Lawrence “Neil” Bonnett July 21, 1946 - February 11, 1994 Neil Bonnett was one of the most likeable drivers in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history, earning 18 series victories during his 18-year career. Among his 18 wins were back-to-back victories in NASCAR's longest (miles) race the Coca-Cola 600 (1982,'83). Bonnett also won back-to-back Busch Clash races at Daytona International Speedway (1983, '84). Bonnett's highest finish in the series points was in 1985 when he finished fourth and his teammate, Darrell Waltrip, won the championship. He was an original member of the Alabama Gang that includes the Allisons and Red Farmer. Outside the cockpit, Bonnett developed a career as a television commentator for race broadcasts and hosted his own show,” Neil Bonnett's Winners” on TNN: The Nashville Network. Bonnett was fatally injured in a crash during practice for the 1994 Daytona 500. An original member of the "Alabama Gang" along with his great friends Bobby, Donnie and Davey Allison and Red Farmer, Neil Bonnett logged over 360 starts in NASCAR Winston Cup Series races enjoying 18 victories, 83 Top 5 finishes, and 156 top 10 finishes. Among Neil Bonnett's greatest victories were wins at the 1979 Daytona Firecracker 400, the 1980 Talladega 500, and the 1981 Southern 500. Bonnett also celebrated many Winston Cup victories at Atlanta, Pocono, Charlotte, Richmond and others. Bonnet drove for such legendary teams and car owners as Junior Johnson, the Wood's Brothers, Harry Hyde, Richard Childress, Jim Stacy, and Rah Moc in everything from Fords and Mercury’s to Chevrolets and Pontiacs earning over $3.3 million dollars in prize money. Bonnett began his move to the big time in 1973 at Daytona, in the Sportsman 300. He ran his first Daytona 500 in 1976, starting 13th and finishing fifth. In 13 Winston Cup races that season, Bonnett had four more top-ten finishes, winning some $31,000 that year. The 1977 season began a string of 13 consecutive years in which Bonnett would run no fewer than 21 races, with 18 wins, 83 top-five and 156 top-ten finishes. His first Winston Cup victory came in 1977, at the Capital City 400 in Richmond, Virginia. His last was perhaps the most remarkable, when he returned from a devastating crash in 1987 he won two of the first three races of 1988. Bonnett finished fourth in the Daytona 500, then won at Richmond and Rockingham and went to Australia and edged Bobby Allison for the checkered flag in the Goodyear 500 K exhibition race in Melbourne. It was a remarkable comeback of a career over following the 1987 crash that eventually led to major hip surgery. Doctors said Bonnett would miss a year, but Neil was back in twelve weeks. He raced five times in 1990 before suffering the crash at Darlington, South Carolina, which left him with amnesia and dizziness. At that point Bonnett turned his energies to other activities, from trying to field his own NASCAR team and television career. Finally, in 1992, Bonnett began testing cars for good friend and fellow NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, which led to a ride in Earnhardt's second car for the 1993 DieHard 500. Neil crashed hard, but escaped injury. However, the bug had bitten again, and Bonnett secured a ride for six races in the 1994 season. A crash at Daytona in the very first practice session claimed his life, and the motorsports world again mourned the loss of one of their favorites. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and two children, David and Kristen. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame in 1997.
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