On this day in Alabama history: Neil Bonnett makes NASCAR debut

On this day in Alabama history: Neil Bonnett makes NASCAR debut
NASCAR driver Neil Bonnett signing autographs, 2008. (Ted Van Pelt, Wikipedia)

May 5, 1974

On May 5, 1974, Neil Bonnett, who had already been successfully competing on short-track raceways across the Southeast, made his debut in NASCAR’s premier division, the Winston Cup Series (now the Sprint Cup Series) in the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Because of engine problems, he completed only 51 of the 188 laps, finishing 45th in the race. Undaunted, he continued competing and placed fifth in the Daytona 500 the next year. His first two Winston Cup Circuit wins were the Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 11, 1977, and the Los Angeles Times 500 in Ontario, California, two months later. From 1979 to 1983, Bonnett won 11 Winston Cup races, including at Talladega in 1980. Bonnett’s most successful season was 1985, when he won twice and finished in the top 10 in 28 events. He was a member of the famed Alabama Gang, a group of successful stock car racers who operated out of the Hueytown area. Bonnett’s racing career ended after he was injured in a 14-car crash at Darlington Raceway. Bonnett retired from racing and began a career as a television sports commentator. Born in Ensley on July 30, 1946, Bonnett was named one of the 50 greatest drivers of the first 50 years of NASCAR. He was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

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