NASCAR Legend Neil Bonnett Was Tragically Killed in a Car Crash Because of a $3 Mistake (2024)

What does $3 mean to you? A new roll of paper towels when your kitchen runs out? An extra topping on your next large pizza? Spare change for the homeless man on the street or the church donation box?

For the typical person, $3 is a forgettable amount of money that won’t make them think twice. But for NASCAR legend Neil Bonnett, $3 cost him his life.

Neil Bonnett was a beloved NASCAR driver and commentator

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Neil Bonnett was a car racing enthusiast from the day he was born. He grew up in the NASCAR-heavy town of Hueytown, Ala., and he got his start in professional racing working for Hall of Famer Bobby Allison on his race cars.

Allison soon came to find something special in Bonnett, and he took him under his wing as Bonnett set out to begin his own NASCAR career. He eventually accepted Bonnett into his racing family, and Bonnett became part of the “Alabama Gang” along with Red Farmer, Donnie Allison, and Davey Allison.

Bonnett made his NASCAR debut in 1974, but he didn’t become a full-time driver until two years later. In 1977, he secured his first career win at the Capital City 400. A few years later, Bonnett had established himself as one of the very best in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The “Alabama Gang” member finished inside the top 10 of the Cup Series rankings in three straight seasons from 1983-85. He capped off the dominant run with 18 top-10 finishes and two wins in 1985. Bonnett finished the season ranked No. 4 in the championship series, which marked the best finish of his career.

But in 1990, Bonnett got into a life-threatening crash at the TranSouth 500that left him with amnesia. He survived the wreck but decided to retire from racing shortly after. Following his retirement, Bonnett took his talents to the booth to become a commentator for TNN,CBS Sports, andTBS Sports.

He became a beloved commentator just as much as he was a beloved race car driver in his prime, but it all came to a tragic and sudden end a few years later.

Neil Bonnett’s tragic death

Remembering Neil Bonnett today

7/30/1946 – 2/11/1994 #RIP#AlabamaGang 🏁

— NASCAR Legends (@LegendsNascar) February 11, 2021

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Although he officially retired from racing in 1990, Bonnett never lost the need for speed. He returned to the NASCAR track a few times each season after switching to the booth, but he never finished inside the top 10 in any race past 1990.

In 1994, Bonnett secured a sponsorship for six races during the Cup Series season, but he didn’t even make it to the first one.

During a practice run for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 11, 1994, Bonnett lost control of his car and slammed into the outside wall head-on. He later died from his injuries at 47 years old.

Bonnett crashed because of a $3 mistake

On this date in 1994:
Neil Bonnett passed away.

— NASCAR Memories (@NASCARMemories) February 12, 2021

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At first, it seemed as if Bonnett simply lost control of his Chevrolet before the crash that ended his life. But further investigation told a different story.

Soon after Bonnett’s death, The Orlando Sentinel found that a $3 shock mount on Bonnett’s car broke off during his practice run, which caused the Chevy to swerve into the wall. The same piece also broke off during Rodney Orr’s fatal crash a few days later.

The Sentinel had this to say in 1994:

The newspaper, with help from experts in metals and in high-performance vehicles, found in a four-month investigation that in both accidents, NASCAR officials failed to test the tires and other critical car parts, interview crew members or do any other in-depth probe. After holding the cars for no more than half a day, NASCAR returned them to the teams.

The Orlando Sentinel

Following Bonnett’s death, NASCAR said it was his driving that caused the crash, but The Sentinel later found that NASCAR retracted those findings after objections from Bonnett’s family and his friend, Dale Earnhardt.

The beloved Bonnett could still be alive today if not for the most tragic $3 mistake ever made in NASCAR history.

Editor’s note: We revised our wording in the introduction to read ‘Spare change for the homeless man on the street or the church donation box?’ in an effort to be more sensitive to the broad range of life situations and beliefs represented in our audience.

NASCAR Legend Neil Bonnett Was Tragically Killed in a Car Crash Because of a $3 Mistake (2024)


What was the cause of Neil Bonnett's death? ›

But on February 11, 1994, during the first practice session for the 1994 Daytona 500, a shock mount broke, causing him to lose control of his Chevrolet on the track's high-banked fourth turn. The car swerved onto the track apron, and then up the steep bank, before crashing into the wall nearly head on.

What was the NASCAR tragedy? ›

And it also was at Martinsville after a victory by Jimmie Johnson on Oct. 24, 2004 that the world learned a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying key executives and family members had crashed en route to the race, killing all 10 aboard.

How do NASCAR drivers pee? ›

Yes, NASCAR Drivers Pee Themselves in the Race Car - The Daily Downforce.

Who was Dale Earnhardt's friend that died? ›

Dale Earnhardt knew life wasn't fair. He said so seven years ago when he watched his best friend, Neil Bonnett, die after crashing his Chevrolet Lumina into the wall entering Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway.

Did Neil Bonnett win the Daytona 500? ›

A member of NASCAR's famed Alabama Gang

He claimed many high-profile victories, including back-to-back Coca-Cola 600s (1982-83), and wins at Daytona and Talladega for the Wood Brothers. In between racing duties, Bonnett was a popular choice to represent the sport in primetime.

Who was the NASCAR legend that died? ›

This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I've ever personally had to make, but after the accident in turn four at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt.

What is the deadliest crash in racing history? ›

Just two years earlier in 1955, the racing world was rocked by the deadliest crash in its history. During the 24-hour Le Mans race in France, a Mercedes-Benz traveling 150 miles per hour collided with another car and went flying into the grandstand.

Who has wrecked the most in NASCAR? ›

Although Stenhouse significantly lessened his accident involvement in 2023, he has the highest rate of accident involvement at Bristol. Over the stage racing era, he had seven accidents in 10 races run or a 70% accident rate. Aric Almirola comes in second with six accidents in 10 races (60%.)

How many crashes are in NASCAR? ›

There were 195 crashes and spins during NASCAR's 36-race season (5.4 per race) compared to 211 (5.9) last year - an 8.5% drop and the lowest since 2002 (5.2).

Do race car drivers use catheters? ›

In various motorsport classes, 'slip-on catheters' are sometimes used. These catheters allow drivers to urinate while driving and store it. However, Formula 1 drivers do not use such devices during a race. If a driver needs to wee during the race, they simply urinate in their racing suit.

Can race car drivers listen to music? ›

Can drivers listen to music during a race? The short answer is no – drivers cannot listen to music while racing. While it's true that flipping through Spotify while racing would be a nice gimmick, there's no doubt that it would be a huge distraction for the drivers.

Where is Neil Bonnett buried? ›

How many races did Neil Bonnett win? ›

Bonnett excelled in everything he did. In addition to being a NASCAR Winston Cup star with 18 wins, he was an accomplished television broadcaster, as well as a top-notch hunter and fisherman.

Is Alan Kulwicki still alive? ›

Who died at the New Hampshire Speedway? ›

NASCAR driver Kenny Irwin was killed today (Friday) during practice for a Winston Cup race at New Hampshire Speedway. The accident comes less than two months after the death of rising star Adam Petty at an almost identical spot on the track.

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