A.J. Foyt teaches Terry Labonte a valuable life (and racing) lesson

A.J. Foyt (left) didn't even know he inspired Terry Labonte (right) to continue what became a Hall of Fame racing career in NASCAR.

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If you pay attention, racing can teach you a lot about life.

Terry Labonte, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Saturday, learned a critical life lesson from fellow Texan A.J. Foyt in 1977.

At the time, Labonte was 20 years old and racing locally at Joseph F. Meyer Speedway in Houston when he had engine problems. He overheard his father telling his mother that he needed to borrow money to fix the wounded powerplant.

"And I thought maybe I should have a conversation with my dad and tell him, ‘Hey, maybe we should do something else or maybe start racing somewhere else that doesn’t cost as much or something like that,’ " said Terry.

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And then Labonte saw Foyt in Victory Lane at the Brickyard, where he had just won his fourth and final Indianapolis 500.

"I can’t remember the question some reporter asked A.J.," said Labonte. "… but I remembered his answer, and his answer was, ‘You know, you can never give up.’  He said, ‘Sometimes when the going gets tough, people just give up. You can’t ever give up.’ And I thought to myself, ‘You know, I was fixing to give up.’ I thought he was talking to me."

Labonte never had the conversation with his father.

A week later, the track promoter at Meyer Speedway introduced Labonte to Billy Hagan, who agreed to sponsor the young driver for the rest of the season. At the end of the season, Hagan asked Labonte to move to North Carolina to go NASCAR racing, and the two would win a championship together in 1984.

To this day, Labonte credits hearing Foyt with inspiring him.

"It was almost like sitting there and you go to church some day and you think the preacher is talking about you, and I was sitting there, and I thought, ‘Man, he’s talking to me,’ and I just took it all in," said Labonte after his induction. "… the next Saturday night we met Billy Hagan and he started sponsoring our car. So it was just really, really incredible.

"Just one of those deals. I often wondered what would have happened if we would have gone to the race and if we wouldn’t have had engine problems. Would I ever have got the chance to meet him or have this opportunity?"

But from then on, Labonte knew to never quit and he’s now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.