The 1988 Snowball Derby changed Tennessee driver Mike Alexander forever. No, he didn’t win the race. In fact, he didn’t even walk out of the track that day. He was taken out by paramedics as he was not fighting for a position, but he was fighting for his life.
“I don’t know what happened,” Alexander recalled. “The video shows I may have cut down on a guy in traffic and caused it. I remember parts of the day, some off of the video I have seen, but nothing about the wreck.”
The wreck stopped the race with 80 or so laps to go in 1988. Alexander had hit the turn four wall prior to when the entire track had outside walls surrounding it. So, the impact was much like a sudden stop. Alexander was not alert in the car and was transported to a local hospital. The race finished that same night as Alexander began his recovery.
Alexander was an accomplished driver. Racing for BR Jones, he found success all over the map. He won championship in the All-American Challenge Series, the NASCAR weekly division and the Grand American Stock Cars. He even had a pair of wins what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“We were lucky in the sense that we could go down there and try stuff that we wouldn’t try during the year because we’re points racing,” Alexander explained. I was proud to be a part of those years. There were a lot of good drivers and raced against Rusty, Mark, Davey and Bobby all the time.”
Success was there in Pensacola, too. He won the 1987 version of the Snowflake 100. He also sat on the pole for the Snowball Derby in 1984 and 1985. His best finish in the Derby itself was a fourth in 1987. In 1988, he was chasing the leaders when disaster struck.
“I never won the Snowball; we were fast but we came up short. It just didn’t work out,” Alexander stated. “I remember we got two laps down and made them up and we had tires late in the race and that’s it.”
Alexander came to and was focused on racing right out of the gates as he recovered.
Part of his plans for 1989 were a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup ride after he filled in for the injured Bobby Allison in 1988.
“We went to Daytona in February and it was such a struggle,” Alexander explained. “At that time, you had a little bad wreck and you kept going. Daytona was tough. I am a two-footed driver and it was hard to use my left foot. It wasn’t natural anymore. Everything was a struggle.”
Alexander looked for help and got the best. Dr. Jerry Petty, who was working with several drivers, checked him out. The struggles continued.
“We went to Martinsville. I was talking to Davey (Allison) and said I’m struggling man. He said give it the weekend. I was struggling so bad and I was so emotional.”
Alexander was replaced by Dick Trickle who won Rookie of the Year honors in 1989. After some more recovery time, Alexander got more seat time in 1990, but it was never the same.
“NASCAR said you need to go back and get things in order,” said Alexander. “They meant the short tracks and we went back and did that.”
Alexander won the track title in 1992 at Nashville (TN); however, a venture back to the top levels of NASCAR would be over.
“I cried myself to sleep many of nights thinking about all of it,” Alexander admitted. “I am blessed now looking back and what I have. That’s an area that make me sad. My kids are well and we are still racing. I enjoy creating stuff in the shop. I have nothing to complain about, but I can still get emotional about it.”
Alexander has been back to Pensacola several times and he’s been to the Derby in every roll expect a driver. The race has changed the lives for so many people, but for Alexander he’s just happy with what he got after his final lap in Derby.
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent