Most racers don’t go into a season planning to win a championship, but John Labbous Jr. isn’t like most racers. Labbous is a hired gun who races for a living, so when it comes to championships, he almost feels obligated to win, if not for himself, for team owner Anthony Bertozzi.
“Anthony is the best car owner and teammate you could ever ask for,” said Labbous. “He pretty much turns me loose and says, ‘Text me some winner’s circle pictures.’ I try to do my best to make that happen.”
There is another practical matter that helped Labbous make the decision to focus extra attention on the Super Comp title this year. Bertozzi has already won two titles in Super Stock and Top Dragster, and Labbous has one in Super Gas. That means he still needs grade points in order to enter the fourth car in Super Comp.
“I feel like I needed to win another championship, and to do it in Super Comp,” said Labbous. “Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but we wanted the flexibility to race four cars and not have to go to so many divisionals chasing grade points. My favorite car has always been the [Super Gas Corvette]. To me, a dragster is just a dragster, but that’s not right. Back in January, my goal was to put more effort into the dragster. It’s a good car, and I feel like if I do my job, we’ll have success with it.”
What followed for Labbous was a season where he finished No. 7 in Super Gas with two wins but went the distance in Super Comp with a four-win season and a healthy total of 677 points, the most he’s scored in his long career.
Labbous, near lane, went to his first final early in the season at the Baby Gators Division 2 event in Gainesville. Even though he lost a close race to Junior Houston, it set the tone for a championship season.
Labbous got off to a good start with a runner-up at the Baby Gators Division 2 event and a semifinal finish at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix. He bagged his first win in late April at the four-wide event in Charlotte.
“My start was good enough to entertain the thought of winning a championship,” said Labbous. “The first couple of races weren’t wins, but they were good fillers. I actually left a bracket race that paid $100,000 to go to Charlotte, but that track has been so good to me. I think I’ve been to seven finals there.”
Labbous didn’t have many problems during the season, but he encountered one at midseason by the name of Kent Hanley. In consecutive races in Bristol and Reading, Hanley handed Labbous a pair of round-one losses that could have hampered his title chances.
“I said at the time that if I didn’t win the championship, it was Kent Hanley’s fault,” said Labbous. “I mean, I was joking because I know he’s a really good racer who wins a lot, but it was tough to lose back-to-back races like that.”
Throughout his career, Labbous has had extraordinary success at zMax Dragway, including five national event victories. His latest came in the final of the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, where he beat Nichole Stephenson in the final round.
Labbous quickly recovered to win the NHRA New England Nationals title and then followed with a divisional victory at GALOT Motorsports Park in North Carolina. Labbous finished his points-earning season at the annual Division 3 doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway. A quarterfinal and a round-three finish were not exactly what he’d hoped for, but at the end of the day, Labbous finished with a score of 677 points, the highest of his career.
“On Sunday, when my win light didn’t come on, of course I was disappointed, but I realized I had 677 points. I thought, ‘Well, there it is.’ If someone beats it, I’ll be the first one to shake their hand and congratulate them,” said Labbous. “I know some people don’t look at points, but those people are better than I am. I have to know the score.”
After Labbous wrapped up his second NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series world title, he celebrated with a final victory at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals in Pomona. He’s now got 13 national event wins to his credit.
Even with the strong score, there were several drivers who threatened Labbous, most notably Devin Isenhower, Cooper Chun, and Tanner Theobald.
“Devin is talented enough to win any race he goes to, but he had to go to Dallas and race against all the [JEGS] Allstars, and that’s a large chore,” Labbous said. “I breathed a little easier when he was out. Then we went out west to block because Cooper or Tanner could still pass me. I’m impressed by both of them, particularly Cooper. We got to know each other a bit, and he’s the real deal. He’s a great kid, and he’s going to win a lot. He will be a champion probably sooner than later.”
To put an exclamation point on the season, Labbous won the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals, a win that was more meaningful than most because his parents, John and Pat, and his daughters, Morgan and Maci, were there to see it.
“Everyone knows my dad because he’s raced forever and done it all, but my mom doesn’t get near enough credit,” said Labbous. “She’s really observant, and she helps me understand what I’m doing wrong. If I’m ever facing the fire, I won’t need to turn around to see if she’s behind me.”
In addition to his family and team owner Bertozzi, Labbous also shares the credit for his success with sponsors VP Fuels, FTI Converters, Mickey Thompson, Digital Delay, and Biondo Race Products.
|2023 TRACK RECORD, 677 Points
|Orlando Speed World (Div. 2)
|Gainesville Raceway (Div. 2)
|NHRA Arizona Nationals
|Betway NHRA Four-Wide Nationals
|NHRA New England Nationals
|GALOT Motorsports Park
|World Wide Technology Raceway (Div. 3)
|World Wide Technology Raceway (Div. 3)
This article originally appeared in the Year in Review issue of National Dragster.