Sunday, March 2, 2008

I miss Neil Bonnett

Neil is mostly known now as Dale Earnhardt's hunting buddy, and best friend. Neil was a great man in his own right though. Neil was born in 1946 in Bessemer, Alabama. He grew up and became a pipe fitter, working on what construction workers called "high steel", helping to build the towers and skyscrapers that dot Birmingham's skyline. At nights and on weekends, Neil raced. Neil said later that though there was a line of people that wanted to take away his day job, nobody wanted his job behind the steering wheel of a race car.

Neil eventually became one of the famed Alabama Gang, with fellow Hueytown drivers Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, and later, Davey Allison.

Neil won 18 Cup races, one Busch race, and an incredible 4 IROC wins in only 10 starts. At one point in Neil's career, he was in a bad accident, and actually asked a doctor to bolt his broken sternum together so he could drive the next race.

Earnhardt and Bonnett loved fishing and hunting together. They basically were much the same man. A true story from Leigh Montville's book At the Alter of Speed:

Bonnett is driving a 110 MPH bass boat on a river in Alabama one afternoon. He was driving somewhere around the maximum, 110 mph speed. He decided to pull into a small marina for something to eat, finishing the move with a fine fantail spray.A fish-and-game policeman, a ranger, was waiting for him. The ranger wanted to give Bonnett a ticket for excessive speed on the river.

"Do you know who I am?" Bonnett asked as the ranger began to write.

"No, I don't," the ranger replied. "And I don't care."

"No, really, do you know who I am?"

"No, and look, I don't care if you're the King of Siam. You're getting a ticket."

"You don't understand," Bonnett finally said. "You really don't know who I am?"

"No!" the policeman grunted.

"Fine," Neil Bonnett said as he gunned the 110 mph bass boat and escaped down river. "That's all I wanted to know."

In 1994, Neil Bonnett lost his life when he hit the wall in turn 4 while practicing at Daytona. In 2001, His best friend lost his life in the same place. They both lost their lives doing what they loved the most. Racing.

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