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Blaise

Blaise Alexander

Blaise Robert Alexander, Jr. (March 26, 1976 – October 4, 2001) was a stock car racer from Montoursville, Pennsylvania. He began racing at the age of 12 in go-karts, winning the coveted World Karting Association East Regional championship in 1992. In 1995, he moved south to Mooresville, North Carolina and drove in the ARCA Racing Series. Named ARCA's rookie of the year in 1996, Alexander was a regular driver in that series while also driving in both the NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series.

On October 4, 2001, during the ARCA EasyCare 100 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Alexander's car crashed into the outside retaining wall nearly head-on. He died from a basilar skull fracture, the fourth driver death from rapid-deceleration head-and-neck movements in 17 months, and his death was instrumental in convincing NASCAR to mandate the HANS or Hutchens devices for all drivers (although drivers could still "adjust" -modify- these devices for comfort), despite the accident happening in ARCA. It wouldn't be until later, however, with the death of Steve Park at Pocono in the Winston Cup series in 2002, that the HANS and Hutchens devices were not allowed to be modified anymore and were completely revised.

Early life

Alexander was born on March 26, 1976 in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. He began his stock car career at age 12 in the World Karting Association and was the champion of the East Series in 1992. From that point, Alexander moved onto the Micro-Sprint racing series at tracks in different states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, posting a total of 48 wins in the series. In 1995, Alexander moved from Montoursville to Mooresville, North Carolina to pursue a racing career.

Racing career

ARCA

Alexander drove a few races in the ARCA Re-Max Series in 1995. With a full season in 1996, Alexander won ARCA's Rookie of the Year Award. During his 1996 rookie season, Alexander pulled off a second-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Alexander achieved two more second-place finishes in 1997. Alexander won his first ARCA race in 1998 at Toledo Speedway and won a second race the same year at Pocono Raceway. He led in 18 ARCA races for a total of 490 laps led. Alexander's final win came in July 2001, at Michigan International Speedway. Alexander earned a total of four career pole awards, in races at Michigan, Watkins Glen, Toledo and Winchester.

NASCAR

In 1997, still running fifteen races in ARCA, Alexander began driving in NASCAR in the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. He only raced twice in the truck series, and had modest success in Busch. Alexander signed to run for Team SABCO during the 2000 Busch season, posting two top-ten finishes and finishing 25th in points. After that year, he decided to return to the ARCA series in 2001.

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Blaise's car after it hit the wall.

Death

At the EasyCare 100 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on October 4, 2001, Alexander was involved in a 2-car accident during lap 63 of the race. He was fighting for the lead position with Kerry Earnhardt for most of the race. During the lap, Earnhardt had to dodge a lapped car by hitting his brakes, which caused Alexander's No. 75 to catch up to Earnhardt's No. 2. Alexander began to inch into the lead when Earnhardt's car made contact with Alexander's, sending Alexander's car head-on into the wall and then back into Earnhardt's car causing Earnhardt to flip over onto his roof and slide into the grass. After the wreck, Earnhardt got away unharmed, while Alexander was knocked unconscious. The ARCA race officials quickly threw out the red flag to send rescue workers onto the track to check on Alexander. Earnhardt had already gotten out of his car and wanted to go check on Alexander, a friend of his. Officials would not allow Earnhardt to see him and was taken to the infield care center. Alexander was pronounced dead at the infield care center at 10:20 PM.

As it was announced live, ARCA commentators stated live that "We have sad news to share with you tonight from Lowe's Motor Speedway. Blaise Alexander never got out of that car under his own power as we showed you, and now track officials are informing us that Alexander has suffered fatal injuries in that wreck just a few moments ago, here at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Blaise Alexander was only 25 years old. He was a bright young man. Won ARCA rookie of the year. He scored a victory in the series this season. He had some success in the NASCAR Busch Series, decided to come back to ARCA RE/MAX competition this year, in an effort to rebuild his career. All who knew Blaise Alexander thought he was just a wonderful young man; had a great personality, a lot of talent behind the wheel of a race car. He will be much missed. From Montoursville, Pennsylvania; our condolences to the family and friends of Blaise Alexander."

Alexander was interred at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, his hometown.

Aftermath

Alexander's death, caused by a basilar skull fracture sustained in the impact, was the fourth in two years. Other high-profile drivers killed in this period included Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Jr., and Tony Roper. As a result of Alexander's crash, NASCAR announced that the use of head and neck restraint devices would be required to keep drivers safe from these types of injuries, caused by rapid deceleration in wrecks (although drivers could still "adjust" -modify- these devices for comfort). The use of such devices had been optional up until Alexander's death, though 40 out of 43 drivers in NASCAR's top series were already using them. Only Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jimmy Spencer had not worn them yet. It wouldn't be until later, however, with the death of Steve Park at Pocono in the Winston Cup series in 2002, that the HANS and Hutchens devices were not allowed to be modified anymore and were completely revised.

In response to these deaths, NASCAR eventually installed SAFER barriers on all NASCAR oval tracks. As of 2015, most tracks have the exterior walls covered with the barriers.

After his 1995 move to North Carolina, Alexander enjoyed a close friendship with fellow Busch rookie driver and eventual NASCAR superstar, Jimmie Johnson, as they competed against each other on the track, while supporting each other off it. Alexander's memory has been honored by Johnson in several public and private ways, including dedicating his first Cup win to Alexander during a televised interview in victory lane, sending condolences in a victory lane interview after the passing of Blaise's mother, and supporting various charity causes and events that Alexander initiated in his hometown area of Central Pennsylvania. Additionally, on every one of Johnson's race cars is a small decal commemorating Alexander.