating where we could be better," he said with a hint of weariness in his voice. "Said things like, 'We did everything right, but we were still weak here.' Or 'We can really improve on short tracks.'
"There's not a lot of time to rest."
Jeff Gordon, a three-time series champion, can relate to what Labonte's going through.
"You can never slow down. You want to do everything and everybody's asking you to do everything and you just can't say 'No' to anybody," Gordon said.
"You kind of run yourself ragged and wear yourself down."
Off-the-track commitments alone can hurt a driver's chance to win consecutive titles.
"With all the demands, it's very easy to lose focus when you try to come back and repeat," Gordon said.
The current champion isn't the only one craving a vacation. Between numerous promotional events and the desire to get a jump on preparations for the upcoming season, there's little time for rest.
"Obviously some of us could have used more of a break than what we had," said Mark Martin, who spent the past two months taking his son to races and embarking on an ad campaign for his sponsor. "Our race team also could have used another month, but that's what competition is about -- every race team works hard all year long."
Rusty Wallace said various sponsor obligations had him tied up until mid-December. He then took a three-week vacation, but returned to work this week. He heads to Florida next week to begin testing for the Daytona 500 on Feb 19.
"There is an offseason, it's just a matter of how you use it," Wallace said. "There's so many things you can be doing, and so many commitments, it can seem like you never get a break."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't get to Saturday's preview until late afternoon because he'd spent the morning in Daytona testing a Corvette he plans to drive in the 24 Hours of Daytona road race held in early February.
His father, Dale Earnhardt, didn't get out of the car. The elder Earnhardt is teaming with his son for the road race and remained in Florida for more testing.
When he's finished, he's squeezing in a trip to the doctor to have a piece of metal removed from his head, his son said.
"He's had a piece of metal stuck in his head since 1977, but he didn't know it until it showed up in an MRI last year," Earnhardt Jr. said. "So he's trying to find some time to get it taken out."