NorCal Racing

Blake Alexander hopes for more chances in NHRA after Sonoma win

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SONOMA — After Sunday’s Toyota Sonoma Nationals at the raceway here, the winners of the four NHRA divisions took turns at the podium in the media center. As Funny Car champion Robert Hight spoke, Blake Alexander stood quietly at the back of the room, still in his fire suit.

Alexander, who had just triumphed in the elite Top Fuel division, was holding the “champion’s goblet” that the raceway presents to event winners — a goblet of red wine mounted on a commemorative base. Alexander tilted it back for a swig, and the base detached and clattered to the floor. That messed up the weight distribution of the trophy; the goblet bucked toward him, and there was Alexander, Man of the Hour, with wine all over his face.

Nothing, apparently, comes easy for this guy.

Alexander’s win at Sonoma was his second of the year. In Top Fuel, only points leader Steve Torrence (five) has more. Alexander also had a runner-up finish, and has advanced to the semifinals five times.

These results are surprising when you consider that Alexander, 29, has raced only six times in 2018. He is a part-time NHRA driver, which is its own disadvantage.

“We don’t have as many runs as the other teams get. We don’t have as much data, we don’t get to try as many things to make us better,” explained Alexander’s team owner, Bob Vandergriff. “… Obviously, it’s pretty impressive. It shows it can be done, even on a limited basis.”

From here, the NHRA circuit moves to Seattle for the final stop on the association’s Western Swing. Alexander currently sits 12th in the Top Fuel standings. Ten drivers will qualify for the circuit’s Countdown to the Championship playoff series; Alexander beat the two men directly in his path, Mike Salinas and Scott Palmer, on Sunday.

But Alexander will not be in Seattle. He and his wife, Leah, were taking a Sunday night red-eye back to Charlotte, North Carolina, to resume the other half of their lives. Leah Alexander, a physician’s assistant, has to work Monday. Blake Alexander will not race again until the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis at the end of August.

While the drivers he just defeated are getting settled in Seattle and tuning up their cars for another weekend of racing, Alexander will be helping local Charlotte businesses, primarily in the construction trades, with their marketing.

During Sunday’s racing, Alexander piloted his dragster as fast as 330 miles per hour. But he couldn’t outrun the realities of his sport. The Sonoma Nationals were billed as a sellout, one of several on the tour this year. Yet money is hard to come by in NHRA, and the machinery is vastly expensive. There just aren’t enough full-time rides to go around.

You would hope for something more for Alexander. After he won for the second time in four weeks, the script should have been edited to have Vandergriff striding to a microphone and proclaiming, “I changed my mind. We’re going to Seattle!”

It doesn’t work like that.

“We’re operating under a nine- or a 10-race budget,” Vandergriff told me after the race. “We’re not gonna try and run 15 races on a nine- or 10-race budget.”

Alexander fully understands that. But he admitted that he’d love to be getting on a plane to Seattle rather than retreating to North Carolina.

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