Earl Bonner, whose wide-ranging motorsports career spanned across six decades, featuring lengthy leadership officiating roles with the ARCA Menards Series and at Toledo and Flat Rock Speedways, passed away Thursday, Feb. 24, following a critically severe stroke in late December at his long-time home in Lincoln Park, Michigan. He was 81.
An Alabama native, Bonner’s 50-year-plus career in the sport began when he was in his 20s, as an engine builder then car owner. Prior to his full-time employment in racing, Earl Bonner was a CDL truck driver for Associated Truck Lines, where he delivered auto parts to Detroit-area high performance companies, including General Kinetics, RJS Safety Equipment and Diamond Racing Products.
Bonner’s conversations during those deliveries about the drag race engines he built led to trips in the late 1960s and early 1970s to stock car races at Flat Rock, Jackson Motor Speedway and Mt. Clemens Race Track. A chance meeting with driver-owner Pat Haywood turned into a nearly 20-year partnership, Bonner as car owner and engine builder and Haywood as driver and mechanic, producing scores of feature wins and seven track championships.
The pair raced up to five days a week at tracks in the Detroit area, sometimes racing two cars per night in different divisions, always in cars displaying No. 104 and “Weekend Warrior.” Bonner, ever the perfectionist, regularly completely disassembled the team’s race engine between race weekends as standard maintenance, visually inspecting and precision measuring components before reassembling, often in the nick of time to depart for the next weekend’s racing.
Widely known as a talented and dependable engine builder, he built race engines for team owners including Bob Ward, Butch Giles, Jack Burnett, Bill Meade and Rick Hahn with drivers including Butch Miller, Harold Fair Sr., Bob Keselowski, Dave Kuhlman and Tommy Adams. Bonner built the engines in his home garage.
During his successful tenure as a car owner, Bonner began his career race officiating, specializing in engine inspection. He was the lead technical inspector for 20 years at Toledo Speedway and oversaw inspection for the Midwest touring super late model Iceman Series. He became the chief engine tech inspector for ARCA in the 1980s, and for decades managed engine inspection for as many as 70 cars per race, earning him respect in both the ARCA and NASCAR garages. He also drove the series official transporter, and at race time worked the pit road “stop and go” position.
A key figure in the logistical layout of the ARCA garage area at widely varying track venues where the series raced, he was known for his meticulous requirements for placement of race team and supplier haulers, inspection flow and coordinating race car traffic between the garage and the racetrack. He celebrated his 81st birthday working the 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship race weekend in October at Kansas Speedway. Bonner fell ill as he was preparing to travel to Daytona for the ARCA Menards Series season-opener, his 50th in ARCA.
Earl Bonner is survived by his wife of 61 years, Treasure Bonner, and daughter Lisa Bonner.
Memorial services are scheduled for Tuesday, March 1, with visitation from 2-9 p.m. and Wednesday, March 2, with funeral service at 1 p.m. at the Allen Park Chapel of the Martenson Family of Funeral Homes, 10915 Allen Rd., Allen Park, Michigan 48101. His final resting place will be at Michigan Memorial Park Cemetery, 32163 Huron River Dr., Huron Twp., Michigan.
— ARCA Racing —