Bonnett dies after Daytona crash - UPI Archives (2024)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Winston Cup driver Neil Bonnett died Friday afternoon following a crash at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR officials confirmed that Bonnett died at 1:17 p.m. EDT from massive head injures suffered in the crash one hour earlier.

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Bonnett was attempting to make a comeback following a serious head injury in a crash at Darlington Raceway in 1990. Earlier in the day, Bonnett's death was confirmed by several team members for Dale Earnhardt, a close personal friend of the driver from Hueytown, Ala.

After Bonnett crashed his Chevrolet Lumina into the fourth turn wall, Bonnett was taken to Halifax Regional Medical Center and was listed in critical condition with head injuries.

'Our indications are he lost control of the car, overdrove going into the turn and it didn't stick like he thought it would,' said NASCAR public relations director Chip Williams. 'We checked, there was no tire failure.

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'There was a report there was some oil there, but the track had been stopped, safety crews had gone out. Gary Nelson (Winston Cup director) said he found no evidence of oil. A few of the drivers saw no oil there. It was driver error at this point.

'The car went into the turn, back end came around to the right, got into the apron and shot back up into the wall in turn four.'

NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway officials withheld confirmation of Bonnett's death until his widow, Susan, was notified.

'Susan Bonnett was driving from Hueytown to Daytona Beach and left out of there at 7 a.m. and had been on the highways ever since trying to get down to Daytona Beach,' said Larry Balewski, the assistant to the president at Daytona International Speedway. 'Until we could inform the family, we couldn't release anything. We appreciate the efforts in trying to cooperate over this tragedy. With Susan being on the road, we didn't want her to hear it on a radio station.

Bonnett is the 25th person to die since Daytona International Speedway opened in Feb., 1959. His death came nearly one year to the date of the last fatality at the 2.5-mile speedway. Joe Booher was killed in a Daytona Dash Series race on Feb. 12, 1993.

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According to several drivers who were on the track at the time of Bonnett's crash they thought there was oil on the track. Earnhardt, however, said Bonnett may have lost control of his car because of some water on the track following a spark plug check. After the engines are blocked off, water can flow out of the engine, which is potentially hazardous with drivers racing at nearly 200 miles-per-hour.

The impact of the collision was so severe, it compacted the front end of Bonnett's car.

'I saw it all happen,' Stanley Smith, who hinself survived a near- fatal crash last summer, told Bob Zeller of Landmark Newspapers. 'I saw Neil coming and I was going to clock him. There was a slower car in the groove in turn three. It was a dark-colored car, but I didn't see who it was.

'Neil just went by and got loose. He went by that slower car so fast, I think that messed up his air and he got a little out of shape. I think when Neil went by, it took the air off his spoiler and he spun and slammed head-on into the wall.'

The 47-year-old Bonnett was planning on running six NASCAR Winston Cup races this season, beginning with the Feb. 20 Daytona 500. Bonnett was involved in a violent crash in last July's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. His car flipped upside down, became airborne and tore down 300-feet of the fence separating the track from the grandstand. Bonnett was unhurt in that crash, but was determined to continue his Winston Cup compact.

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Bonnett also drove one lap in last season's NASCAR Winston Cup finale, the Hooters 500, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bonnett agreed to drive a car owned by James Finch, of Phoenix Racing, for a limited schedule in 1994. The cars were purchased from Richard Childress Racing, Dale Earnhardt's team owner, and were prepared by Tony Eury, Earnhardt's Busch Grand National crew chief.

In a career that began in 1974, Bonnett had won 18 NASCAR Winston Cup races and $3,861,661. His best seasons were 1979 and 1981, when he won three races each year for the Wood Brothers. His two biggest wins were back-to-back victories in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1982 and '83.

Bonnett dies after Daytona crash - UPI Archives (2024)
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