Bonnett was one of the most affable 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 (now Bud Shootout) races at Daytona International Speedway (1983, '84). Bonnett's highest finish in the series points chase 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 include 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. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame in 1997.
Rarely does a racer manage to combine aggressive driving and genuine popularity the way Neil Bonnett did. Neil enjoyed being referred to as "a charger", but even more than that, he enjoyed the friendship and respect that he was accorded in every garage or pit area he ever went into.
Neil Bonnett's career began as a Hueytown teenager who was considered a protégé to Bobby Allison, and grew until he was an accepted member of the famed "Alabama Gang" of auto racing. .
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 that top-five finish and four more top-ten finishes, winning some $31,000. 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 to win two of the first three races of 1988. Bonnett finished fourth in the Daytona 500, then won at Richmond and Rockingham. He also 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. Bonnett resumed racing full time in 1989.
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 to hosting a television show for TNN called "Winners". 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.
Neil Bonnett, A Member Of The Alabama Gang...and the first Class of Inductees into the Talladega-Texaco Walk Of Fame.
Courtesy: Talledega-Texaco Walk of Fame
Neil Bonnett excelled in everything he did. In addition to being a NASCAR Winston Cup Star, he was an accomplished television broadcaster, as well as a top notch hunter and fisherman. Winner of 18 Winston Cup races during his career. Bonnett started racing on the short tracks near his hometown of Hueytown, Alabama. He won everything in sight, including 80% of his starts in 1972. Bonnett broke into Winston Cup racing in 1974, with his first win coming three years later During his career, he won several high-profile races, including the 1980 Talladega 500 and the Southern 500 in 1981. He also won at Charlotte and Daytona, and drove for such legendary car owners as the Wood Brothers, Junior Johnson, and Richard Childress. An accident at Darlington in 1990 postponed Bonnett’s racing career, and forced him into a lengthy period of rehabilitation. During this time, he became one of the best color commentators in sports, and hosted a weekly TV show called ‘Winners’ on TNN. Bonnett received clearance from the doctors to begin testing race cars. and on July 25, 1993, Bonnett resumed his Winston Cup career at his "home" track of Talladega. On February 11, 1994, Bonnett was killed in a single car crash during a practice session at Daytona International Speedway.
Neil Bonnett, Inducted 2001
Courtesy: International Motorsports Hall of Fame