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Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing official Facebook page

Neil Bonnett’s grandson can’t wait to race again, month after fiery wreck

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Less than a month after being seriously injured in a crash, Justin Bonnett can’t wait to get back in a race car.

The grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, Justin suffered a broken left leg, three fractures of his left foot and burns on his neck, arm and leg after being caught in a fiery wreck on Dec. 7 during the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

“I’m pretty good now that I’ve been able to get home and get everything situated,” the 26-year-old Bonnett told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview Thursday. “It’s a long road to recovery but things are looking up.”

Driving the No. 12 car, the same number his grandfather drove for much of his NASCAR career, the younger Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 in the prelude to the next day’s Snowball Derby when he was unable to avoid the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

The impact tore the fuel cell from Parker’s car, igniting a fireball that engulfed Bonnett’s car.

“I remember pretty much everything (about the wreck),” Bonnett told NBC Sports. “It didn’t knock me out. I remember trying to get the fire off me. I know I was on fire heavily and was trying to get it off me, but I couldn’t get it off me.

“I really was in an unsure state, trying to figure out what was going on, because everything happened so quick. Normally, when a car spins out, they don’t come shooting back up the racetrack. I was still wide-open, naturally, when that happened, I hadn’t lifted yet.”

Russell Brooks, brother of Five Flags Speedway technical director Ricky Brooks, hopped off a rescue truck, was the first to reach the burning inferno and helped Bonnett to safety.

“I couldn’t get my belts undone,” Bonnett said. “Russell Brooks reached in there and pulled my belts loose. I fought my steering wheel, trying to get it off, finally got it off, pulled out (of the car) and about halfway up my back when I realized something was wrong, I couldn’t get out. Russell Brooks reached in and pulled me out and then I saw my foot was broke.

“It’s really a blessing Russell (who was uninjured by the fire) was there because it would have taken longer for someone to get me out. He was the first to get to me and get me out and get me away from the fire.”

But he added, “Hey, it happens, it’s part of racing and you move on.”

Bonnett has undergone three surgeries on his left leg and left foot, as well as several treatments for mild-to-harsh second-degree burns on his neck, entire left arm and left knee and thigh.

It’s an ongoing process, but the racing community has also reached out in a big way to show its support. He points to help from Kelley Earnhardt Miller and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress as being key factors, particularly Childress, who put Bonnett in touch with a noted North Carolina burns specialist for treatment.

Bonnett’s friends also started a GoFundMe page that has already raised over $12,000 to help with Bonnett’s medical expenses.

“The racing community has came together and it has truly blown me away,” Bonnett said. “Yes, it’s hard, because Taylor, my girlfriend and we have an 11-month-old, it kind of makes it tough on her because she has to do everything.

“I’m like a baby now because I can’t walk, I’m on a walker, yes, it’s impacted the around the house part and made it more difficult, but it’s something we can get through. It tests at times, but it helps you in the long run.”

One of the biggest keys to Bonnett’s recovery is the attitude he has.

“You have to try and stay positive on the outlook and the way things go,” Bonnett said. “That’s the way I am, that’s me.

“When something like this happens, it’s very easy to get down. But I’m trying to stay as positive as I can and have a positive outlook on everything as much as I can to keep things going and hopefully, sooner than later, get back in the seat and keep going.”

He then adds with a laugh, “It’s getting lonely sitting in this house, though.”

Doctors have told Bonnett it will take at least six months to make a full recovery. He says with another laugh that he has a faster and more optimistic recovery timeline than his doctors: he’s targeting March 7 and the 56th annual Alabama 200 — one of the largest late model races of the year — at Montgomery (Alabama) Speedway as his first race back.

“I don’t know if I’ll make it,” Bonnett said of his ambitious timeline. “It’s before three months (since his crash, but I’m doing everything on my end and if I get cleared I’ll go back, but it’s all going to depend on the doctors.

“I have thought about getting back. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s probably going to be different at first, it’s going to be a learning curve for me because of everything that has gone on. But I feel once I get back in there and put it all behind me, I feel like we’ll be okay.”

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Rain washes out Snowball Derby, rescheduled to Monday

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Rain has postponed the 52nd Snowball Derby Super Late Model race from Sunday to Monday at 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Track officials tried several times to dry the track, only to be met with recurrences of rain.

Even with the rain issue, one bit of significant news was announced: the track is granting a special provisional exception and expanded the race day field from its normal 36-driver field to 37 drivers. The reason: veteran racer David Rogers was presented with the Derby Dedication Award for his 32 previous starts in the Snowball Derby.

