Bob Mandell Jr. knew he had to keep his emotions in check.

But he could let them out Sunday afternoon after winning the NHRA Southern Nationals Top Sportsman final round over Vince Hoda, using a nearly perfect .007-second reaction time.

His elapsed time of 6.856 seconds at 191.97 mph in his Chevy were numbers that mattered only to determine whether he would keep his promise. Mandell had decided that a victory on the Atlanta Dragway quarter-mile – a racetrack that about 24 hours previously had produced one of his most heartbreaking moments – would be a tribute to Randy Alexander.

“We’re racing in honor of Randy, Randy and his family – racing with heavy hearts for Randy and all of our good friends. I’m going to win that trophy, and I’m going to take it to his funeral,” Mandell said Sunday morning, referring to his longtime friend who passed away from injuries Saturday – while racing against Mandell’s son, Bob III.

Alexander’s car got out of shape in the right lane during the first round of eliminations Saturday, hurtled across the center line past the finish line. Mandell III, traveling at about 200 mph and finding himself with nowhere to go despite every effort to stop, plowed into Alexander’s driver-side door. All this unfolded with father Bob Jr. sitting at the starting line, waiting to run in the next pairing. Alexander succumbed to his injuries.

The elder Mandell called the accident “a tragic, tragic ordeal,” especially considering Alexander, a retired auto-dealership service manager from the Huntsville, Ala.-area city of Harvest, was a longtime friend and customer at their Bob’s Pro-Fab Shop business at Culleoka, Tenn., about 50 miles away.

“As soon as we got word he didn’t make it, we called for the chaplain, and we had a little [service] here,” the elder Mandell said Sunday morning in his motorhome. “For about a half an hour, we sat here and held hands and said a good prayer for his family. You’ve got to. You’ve got to.”

And he said he felt he had to pay respect to Alexander by winning and presenting his family the trophy. He said “43 years of experience” is what helped him maintain his focus Sunday to go rounds.

At the start of the day, Mandell said, “We can’t sit here and cry all day long. I’m hoping to go out and win this race for Randy in honor, because he meant that much to us. I know it’s going to be a tough week ahead, and the hard thing is going to be the funeral, I’m sure. That’s going to be the hardest. He’s been a good friend of ours. Our day’s all about Randy.”



As he went off to warm up his car, he urged, “Pray to God it works out good.”

It couldn’t have turned out better Sunday. But the jubilation was tinged with sorrow. And it was no token sympathy. The winner himself had been in a terrible Pro Modified accident last July at a Tennessee racetrack with injuries so severe that he was legally dead for eight and half minutes. Mandell said he experienced a surreal visit with his late wife, Paula, a cancer victim, and that she told him to wake up, go back to his life.

“The way we look at everything, it’s just like the accident with me: God’s in control,” Mandell said after recording his third Top Sportsman victory.

“The sadness of this whole thing is Randy Alexander’s been a great friend of ours for many, many, many years. And to see this tragic deal happen, our hearts go out to his family and friends. It’s a very, very unfortunate accident. It’s a sadness. You know, I don’t even know how to describe it. I know my wife’s looking over us.”

For the record, Hoda ran a 6.779 202.70 in the final.