Neil Bonnett (July 30, 1946 - February 11, 1994) was a NASCAR driver who compiled 18 victories and 20 poles over his 18-year career. The Hueytown, Alabama native currently ranks 35th in all time NASCAR Cup wins.
Neil Bonnett began his NASCAR career as a protégé of the great Bobby Allison, working on the team's cars. He later became part of the famous "Alabama Gang" that included himself, Red Farmer and the Allison family: father Bobby, brother Donnie and, later, son Davey. He began driving in NASCAR in 1974 and earned his first victory in 1977 at the Capital City 400 in Richmond, Virginia. He later successfully won back-to-back World 600s (NASCAR's longest race, now the Coca-Cola 600) and back-to-back Busch Clash (now Bud Shootout) victories.
In 1984, Bonnett joined the powerful Junior Johnson team, becoming a teammate to Darrell Waltrip. In 1985, Bonnett had one of his best seasons, finishing fourth in the points standings while Waltrip went on to win his third championship.
Bonnett participated in International Race of Champions (IROC) during three seasons (1979, 1980, and 1984), and finished second twice.
On September 2, 1990, Neil Bonnett suffered a life-threatening crash during the TranSouth 500 at Darlington, South Carolina. Left with amnesia and dizziness, Bonnett retired from racing and turned to television, becoming a race color commentator for TNN, CBS Sports, and TBS Sports, and hosting the TV show Winners for TNN.
However, Bonnett still desired to continue racing. In 1992, he began testing cars for good friends Dale Earnhardt and car owner Richard Childress. Cleared to race again in 1993 and upon Earnhardt's suggestion, Childress gave Bonnett a ride for the 1993 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. But Bonnett's comeback race was marred by a crash in which his car spun, became airborne, and crashed into the specator fence. Bonnett was uninjured and actually called the rest of the race from the CBS broadcast booth. He would also start the final race of the 1993 season in Atlanta, but he dropped out after just three laps because of a blown engine.
Despite the setbacks, Bonnett was encouraged because he had secured a ride and sponsorship for at least six races in the 1994 season with car owner James Finch, including the season opening Daytona 500. But on February 11, 1994, during the first practice session for the 1994 Daytona 500, Bonnett's car suffered a right front tire failure in the track's fourth turn. Bonnett's car hit the outside wall nearly head-on. Bonnett was taken to nearby Halifax Medical Center, but he had died on impact. He was survived by his wife, Susan, and their two children, son David Bonnett (had 19 Nationwide Series starts), and daughter, Kristen.
- Bonnett was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame in 1997.
- He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001.
- He was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.