Monday will make Roger’s 33rd career start in the annual pre-winter event, breaking a tie with legendary driver Red Farmer for most starts in the race.

Rogers has had a challenging year, having battled and then overcoming lymphoma. Monday’s rescheduled race will be the Florida resident’s first start behind the wheel since he was officially declared cancer-free.

“David’s Snowball Derby dedication has been unmatched in the history of this race,” Five Flags Speedway owner Tim Bryant said in a statement.  “We felt like being in this race served as real motivation for David in his battle with cancer this year, and we wish him the best of luck in today’s race.”

Also, driver Justin Bonnett, grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, is recovering in a Mobile, Alabama hospital after undergoing surgery to repair a broken leg and treat burns to his face, hands and body. Bonnett was involved in a crash and subsequent fireball created by a fuel cell that broke away from a fellow competitor’s race car during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 race at Five Flags Speedway.

 

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Neil Bonnett’s grandson seriously injured in fiery crash

Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing official Facebook page
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The grandson of late NASCAR Cup star Neil Bonnett was seriously injured in a crash during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 late model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Justin Bonnett suffered a compound fracture of the fibula and tibula and burns to his hands, face and neck in a fiery wreck that prompted him to be transferred to a hospital in Mobile, Alabama, according to a post on his team’s Facebook page.

According to various media reports, Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 when he was unable to avoid and made contact with the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

Driving the No. 12, the same number his late grandfather carried for much of his Cup career, the younger Bonnett’s car was engulfed in flames after the fuel tank on Parker’s car became dislodged and caught fire, spilling fuel and flames across the racetrack. Here is a video of the incident, courtesy of Joshua Nelms, who shot the video, and Sidedrafting Productions, which posted it.

Bonnett’s car came to a stop on the apron between turns three and four, where he was quickly pulled from his car by safety crews, who also extinguished the fire. The race was red-flagged for a lengthy period of time afterward.

According to media reports, the 26-year-old Bonnett was taken by ambulance to a local Pensacola hospital, where he was briefly treated before he was airlifted to a hospital in Mobile.

It was upon arrival at the Mobile hospital that it was determined Bonnett would undergo late night surgery, according to several posts on his Facebook page, written by his aunt and Neil’s daughter, Kristen Bonnett Ray.

Later Sunday morning, Bonnett’s aunt posted this update on his condition:

Justin Bonnett still lives in Hueytown, Ala., home of the famous “Alabama Gang,” of which his grandfather was part of, as well as Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Jimmy Means, the late Davey Allison, Hut Stricklin and David Bonnett, Justin’s father.

The Snowflake 100 was a preliminary race for Sunday’s main event, the 52nd annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Here are several additional posts on Bonnett’s wreck from social media:

 

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Corey LaJoie among NASCAR drivers entered in Snowball Derby

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A handful of NASCAR veterans are entered into the 52nd annual Snowball Derby, the Dec. 8 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

An updated entry list for the race has 55 drivers, including the new entry of Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie.

LaJoie, who drove for Go Fas Racing this season, will compete for Jamie Yelton’s Fat Head Racing. It’ll be his first time in the race since 2017.

“I keep saying I’m going to keep going down there until I win one,” LaJoie told Speed51.com. “I keep getting closer each and every time.  I’ve broken a couple of times, and another time we just didn’t have our stuff together.  Hopefully this time, we can get down there and get close.  If I can see the front near the end of that thing, I’m going to make something happen.”

Other entries include 2020 Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton, former Cup driver David Gilliland, former Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson. Derek Kraus, this year’s K&N Pro Series West champion, has also been added to the entry list.

Chandler Smith, the 17-year-old driver who made four starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series this year, is also entered.

JR Motorsports’ late model driver Josh Berry is entered as well.

Noah Gragson won the race last year for KBM. Busch himself is a two-time winner of the event.

Other past winners include Darrell Waltrip, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Elliott.

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Harrison Burton among NASCAR drivers entered in Snowball Derby

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A handful of NASCAR veterans will compete in the 52nd annual Snowball Derby, the Dec. 8 Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The early entry list for the race has 53 drivers, including 2020 Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton, former Cup driver David Gilliland, former Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson.

Chandler Smith, the 17-year-old driver who made four starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series this year, is also entered.

JR Motorsports late model driver Josh Berry is entered as well.

Noah Gragson won the race last year for KBM. Busch himself is a two-time winner of the event.

Other past winners include Darrell Waltrip, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Elliott.