Ex-NASCAR racer accused of rape, arrested hours after release from jail

LAKE FOREST — A former NASCAR driver who led police on a 140 mile-an-hour chase two weeks ago was arrested today on rape charges just hours after being released from his jail term.

James Neal, 56, of San Clemente, had left an Orange County jail at 1:30 a.m. today, and was arrested at the home of an acquaintance at 6 a.m., said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.

"He was released and went to the home of a 55-year-old woman whom he had met just one time before,'' Amormino said.

Deputies were sent to her apartment, in the 20700 block of El Toro Road in Lake Forest, at 6 a.m. when they got a report that a man and woman were fighting. "The woman said James Neal had attempted to rape her and would not leave,'' Amormino said.

"He is being charged with attempted rape and false imprisonment, and this was 4-1/2 hours after being released from jail,'' he said.

Neal complained of chest pains and was taken to Mission Hospital, and will be booked later, the spokesman said.

Earlier this month, deputies attempted to pull over Neal for not having a front license plate — a noncriminal "fix-it'' infraction -- in San Clemente. But the former racer roared off down Interstate 5 in his Chevrolet Corvette, reaching speeds of 140 mph across Camp Pendleton and northern San Diego County.

Deputies and CHP officers gave up on the chase because of a danger to motorists. But the hapless driver was spotted on the side of the freeway with a blown engine, and arrested.

Neal, 56, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of evading while driving recklessly, and served about two weeks until he was released this morning.

Neal competed in NASCAR in the early 1980s, but never won a national race.