Special Car Paid Tribute to Gibbs’ HOF Induction
In honor of Interstate Batteries’ and Joe Gibbs Racing’s 20th anniversary together in NASCAR, a series of press releases highlighting 20 big moments will be distributed throughout 2011. This is the 10th of the 20 releases. Attached is a photo of the Interstate Batteries/Joe Gibbs Hall of Fame tribute car that Bobby Labonte drove at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in July 1996. Credit is Interstate Batteries.
When the Class of 2011 is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this Saturday, the prestigious club will have 267 members. And while many of those greats from football have gone on to broadcasting careers or become highly successful businessmen, few have had the success in another sport like three-time Super Bowl-winning coach and 1996 inductee Joe Gibbs.
Fifteen years ago, when Gibbs was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Lou Creekmur, Dan Dierdorf, Charlie Joyner and Mel Renfro, he was in the midst of building a championship-caliber NASCAR team. And while Gibbs has enjoyed success everywhere he’s been, perhaps no one could have foreseen how successful his transition from football to stock car racing would truly be.
As Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2011, Gibbs’ team is now a powerhouse and perennial championship contender.
Gibbs, who hails from Mocksville, N.C., oversees an organization that has produced three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles (Bobby Labonte, 2000; Tony Stewart, 2002 and 2005), three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series owner titles (2008-2010), one Nationwide Series driver title (Kyle Busch, 2009) and more than 150 NASCAR victories.
Those three Sprint Cup championships, three Nationwide Series titles, plus Gibbs’ three Super Bowl victories as coach of the National Football League’s (NFL) Washington Redskins in 1983, 1988 and 1992 mean he has won an incredible nine championships in two of the most popular sports in the United States.
It’s almost certain that Gibbs will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame at some point given his incredible record in just two decades in the sport. But in 1996, when his NASCAR team was still relatively new and the NASCAR Hall of Fame was still more than 10 years away from being founded, only the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a lock for Gibbs.
Gibbs was named head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1981 and became one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history. His teams won three Super Bowls and he is the only coach to have won the event with three different quarterbacks – Joe Theismann (Super Bowl XVII), Doug Williams (XXII) and Mark Rypien (XXVI).
He retired following the 1992 season, but returned for a second stint from 2004 to 2007, during which he led the Redskins to two playoff appearances.
Upon retiring from the Redskins for a second time in January 2008, Gibbs ended his NFL head coaching tenure with a record of 171-101, including a 17-7 record in the playoffs. He ranks in the top-25 all-time for years coached (16) and regular-season winning percentage (.621).
Gibbs’ 154 regular-season wins, 10 playoff appearances and .708 playoff winning percentage rank him in the top-15 in each category. He is joined by legends Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers (four), Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers (three) and Bill Belichek of the New England Patriots (three) as the only coaches in NFL history with three or more Super Bowl titles.
He was also named NFL Coach of the Year in 1982, 1983 and 1991.
When it was announced that Gibbs would be entering the Hall of Fame, officials from Interstate Batteries, which had sponsored JGR’s No. 18 car since the team’s inception in 1991, began working with team officials on a special “Hall of Fame Tribute” paint scheme to coincide with his enshrinement.
The choice of where to use the special car was obvious, for while Gibbs would be inducted on July 27 in Canton, Ohio, Labonte would be piloting the No. 18 Interstate Batteries machine in a 500-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race one day later at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller and his staff worked closely with JGR officials to come up with a design that would be a proper tribute to Gibbs.
It was decided that the famous green colors of Interstate Batteries would be replaced with the burgundy and gold colors of the Washington Redskins, while the Pro Football Hall of Fame logo would adorn the hood of Labonte’s machine. On the back bumper were the words “Way To Go Joe!”
“That was such a special weekend for me,” Gibbs said. “I had spent much of my life around football and obviously being inducted into the Hall of Fame was an amazing honor. I didn’t know about the car until just a few days before Talladega. Norm and J.D. (Gibbs, son) did a good job of keeping it a secret. For Norm and everyone at Interstate and for J.D. and all the guys at JGR to do that was pretty special.”
Unlike today, when cars have multiple primary sponsors and different paint schemes are much more common, 15 years ago cars usually had one sponsor and used the same paint scheme for every race during the season. So it was a big deal when the green Interstate Batteries car became burgundy and gold for a weekend.
“The funny thing is, I still sign those cars today,” said Labonte, who finished eighth at Talladega. “Fifteen years later, people still have those cars. It was a big die-cast car and what was neat was that the race fans wanted them, obviously, but a lot of Washington Redskins fans wanted them, too.”
For Miller, giving up his company colors was an easy choice.
“Our association with Joe throughout the last 20 years raised the awareness of Interstate Batteries,” Miller said. “When we signed on in 1991, he was still coaching the Redskins, so we got the NFL and NASCAR by being associated with him and his team. We had surveyed our dealer base and approximately 70 percent had responded that they watched a lot of NFL football and NASCAR. I’m looking at the numbers and then looked at Joe’s past and he had been a winner in everything he’d done. At the time, he had won two Super Bowls, so I said, ‘If we get him, we’ve got football, because he’s still coaching. We know they love that. We’ll also have NASCAR, and since he’s won everywhere, he ought to win at that. And, even if he doesn’t, the combination of the two is worth the price of the NASCAR sponsorship, only.’”
And if you ask Miller, Gibbs did more than raise the awareness of Interstate Batteries. He helped move NASCAR into the forefront.
“Two weeks before our first race ever (in 1992), Joe won his third Super Bowl with the Redskins,” Miller said. “When we were at Daytona for that first race, there were media that had never covered NASCAR before. I’m not sure people realize how much he helped NASCAR by becoming a team owner. Because he had just won the Super Bowl, he attracted all sorts of media to the track that hadn’t been to a NASCAR race before. That was certainly great for Interstate Batteries, but also great for NASCAR.”
For Gibbs, his success in NASCAR is similar to his success in football in that it’s the people that make the difference.
“I’ve always said you win with people,” Gibbs said. “To be inducted into the Hall of Fame is such a tremendous honor, but it really is a tribute to all the coaches, players and front office staff I worked with over all those years. When you have great people around you, great things can happen.
“It’s the same thing in racing. We’ve been blessed with great drivers, crew chiefs and employees who work well together and work hard. We also have sponsors that believe in us, with Interstate Batteries all the way back in the very beginning in 1991, and now with The Home Depot, M&M’s, FedEx and Toyota partnering with us. It is truly amazing when you think back on all the stories and experiences we’ve had both in football and in NASCAR. The Lord has truly blessed us.”