A lot has changed in drag racing over the past few years, but one thing that has remained constant is the ability of John Labbous Jr. to secure his place among NHRA’s best by finishing in the Top 10. Super Comp and Super Gas are two of drag racing’s toughest classes, but year after year, Labbous is able to navigate the choppy waters of Super class racing.
Driving for car owner and fellow world champ Anthony Bertozzi, Labbous won the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Super Gas championship in 2017, and since then, he’s racked up six more Top 10 finishes to go along with a couple of other near-misses. In 2019, Labbous finished No. 8 in both classes. A year later, during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he finished No. 8 in Super Comp and No. 7 in Super Gas. Last season, Labbous was “only” 14th best in Super Comp but enjoyed a solid No. 3 finish in Super Gas.
How is Labbous able to be so consistent year after year? He doesn’t believe it’s a big secret.
“It all goes back to having great equipment and the opportunity that I’ve been given,” he says. “Anthony Bertozzi told me to pick the best cars in our shop and go race them. We actually went to Montgomery [Ala.] with three dragsters and tested them. Anthony said, ‘You take the best two and put my number on the third.’ It’s all about preparation and aligning yourself with the right people.”
Bertozzi’s willingness to invest in a successful program is one thing, but Labbous has consistently been able to do his part largely because he maintains an open mind and refuses to rest on his laurels.
“I’ve been racing 35 years now, which sounds crazy, but I still learn something every weekend, and I’m willing to learn,” said Labbous. “All the time you hear about surrounding yourself with good people, and I’ve had that for pretty much my whole career. My dad [Johnny Sr.] won the first Division 2 Pro Gas championship in 1980, and he did well in Super Comp and Super Gas for a while. He knew even back then that the faster car had the advantage.
“Kyle [Seipel] was also a great friend and someone I could always trust. The same with Peter Biondo. Peter and I talked after Gainesville about something I was struggling with, and we talked through it.”
Labbous fondly recalls his Super Comp/Super Gas double at the 2017 Charlotte event and gives much of the credit to Seipel, the multitime Division 7 champ who passed away last June after a battle with cancer. It was Seipel who provided the data and tuning assistance that made it possible for Labbous to win both finals on the same day.
“I had never raced with Kyle before that, but he was a key to that double,” Labbous recalled. “Our relationship got really strong after that. I have a winner’s circle picture of us that I keep in both cars.”
When it comes to his supporters and influences, Labbous also singles out his current teammate Joe Santangelo, fellow world champs Nick Folk and Kevin Brannon, as well as E.T. bracket kingpins Troy and Gary Williams.
“We all talk, and more importantly, we all pay attention to each other because you can learn so much by watching what the really successful racers do. Those guys are all so good that you’re just not going to shut them out.”
So far this season, Labbous has admittedly been hot and cold. In Super Comp, he kicked off the season with three straight quarterfinal finishes, but his recent win in Richmond and runner-up in Charlotte have helped to provide a huge boost in the standings. With six races (three national and three divisional) on his score sheet, Labbous is currently third in Super Comp, well within striking distance of leaders James Glenn and Allison McKoane.
“I guess I cannot complain about it,” he said. “I started out strong in the Corvette [Super Gasser] and somewhat mediocre in the dragster. Now, the tables have turned a bit, and I’ve got something working with both of them. I really just need to get my head on straight the rest of the season.”
Approximately a third of the way into the 2022 season, Labbous isn’t prepared to answer the question of whether he can add a second championship (or two) this season.
“Ask me again in three months,” he says. “We’ll see. My standards are pretty high, but it's tough out there. I’ve had a few runs where I feel like I got away with one. Then again, if I can keep going like I’ve been the last couple of weeks, I think I have a better than average chance. I’ve got three nationals left, and I pretty much have to claim all three of them. That will determine a lot.”
Labbous gets a lot of corporate support from companies like Digital Delay, Biondo Race Products, VP Fuels, Mickey Thompson tires, PAR Engines, FTI, and Race Tech chassis, but he prefers to focus on the people he’s met along the way, especially in these uncertain times.
“I’ve got three friends; Johnny DiBartolomeo, Frank Aragona Jr. and Mr. Ivey that each mean a lot to me, and they’re all fighting their own battles right now,” Labbous said. “I think about them a lot, and I wish them all of them well. It’s a reminder to race while you can, enjoy life, and don’t take anything for granted.”