Mike Alexander is the guy driving Bobby Allison’s stock car these days, but soon he’ll be making his own tracks.
Next year, Alexander will drive a car with his own name on it in NASCAR’s top races as a full-time driver on the Winston Cup circuit.
Bill and Mickey Stavola have told Alexander he has a full-time job driving one of their two cars next season; Bobby Hillin Jr. stays on in the other one. They’ll field a third car for Allison if the popular driver returns to racing after recovering from a near-fatal crash in the June 19 Miller 500 at Pocono International Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
“Replacing Bobby Allison is the biggest challenge anybody can face,” said Alexander, who was leading the Busch Grand National Circuit, a step below Winston Cup, when Allison crashed.
“That man has done so much for stock-car racing. He’s a legend to me.”
In 11 starts since Allison’s accident, Alexander--who has kept up his Grand National schedule and remains in its season points race--has one top-five finish and three in the top 10. Until Sunday, when he dropped out after 129 of 500 laps with overheating in the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville, Va., he had finished every race running and completed 97% of his possible laps.
Alexander considers it an honor driving the Stavolas’ gold Buick bearing the name and No. 12 of the 50-year-old veteran whose 84 career victories are third on the all-time NASCAR list.
“By all means I’m not trying to fill these shoes,” Alexander said in a recent interview, adding he was wondering how Allison felt about him driving the car when the recuperating Allison had a friend dispatch the word.
“Bobby wanted him to call me and tell me he appreciated my being in the car and to say we were doing a super job,” he said. “Bobby’s done a lot for me. He’s my idol.”
Crew chief Jimmy Fennig said the driver change didn’t affect preparations for the car.
“All we had to do was change the seat,” said Fennig, who said the team is pleased with Alexander. “He’s pretty well-experienced. He has a good feel for a race car. He knows what he wants.”
Alexander, 31, of Franklin, Tenn., has had a hectic schedule. On four weekends that meant practicing or qualifying Saturday at one track for a Winston Cup race, flying to another track for a night Grand National race and returning to the other track in time for a Sunday afternoon Winston race.
He said he didn’t make the final Winston Cup practice at Watkins Glen, N.Y., last month because of his flight to Orange County, N.C., for a Grand National race.
“It aggravated me because we didn’t get the time on the race track we needed,” said Alexander, who nevertheless finished second at Orange County and fifth at Watkins Glen.
He’s 98 points behind Grand National leader Tommy Ellis entering the last three races, beginning Oct. 8 at Charlotte, N.C. A driver gets 180 points for winning a race, and last place in that race would be worth 31 points, so the championship is up for grabs.
Alexander plans to continue in the Grand National events next year, but not full time.
“I want to give 100% to the people here,” he said of the Stavolas’ team.
He’s hoping to use his own usual No. 84 next year and for NASCAR to hold aside No. 12 from other drivers for Allison’s possible return. A car’s number is important to a driver, he said.
“It’s like the old brown socks. They may have a hole in ‘em,” he said, " . . . but they still mean a lot to you.”