The above photo shows a very relaxed Neil Bonnett catching a quick nap at the track. 15 years ago today, we lost Neil Bonnett. He died in Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway during practice. Nearly 7 years later, the man who considered Neil to be his best friend died in almost exactly the same spot, on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
Neil Bonnett had a passion to race. He worked hanging high steel in Birmingham, Alabama before and during the time that he got into racing. Neil later said that there were plenty of guys that wanted his steel hanging job, but nobody wanted his racing job. Walking around on steel beams hundreds of feet off the ground was safe enough, but strapping yourself into a race car and going nearly 200 mph around an oval track was just way too dangerous for many.
Neil had a great career as a driver. In 362 starts in the Winston Cup, Neil won 18 races, finished in the top five 83 times, and in the top ten 156 times. Neil also won 20 poles during his career. Neil won at places like Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Ontario, California, and even the Daytona July race. He won multiple times at Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, and Richmond. He won a Talladega race, and he won at Dover.
Neil seldom ran complete seasons, in other words, there were only a few seasons during his 20 year Cup career that he ran the complete schedule. Neil finished 4th in points for the 1985 season, and had two wins that year.
Neil Bonnett drove while he was hurt many times. Late in his career, he asked a doctor to bolt his broken sternum back together so he could race the next week. For Neil Bonnett, racing was everything, and everything was racing.
As an avid hunter and angler, Neil Bonnett and Dale Earnhardt were a natural fit for each other. The hunting stories these men could tell, if they were alive, would be priceless. We only know about a few of them.
Turn 4 at Daytona is hallowed ground for me. Two of my heroes died there.