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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Neil Bonnett #51 Country Time Lemonade Chevrolet

    This was to be the car driven in at least the first 6 races of the 1994 season, by Neil Bonnett, for car owner James Finch~ And although the car did make a few starts that season, none of them were with Neil Bonnett behind the wheel~ In today's post, I'll share with you the events leading up to Neil's time in the Country Time car, and his tragic demise~

    On April 1st, 1990, during the running of the TranSouth 500 @ Darlington, Bonnett's car hit the water barrels in front of pit road, drivers side first~ Neil was left with amnesia and dizziness, and retired from racing, going back into the broadcast booth~ By the start of the 1992 season, Bonnet had began testing cars for Dale Earnhardt Sr.~ This gave Neil the desire to race again, and by the start of the 1993 season, Bonnett was once again cleared to drive~

                                          Neil in his big return in the #31 Mom 'n' Pops car~
Neil Bonnett #51 #31 Racing Champions Country Time 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog die

    In his first race back since his crash at Darlington, Bonnett was back @ Talladega for the DieHard 500~ He qualified in the 20th position, but was involved in a major crash on lap 134, that sent his car airborne and into the catch fence~ Bonnett climbed out of the car unscathed, and was in the broadcast booth calling the race shortly afterwards~ Bonnett's final race was also the final race of the 1993 season, a race in which Bonnett was entered just to retire shortly after the start of the race to ensure Dale Earnhardt of 3 more points in the Championship~ And on lap 3, Bonnett pulled the car in for what would be, unbeknownst to him, his final race~

                                                    Bonnett with his Country Time car~
Neil Bonnett #51 #31 Racing Champions Country Time 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog die

     Neil wasn't exactly thrilled to have his final start be a start and park deal to help a friend out, and so before the start of the 1994 season, he inked at minimum 6 race deal with James Finch, with sponsorship from Country Time Lemonade~ Bonnett was eager to get out there and compete again, and show people he still had it in him to be a competitive driver~ During the first practice session for the 1994 Daytona 500, he lost control of the car in the 4th turn, swerved onto the track apron, and then up the steep banking of the track, before crashing into the wall nearly head on~ Neil Bonnett was dead at the age of 47~

                                           Custom Neil Bonnett Racing Champions card~
Neil Bonnett Racing Champions Age 1/64

    The team... now with driver Jeff Purvis, got its first start of the season @ Atlanta, for the Purolator 500~ Purvis finished 21st in this race, his highest finishing position during his tenure with the team~ He ran 6 more races with them, failing to make the field for one of those races, the Slick 50 500 @ Phoenix, and was let go at the end of the season~ Current Sprint Cup driver, and former driver for Finch, Kurt Busch, once ran the now infamous Country Time paint scheme to honor Neil in a Nationwide race @ Talladega~

                                      Neil Bonnett #51 Country Time Lemonade Chevrolet~
Neil Bonnett #51 Country Time Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog age die Dale Earnhardt
                                                              Click pics to enlarge~
Neil Bonnett #51 Country Time Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog age die Dale Earnhardt
                                                       Full diecast hauler with car~
Neil Bonnett #51 Country Time Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog age die Dale Earnhardt hauler transporter truck

     I've always wondered why the tires on these Neil cars don't have any lettering on them~ It hasn't rubbed off over time, it just never was there~ It bothers me a crumb, but heck.. not that much~ The car looks pretty awesome from a distance, but up close, you can see a little shoddy work on the paint of the car, not bad.. but just enough to notice~

    The hauler is more true to the color of the paint scheme, and was made by Racing Collectibles Inc.~ As a whole, I give these an A-, due to the car not matching in color as closely as it should be, and for Neil's name not being on the car~ I'm sure that was for legal reasons, so I didn't take much off grade wise~

    Neil's candle was already burning out at the time of his death, but he rekindled that flame, and died doing what he loved, driving a fast race car~ Sadly, Neil's death did very little to change the safety of the sport~ It would take the lives of several other drivers to make any proper safety changes like we have today~ Below are some videos featuring Neil throughout his career, along with a tribute video~ As always, thanks for stopping by the blog~

                                            1983 Daytona 125 - Bonnett win and interview~

                                                         TNN Winners - Neil Bonnett~

                                        Neil Bonnett tribute from Inside Winston Cup Racing~

                                               Scary 1993 DieHard 500 Talladega crash~

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