Eight Months Since Scary Snowflake Scene, Bonnett Back at 5 Flags for Allen Turner PLM Twin 75s 

Eight Months Since Scary Snowflake Scene, Bonnett Back at 5 Flags for Allen Turner PLM Twin 75s 

 

By Chuck Corder 

Photos by Eddie Richie

As flames curled around him, Justin Bonnett struggled to free himself from the safety belts inside his Pro Late Model car. 

Bonnett was part of a freak accident midway through last year’s Snowflake 100. The fiery blaze enveloped his No. 12 PLM and, with it, all the hearts and minds around Five Flags Speedway that December evening. 

As the famed half-mile asphalt oval fell silent and the flames raged hotter, Bonnett continued to try and wrestle free from harnesses unaware of the compound fractures sustained throughout his left leg. Thankfully, Five Flags official Russell Brooks leaped off the rescue truck and ripped Bonnett out of his car and prevented more injuries.  

“He truly was a lifesaver to me,” Bonnett said of Brooks. “He was the first one to the car to get the fire out and get me out. When I couldn’t get all the way out, he grabbed me and pulled me the rest of the way.” 

Eight months since the horrific crash and an arduous rehabilitation, the 27-year-old grandson of Hall of Famer Neil Bonnett will be back Friday at Five Flags for the Allen Turner Hyundai PLM Series Twin 75s.  

“I’m ready. I’ve been ready,” Justin Bonnett said. “Ever since the wreck, it feels like that track owes me one. This time around, we’re good enough to come down (to Pensacola) and win. A lotta hard work goes into this racecar and my team gives me a lot to look forward to.” 

Bonnett and the south’s top PLM drivers will share Pensacola’s high banks with The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen (25 laps) and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks (20). Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday; local qualifying at 6; PLM qualifying at 7; and racing beginning at 8 approximately. Admission is $20 for adults; $17 for seniors, military, and students; and free for children ages 11-and-under. 

This won’t be Bonnett’s first race since sustaining broken tibia and fibula bones in his left leg, as well as burns to his hands, face, and neck. 

Earlier this month, he sat on the pole for the Show Me the Money Series race at Montgomery Motor Speedway and the Hueytown, Ala., native finished an impressive fifth. 

“We probably should’ve finished third,” Bonnett said. “I guess sitting up these last few months took a toll on me. The car was a lot better. I was wore out.” 

But, simply to see Bonnett behind the wheel again was awe-inspiring. If you were there that fateful December night or have seen the video that has nearly 154,000 views on YouTube currently, no one would believe Bonnett could have escaped the rolling ball of fire much less strap in and race again. 

Molino driver Jarrett Parker’s brakes failed him entering Turn No. 3 on Lap 54 of last year’s ’Flake. As Parker spun, a trailing Bonnett collided with him. The impact sheared the fuel cell from Parker’s PLM and immediately erupted in a fire that Bonnett couldn’t avoid. 

Track officials and the rescue team arrived quickly, and that’s when Brooks responded to the call to action by yanking Bonnett out of the roaring flames. 

“I was in such shock before I tried to get out that I really didn’t know I had broken anything,” Bonnett said. “I was more or less trying to get the fire off me, so I really didn’t even know that I had that bad of a hit in the footbox area until I was coming out.” 

After a lengthy stay at USA Health University Hospital in Mobile to treat his injuries, especially those burns, Bonnett wasn’t out of the woods. In addition to a painstaking recovery process, he endured multiple surgeries to the rod doctors placed in his left leg to stabilize the compound breaks. 

He had a nasty bout with Staph and then endured delays to his final surgery because facilities were keeping beds open to treat COVID-19 patients. He still takes antibiotics four times a day to ward off any lingering infections. 

As is his nature, though, Bonnett has maintained a positive outlook throughout a frustrating process. 

“I got to spend a lotta time with the little one who’s growing up way too fast,” he said of his and fiancée Taylor’s 18-month-old daughter, Brynlee. “When you go through something like this, it’s tough. And, yeah, I got down a few times, told myself I’d never race, but then again knowing I would because I wanted to so bad.  

“Doctors will say certain things, and that gets you down. But I knew better than that and it was something I wanted to prove. When you get down, you wanna get back up and prove yourself again.” 

Bonnett said that it’s part of having those racing genes inside you. Whether he is on the racetrack or laid up at home with his young beautiful family, the urge to get better and improve never left him. 

That mentality drove Bonnett to get back in the seat, compartmentalizing the fluke accident with Parker and focusing on what’s in front of him instead of what’s left behind. 

“At first, when I got back in, I was concerned that it was gonna be in my head,” he said. “But once I felt the car out (in Montgomery), I never thought about it after that. I feel more confident this (week) than before. 

“I’m ready. This what you want – the best of the best. There’s gonna be some heavy hitters that we’ll have to battle with. But that’s what most people come to Pensacola for.”