Cars# 51 Country time Lemonade
Born: July 30, 1946 in Hueytown, Alabama
Home: Bessemer, Alabama
As many of you might remember Neil Bonnett was host of the Nashville Network's "Winners", a weekly half-hour show, Neil was known for giving viewers the chance to learn more about every type of motorsport and meet the varied competitors. Following his accident at Darlington in 1990, Neil became the foundation of "Winners" and he brought his natural humility and compassion with him when he filmed the shows. He had enormous respect for racing and the people involved with it, and in every interview, it was obvious that the respect was mutual. From 1990-94, Neil worked hard to become one of the best analysts the sport has ever known. He constantly made jokes about his work behind the microphone, but his growth, maturity and self-confidence in front of the camera came as quickly and naturally as his success in the early '80s as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver.
Neil Bonnett was the star of the "reborn" IROC series, winning the opening and closing events at Michigan, but Cale Yarborough combined a victory on the Cleveland road course with two second-place finishes to take the IROC 8 title. In Race 1, Bonnett stormed from the ninth starting position and took the lead for good with four laps to go, holding off Benny Parsons and Gordon Johncock in a last-lap sprint after Danny Ongais tagged Yarborough, sending Cale into the wall. At Cleveland, Tom Sneva led the first 24 laps until a cut tire forced him to pit, giving Yarborough the win. Darrell Waltrip won Race 3 at Talladega, probably the best event of the series, in a wild last-lap dash over Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt. Bonnett, who had finished sixth at Cleveland, saw his championship hopes fade on the first lap in a crash with Derek Bell. Both continued, but Bonnett could place only 11th in his damaged car. Waltrip went into the finale as the IROC leader but quickly faded and finished sixth, as Bonnett used a last-lap "slingshot" to pass Yarborough for the winNeil would never want to be remembered for anything other than his ability to drive the wheels off a race car, but for millions, his legacy will be his television talent. He was also one of the best behind the wheel, and few who saw him in the Wood Brothers Mercurys and Fords, the Rahmoc Chevys and Pontiacs or Junior Johnson's Chevys will ever forget the tenacity that took Neil to victory lane after victory lane around the NASCAR Winston Cup tour. Neil was part of the NASCAR Winston Cup family for more than two decades, and his nature was so compassionate and engaging that he became friends with everyone who crossed his path. He never forgot a name and always had a smile and a handshake or a hug for an acquaintance.
Despite his success off the track, his passion for racing never diminished, and it led him back to the driver's seat at Daytona 500 in February 1994. Neil's credo for life was to do the very best he could every day of his life, whether that be as a television commentator, a race car driver, a businessman, a father and husband or a hunting and fishing companion.
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