WEBSTER CITY, Iowa (Dec. 20)--Habits can be hard to break, and that seems to be the case for Rodney Sanders whose habit of winning continued in 2019 with his third USMTS national championship.
Sanders, who turned 30 years old less than two weeks after securing the title at Deer Creek Speedway's 21st Annual Featherlite Fall Jamboree on September 21, also won back-to-back crowns in 2013 and 2014.
Despite being considered a "veteran" of the sport at such a young age, success hasn't gotten an easier for the Happy, Texas, hustler.
"It's definitely tough," Sanders said. "A lot of people see the racing part of it and think they want to do it and then they come try it for a month and realize how much work it is. A lot of it is late hours and being away from home-that's the biggest thing. I'm maybe gone for a couple months at a time. It's tough to find help but it's really tough to find good help. It's grueling for sure."
His grueling schedule in 2019 saw 'The Rocket' compete in every USMTS event as he swept the three regional series schedules in addition to his overall United States Modified Touring Series national title. From beginning to end, however, he donned the daiglo yellow spoiler as the Wrisco Points Leader.
"We had a really good year. We raced 71 times and had 20 wins and 19 second-place finishes along with winning our third USMTS championship and all three regional championships. All of this wouldn't be possible without all our great marketing partners."
Eleven of those wins occurred during the 41-race USMTS grind-a winning percentage of more than 26 percent. But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that his No. 20 MBCustoms machine finished outside of the top 10 just twice in those 41 starts.
"I feel we have good preparation week in and week out and obviously luck doesn't hurt anything so I just feel like we had a good team, worked well together and just tried to stay out of trouble," Sanders revealed. "Usually the better you run the higher up front you are and you get to race with good guys so you don't tear up anything. We had good parts on the car and didn't have hardly any parts failures, motors ran great... I think it's just a combination of everything."
That combination produced his fifth USMTS season with at least $100,000 in earnings and more than $1 million since his rookie season in 2007.
Money-wise, his biggest tax return happened in 2014 when he took home nearly $150,000 in winnings. That magical season that produced a seven-race win streak during the campaign netted him $10,000 for winning King of America IV in March, $20,000 at the World Modified Dirt Track Championship in July and $12,000 with his win rain-delayed Sunday win at the Featherlite Fall Jamboree.
The following year was almost as good, but it was also one that ended in heartbreak. With a $100,000 bonus up for grabs to any driver who could win three regional championships plus the USMTS national championship, Sanders trailed Jason Hughes by just four points on the final night but came up short and settled for second in the final standings while Hughes netted his second USMTS title.
Fast forward four years and Sanders finally sealed the deal for the season sweep. En route to claiming the 2019 USMTS national championship, he added first-place efforts in the MSD Performance USMTS Mid-American Series, Spike Hardcore Energy USMTS Northern Lights Series, Summit USMTS Southern Series and the USMTS Hunt for the Casey's Cup powered by Summit.
Sanders ended the 2019 season with 97 career USMTS wins-fourth on the all-time list behind Kelly Shryock (182), Hughes (155) and Ryan Gustin (101). As a 19-year-old, his first win happened at the LA Raceway in La Monte, Mo.
"It don't really seem right, especially the wins and everything," Sanders added. "We kind of got two (championships) there pretty early and I didn't know if we'd ever get another one. It's a tough deal and it's pretty cool to say we've done it three times."
Pushing Sanders in 2019 from beginning to end was Woodward, Oklahoma's Dereck Ramirez. A veteran at 33 years of age, Ramirez shadowed Sanders nearly every night and settled for a second-place paycheck on 11 occasions while also garnering three wins.
The two racers remain close friends, which translates into respect on the racetrack, Sanders said.
"I felt like this year as a whole, with the group of guys that we raced against, I felt like it was the most fun. We interacted with each other more than in the past and everyone got along great, and that makes it a lot more fun"
For Sanders, the 2019 campaign was another year of checking off boxes for his résumé on his hall-of-fame level journey. While a victory in four of the USMTS crown jewels eluded him, the one that did not was the one that seems to never get away.
In July, Sanders nabbed his seventh Imperial Tile Silver Dollar Nationals title at the I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska. In fact, 10 of his 97 career wins have happened at the Kosiski family's 4/10-mile high-banked dirt oval.
Sanders noted that getting his first-ever USMTS win at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, was a highlight of the 2019 campaign. In order to win the 10th Annual USMTS Slick Mist Show-Me Shootout, he had to claw his way through a Real Racing Wheels "B" Main and then started 14th in the main event.
Statistically speaking, Sanders now has three USMTS national championships but has also finished second twice and third three times. In 12 seasons, he has 97 wins, 348 top-fives and 485 top-ten finishes in 627 starts. He's also led 3,154 main event laps.
Sanders is quick to credit his crew chief Michael Bixby, parents Marcus Sanders and Cheryl Crider-Sanders and girlfriend Morgan McMann with helping him achieve success. His marketing partners include Wichita Tank Racing, ARMI Contractors, Mesilla Valley Transportation, S&S Fishing & Rental, Kenny's Tile, Paulson Rock Products, Mb Customs Race Cars, Hibner Logging, CMD Race Shocks, Swift Springs, Swan Energy, KBC Graphix, Hatfield Race Engines, Allstar Performance, Wilwood Engineering, Schoenfeld Headers, PEM Quick Change, Winning Edge Carburetors, Fast Shafts, Wehrs Machine & Racing Products, Integra Shocks, Real Racing Wheels, Deatherage Opticians, Super Sucker Fans, Day Motor Sports, Performance Bodies, FK Rod Ends, Bergman Tax, Speedway Motors, Bulletproof Tees, QA1 and Champ Pans.
Final 2019 USMTS National Championship points: 1. Rodney Sanders, Happy, Texas ... 3619 (10 wins) 2. Dereck Ramirez, Woodward, Okla. ... 3407 (3 wins) 3. Hunter Marriott, Brookfield, Mo. ... 3188 (2 wins) 4. Terry Phillips, Springfield, Mo. ... 3021 (5 wins) 5. Ryan Gustin, Marshalltown, Iowa ... 2953 (6 wins) 6. Jake O'Neil, Tucson, Ariz. ... 2902 (4 wins) 7. Zack VanderBeek, New Sharon, Iowa ... 2306 (1 win) 8. Adam Kates, Tonganoxie, Kan. ... 2289 9. Mike Striegel, Wheatland, Mo. ... 1878 10. Travis Saurer, Elizabeth, Minn. ... 1685 Other winners: Dustin Sorensen, Rochester, Minn. (2) Jacob Bleess, Chatfield, Minn. (1) Brad Waits, Rochester, Minn. (1) Brandon Davis, Hayfield, Minn. (1) Ricky Thornton Jr.., Chandler, Ariz. (1) Landon Atkinson, Little Falls, Minn. (1) Dan Ebert, Lake Shore, Minn. (