In 1967, Elvis and Priscilla Pressley were married, the handheld calculator was invented, everyone was watching The Beverly Hillbillies, gas was 33¢ per gallon, and in Senoia, Georgia a legendary career was born.
Ronnie Sanders ran his first short track race at age 21, on the dirt at the Senoia Speedway after the track opened in March of 1967. From there, Sanders amassed several victories on asphalt in many prestigious races like The Alabama 200, Snowball Derby, The Rattler, and the World Crown. In 1982, he earned the title of the NASCAR Southeast Regional Champion along with the All American Challenge Most Popular Driver Award in 1987. In that same year, while qualifying for an All American Challenge Series event at the Bristol International Raceway, Ronnie posted a qualifying time of 15.62 seconds at 122.787 mph, which broke the track record; a record he held until the track was resurfaced in 1992. Sanders has also accumulated numerous track championships around the southeast during his 41 years of racing at tracks such as: Five Flags, South Alabama, Mobile International, Baton Rouge, Byron Middle Georgia, Senoia, and Montgomery International.
He is perhaps most proud of having competed in three Daytona 500s, in 1981, 1987, and 1989. Though underfunded even for the time, he still made quite a showing finishing 18th, 21st, & 23rd.
“I was proud we got to do it,” said Sanders. “I wish I could have run in a more competitive car but I’m still glad I got to do it. Our stuff was so under-funded that we were lucky to make the race but it was actually easier than running the short tracks.”
Those who’ve been around him for any amount of time know that with all these accomplishments comes quite a reputation. There are few who have raced against him that have not heard nicknames like “the bomb” or “the outlaw.” He once won 13 in a row at Mobile International Speedway, 10 in a row at Five Flags, and all but one in a season at Byron Middle Georgia Raceway, and in that one ran second to Donnie Allison. Sanders was also the only driver to ever have a bounty placed upon them at the Montgomery Motor Speedway and is still proud of that to this day.
“They put the bounty on me, and then I won it,” Sanders reminisced with a smile.
In October, the Alabama 200, at his favorite track, South Alabama Speedway, was Sanders’ final race. He decided at the beginning of the season that this would be his last and despite the doubts expressed by many, he has stuck to his guns and is hanging it up. All critics were silenced after Sanders did not race in the recent World Crown 200 at Peachstate Speedway, so it is now safe to assume it’s the real deal this time. However, it is no secret that Sanders has been grooming popular Legends Car champion and grandson Billy Fulson for his replacement.
“If I can keep him from worrying, I think he’ll do real good,” Sanders commented wryly.
Since his retirement, Ronnie and wife Bobbie have purchased a motorhome to enjoy their newfound quality free time in.
“When I asked him where we were going, he said Pensacola, Mobile, Opp and places like that,” Bobbie smiled.
So although he’s stepping out of the driver’s seat, Sanders is by no means stepping away from the track.