Special from Middle Tennessee Racing News – Mike Alexander could’ve been a contender – maybe as successful as his Franklin neighbor and racing idol Darrell Waltrip – until a fateful accident in 1988 cut short his blossoming career.
A generation later, Mason Mingus showed similar flashes of talent on the track, and shared Alexander’s charisma and public relations savvy, before veering off to pursue another career path.
But neither lost their love of the sport, and this season at Fairgrounds Speedway they will team up to chase a championship in the premier Pro Late Model division.
Why? For the most simple (or complicated) reason why racers race.
“Just for the fun of it,” says Mingus, 26, who will drive a car owned and prepared by Alexander, 63. “Racing gets in your blood and hangs with you.”
“Why are we doing it? Because we enjoy it,” agrees Alexander. “Neither Mason nor I are out to prove anything. We’re doing it for the challenge and because we love it.”
Mingus, a native of Brentwood, attended Franklin Road Academy where he played football, ran track and wrestled. But his first love was racing. He climbed into a quarter-midget car almost as soon as his foot could reach the gas pedal, and never let up.
After graduating to stock cars, Mingus quickly built a reputation as one of the area’s most promising young drivers. In addition to racing locally, he ran four Xfinity Series races, 45 Camping World truck races, competed in the CRA Series and in 2013 ran the complete ARCA Series. He finished second to the immortal Frank Kimmel in the ARCA championship chase.
In 2019 Mingus returned to the Fairgrounds and captured the prestigious All-American 400.
“Winning a big race like the 400 on my home track was special,” Mingus says. “I consider that win, and finishing second to Frank Kimmel in ARCA, my career highlights. It’s something I’ll always remember and treasure.”
Then came the career change. Mingus married his high school sweetheart Megan and moved to Bowling Green, Ky., to serve as a regional manager for his father’s natural gas-line construction company.
But although he left racing, racing didn’t leave him.
“It’ll always be in my blood,” says Mingus, who last season ran two Late Model races at the Fairgrounds for Alexander.
“Mike and I started talking, and decided to team up this year,” Mingus says. “We’re both doing it for the same reason – just because we enjoy it. It won’t involve a lot of races and a lot of time. There’s nobody I admire and respect more in racing than Mike Alexander, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
“I’ve known Mason’s dad for a lot of years, and I’ve watched Mason develop as a racer,” Alexander says. “He’s a hard worker and an impressive young man, on and off the track. He’s intelligent and articulate and knows how to communicate from the driver’s seat. And, like me, he’s a competitor.”
For awhile it appeared Alexander’s son, Clay, was in line to carry on his father’s racing legacy, looking impressive as he flashed around the track his dad once ruled.
But seven years ago Clay got an offer he felt was too good to pass up: working for Richard Childress Racing in North Carolina. He started with an entry-level job working on shocks, and today serves as car chief for NASCAR Cup driver Daniel Suarez.
His father, meanwhile, continues to be drawn to the historical track where he won two championships (1978, 1982) and is a member of Fairgrounds Speedway’s Hall of Fame.
“There’s a lot of history and great memories in that old track,” Alexander says.
In the 1970s two teenaged comets collided — Alexander and Sterling Marlin – staging countless memorable battles on their way to NASCAR Cup careers. Marlin became a two-time Daytona 500 champion. Nobody will ever know how good Alexander might have been. Waltrip, who went from the Fairgrounds to NASCAR stardom, once termed Alexander a “can’t miss” prospect.
Alexander ran 74 Cup races over seven years, along with 71 Xfinity (the Busch) races, winning two of the latter. He also won the 1983 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national championship.
The dream was shattered in 1988 in Pensacola, Florida, when Alexander crashed into a guardrail while running the Snowball Derby. He suffered a serious head injury, and his career never recovered.
Alexander attempted a comeback the next year, but struggled. He ran his final race in 1990, driving for Bobby Allison. Allison, in bitter irony, also had his storied racing career ended by a head injury.
“That was a tough, emotional time,” Alexander says. “But as Bobby said after going through it himself, we have to go on. What choice do we have?”
In Alexander’s case, “going on” meant going back to the track. If he couldn’t drive, he could still field cars, assist young racers, be involved in the sport. That’s been his passion over the years.
And now he’s back for another season, mentoring a spirited young driver who in many ways is a reflection of himself a generation ago.
“I think we’ll win races,” Alexander says. “We have a good car and Mason is a good driver with a lot of experience. I expect us to do well at Nashville, and we also plan to run a race at Salem, Indiana and Bristol in the Pro Series. We’re going to stay busy.”
“There won’t be any pressure, and we’ve got nothing to lose,” Mingus says. “Mike and I are racing for fun – the fun of winning. That’s the best reason there is.”