A first for Labonte

Thursday, March 12, 1981 – Terry Labonte scores his first career pole in NASCAR’s premier series, nabbing the top spot for the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 24-year-old Labonte, driving the No. 44 Stratograph Buick for car owner Billy Hagan, won the pole with a lap of 162.940 mph.

Labonte, a first-time winner the previous season when he stunned the racing community with a victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, had a previous best starting position of second, earned at Texas World Speedway in 1979. In Atlanta, he was joined on the front row by another “youngster,” 41-year-old Harry Gant. It was only the second season of full-time competition in the Cup Series for Gant.

Bobby Allison did not attempt to qualify on Thursday after NASCAR instructed him to change the 3 ½-inch spoiler on his LeMans to a 1 ½-inch spoiler. After heated words and threats to pull out of the race, Allison eventually qualified 30th the following day.