FORTSON, Ga. -- Bobby Labonte is accustomed to speeding around asphalt at about 215 miles per hour. In those trips, he’s always making a left turn.
On a Georgia turkey hunt, Labonte found out he needs to stick to left turns. A short right turn, mixed in with a little bottomland mud, left him stuck and spinning in the mire, rather than running and gunning on a hunt for his first long-beard. (We’ll get to both of those later.)
The 2000 NASCAR Champion, Labonte is best known as one of the top drivers on the NASCAR circuit. His success along with this brother, Terry, has made Labonte a household name in the world of racing.
Three days before he would saddle up his Toyota Camry for the Aaron’s Dream Weekend at Talledega Super Speedway, Labonte was a guest for Realtree’s “Driven to Hunt” show in nearby Georgia.
Click the image for Labonte's turkey hunt for Realtree's 'Driven To Hunt'
“There’s not many races that actually line up with a good chance to hunt,’’ Labonte said. “This is perfect timing for me. It allows me to break out from the mental work that goes into preparing for a race and lets me just relax.”
“Relax” may have been a key word for Labonte on this hunt, but the end result was anything but.
It all started like most turkey hunts: Standing in the dark, waiting for a turkey to gobble from the roost. Labont, was accompanied by Phillip Culpepper (guide) and Dan Johnson (videographer) and an Outdoor Channel reporter/photographer.
It’s a big crew to hide on a turkey hunt. They started their morning with their backs against a tree calling to a gobbler working the edge of a cutover, some 75 yards away. Two separate times, the bird almost stepped into the dark canopy to star in the television show, but both times thought better of it, with real-life hens insisting they stay with him.
The turkey eventually floated off, got into a marching/gobbling routine as it quickly put ground in between him and “Driven to Hunt” crew. That left the crew trying to figure out a way to get in front of him.
Getting in front is something race car drivers and turkey hunters share when it comes to being successful in their respective sports. Labonte and Culpepper were right at home.
They quickly filled a Bad Boy Buggy, a quiet, hopped-up golf cart with 4-wheel drive, and began running and gunning. Culpepper would stop, and he and Labonte would hop out. Culpepper would call, the turkey would answer in the distance and the two would jump back in the vehicle and race to a destination that would hopefully get them in front of the calling bird.
The process repeated itself dozens of times, like repetitive laps on a race course. The two completed these turkey race laps mostly on high ground. Things started changing, though, when the course took them into the bottoms.
That was when the yellow flag was thrown. Culpepper blew through a mud hole that sent piles of mud into the air and over everyone. He made it through without a problem. It was just messy.
The return trip, though, was another matter. As the cart got closer, “I think if you go to the right it won’t be as bad,’’ Labonte advised.
A few seconds later, Labonte and crew were buried axle deep in the mud hole. It was a light-hearted moment. Not often do you get to see a NASCAR hero pushing an electric golf cart while wallowing around in the mud.
It took more than 20 minutes for the crew to push, prod and pull the vehicle from what seemed like the pit of doom. By the end of the pit stop, Labonte and crew were covered in mud and making jokes about every wet spot they passed.
The muddy mire seemed to end the day. The crew kept running and gunning, but the turkeys had shut down.
Back at Realtree Farms, Labonte was in the shower while Culpepper and Johnson stood around the parking lot talking about what went wrong and what went right.
The last part, the right part, was about to start taking place. Off in the distance, Culpepper and Johnson watched as a gobbler strutted out of the woods’ edge. Within minutes Labonte was dragged from the shower, suited up and the team was back in the race.
“That’s the first pit stop I’ve ever gotten naked for,’’ Labonte joked.
The end result was Labonte’s first longbeard and a “Driven to Hunt” show that will come close to thrilling viewers as much as Turn 2 at Talledega.