The Richard Childress Racing Museum located in Welcome, North Carolina may contain the largest collection of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolets, but it is home to a wide variety of items and artifacts from the organization’s nearly 50-year history.
Each week during the 2018 season, we will celebrate Throwback Thursday by featuring an item in the newly redesigned Richard Childress Racing Museum by showcasing its story and unique history to the famed organization.
In 1994, one of the most likable personalities in NASCAR history was trying to make restart his full-time career behind the wheel in the Cup Series after a four-year absence. Neil Bonnett had been injured in a wreck in 1990 and made the transition to becoming one of the finest broadcasters in NASCAR history. However, the itch to drive remained with the member of the famed Alabama Gang.
During his time as a broadcaster, Bonnett got his racing fix by serving as a test driver for Richard Childress Racing. Building off a strong friendship with team owner Richard Childress and driver Dale Earnhardt, Bonnett would shake down cars during test sessions and provide critical feedback on the handling and set-up of the car.
Bonnett was an 18-time winner in the Cup Series, recording 83 top-five and 156 top-10 finishes in 362 starts. He finished fourth in the series standings in 1985, driving for NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.
Bonnett’s testing efforts led to two on-track starts for RCR during the 1993 season, becoming the first driver in company history to pilot the No. 31 Chevrolet. His first start that season at Talladega Superspeedway ended in spectacular fashion, as he flipped the car on the frontstretch tri-oval but was able to walk away unscathed.
Determined to make his comeback as a full-time driver, Bonnett secured a ride with James Finch for the 1994 season in the No. 51 Chevrolet. However, a hard wreck in practice at Daytona International Speedway took the life of Neil Bonnett.
Now, 24 years later, Bonnett’s memory lives on at the Richard Childress Racing Museum in Welcome, North Carolina. Images and paintings of Bonnett, plus his Mom & Pop’s firesuit from his days as an RCR driver in 1993 are proudly displayed as an on-going memorial for a driver and friend lost too soon.