Sanders Celebrates After 81 Modified Thriller

Rodney Sanders in victory lane at 81 Speedway. (USMTS photo)

PARK CITY, Kan. — Rodney Sanders may have been late to the party but he was the one celebrating after he, Dereck Ramirez and a few of their friends produced a thriller for the fans at the 81 Speedway when the Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey’s invaded the three-eighths-mile clay oval Thursday.

The start of the 40-lap main event looked like the ending but with a different cast of characters. Joe Duvall powered to a big lead at the drop of the green flag but Zack VanderBeek stuck with the high line and eventually pulled even with Duvall on the second lap.

VanderBeek edged “Big Daddy” to lead lap three, and the two raced wheel-to-wheel for several laps. Meanwhile, Ramirez was working his way to the front from the fourth row on the starting grid.

By lap 15, Ramirez was threatening for the top spot. VanderBeek turned it up a notch and they traded lines on a couple of occasions with Ramirez finally securing the lead for the first time as they completed the 18th lap.

As Ramirez tried to run off and hide, Sanders slipped by VanderBeek for second on lap 25 and set out to run down the leader.

Sanders, who started sixth, reached the back bumper of Ramirez with four laps to go and snuck underneath to lead lap 37. Ramirez stayed even with Sanders and gave him just enough room to operate the shortest path around the racetrack.

Ramirez was the leader by inches when they crossed beneath the flagstand on laps 38 and 39 but Sanders emerged out of the final corner with the advantage and crossed the finish line with less than three-tenths of a second to spare.

“Man, Dereck was really good tonight and I was just trying to keep it straight off the corner because if I hit it straight off the bottom there was a lot of traction,” said Sanders. “It was a lot of fun. Dereck’s probably the cleanest driver there is out there I feel like, so I can always race him clean and we always race each other hard but it seems like we never touch. That was a lot of fun and it was a hell of a night.”

In slightly padding his points lead over Ramirez, the win was the seventh of the season for Sanders and 104th of his USMTS career while Ramirez came up a car-length short of nabbing his fifth of the 2020 campaign.

“I got to racing them lapped cars and I didn’t know he was there. He showed me a nose and he was already beside me so I couldn’t do anything about it,” Ramirez admitted. “figured I’d better race him clean. We’ve raced each other clean for the whole year so… It’s fun racing with him. He raced me clean and he did what he had to do on the last lap and I just missed it. It’s what happens.”

Terry Phillips finished third, while four-time USMTS national champ Jason Hughes stormed from the 14th starting spot to finish fourth while VanderBeek held off Tanner Mullens for the final spot in the top five.

The finish:

Rodney Sanders, Dereck Ramirez, Terry Phillips, Jason Hughes, Zack VanderBeek, Tanner Mullens, Joe Duvall, Cole Traugott, Hunter Marriott, Darron Fuqua, Fito Gallardo, Jake Nightingale, Tyler Davis, Carlos Ahumada Jr., Casey Skyberg, Paden Phillips, Adam Kates, Brandon Givens, Calvin Iverson, Brendon Gemmill, Lucas Gibbs, Dustin Robinson, Brian Franz, Austin Siebert, Jake Gallardo, Nathan Hagar.