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Alabama 200 Win a Big Deal for Hunter Robbins, Ronnie Sanders

"He loves Hunter. That's his guy, he's special to Ronnie and Ronnie is special to us."


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Ronnie Sanders has spent a lot of time in post-race technical inspection since Hunter Robbins returned to active competition, but this was the first time in seven years that they were tearing their car down together after winning a race.

Sanders, a definition southern short track legend, looked the absolute happiest a racer could be having their car stripped down after a race. It’s presumably worth the trade-off if winning means you get $10,000 in exchange for the most throughout inspection of the night.

The 76-year-old is definitely overjoyed but it’s not because of inspection.

"I never like being torn down," Sanders says.

Why not?

"Because there might be some little something that you don't realize is there, and you get thrown out for it," he says back.

With all due respect to podium finishers Stephen Nasse and John Bolen, that didn't happen, and the Alabama 200 win was a victory for the entire short track industry and anyone who loves a good story.

Sanders last won in 2019 with Casey Roderick behind the wheel, a victory that also came in a Pro Late Model at Montgomery Motor Speedway, but Robbins hadn't won since October 17, 2015 in a Viper Pro Late Model race at South Alabama Speedway.

Much has happened since then.

Robbins took a job in 2016 as a race engineer for Kyle Busch Motorsports but traded that grind for a different set of responsibilities after four years on the road. Since his hiatus, he married Johanna Long, and they’ve started a family. He has also jumped backed into the Pro and Super Late Model game.

There have been close calls and near misses before winning the Alabama 200 on Saturday night, but it took a strategy call by Josh Hamner and a lucky break to finally break through after countless podiums over the past year and a half.

Combined the seven year drought with getting Sanders back in Victory Lane at his home track and the moment very obviously meant a great deal to Robbins.

"I've been to Victory Lane a lot the past four or five years, but it's been awhile since I've done it as a driver and that meant a lot," Robbins said. "Pretty excited about it.

"That was the only way we were going to beat Stephen, getting off-sequence, and I told him all it took was getting 65 lap fresher tires ... This is a lot harder than it looks and I'm just now getting to a point where I feel comfortable knowing what I need in a car to be in this situation."

Robbins raced 13 times last year with seven top-10s and five top-5s, but it’s how he races against the likes of Nasse, Donnie Wilson Motorsports and the other contenders that is most impressive.

"We're probably the only front running team that doesn't have a single full-time employee," Robbins said. "It's all after hours, after work in the afternoons, weekends. It's why we haven't raced yet this year -- we've been busy putting this car back together and getting the Super car ready for the Rattler next weekend as well. That's really rewarding. We talked about it all the way home from Pensacola."

It’s a team effort from people who have worked with Sanders, Robbins and the Longs over the years -- a true labor of love that paid off on Saturday night.

This Pro Late Model car last raced in the Snowflake 100 with Long behind the wheel and it ended up junked in the massive crash involving Noah Gragson and Ryan Luza. Robbins has spent many nights at the shop with Hamner, the Sanders and Josh Lee putting it back together in their free time.

That has left Long often at home alone with the kids.

"He has been working his butt off, trying to race but also spend time with his family," Long said. "It's a struggle sometimes. To see him come out and win makes it all worth it, the nights alone taking care of the kids, it's all worth it tonight."

Sanders has a several dozen wins as a driver, including the 1977 Snowball Derby, and several dozens more as a car owner with Bubba Pollard, Roderick and Robbins each taking turns behind the wheel of the iconic No. 18. Sanders says this victory is near the top.

Of course, there so many wins that he doesn’t even know where to begin ranking them but knows this one is near the top.

"It’s a such big deal because Hunter is such a wonderful person and he was way overdue," Sanders said before adding the next line with a laugh. "And I was due too.

"This is the biggest win with him for sure."

Long says her husband is Sanders’ guy.

"It means everything to him," Long said. "He loves Hunter. That's his guy, he's special to Ronnie and Ronnie always going to be special to us. He's done so much for us. To get him back to victory lane is special."

Long is going to drive the car this weekend in the Baby Rattler while Robbins will drive the Super Late Model in the Rattler 250. The Alabama 200 was meant to be a tune-up for the upcoming Southern Super Series season.

That the iconic No. 18 ran top-three all night against the likes of Nasse, Matthew Craig and Jake Garcia is a good sign for this summer too. Those are the cars Robbins hopes to beat across the Deep South and towards Snowball Derby season.

He wants to give Sanders at least one more epic run.

"I couldn't do this without him," Robbins said. "I wouldn't be driving without him. We haven’t won races the past two years since we got back together but we've been really close. We had some of the best string of races you have last year in the Super car. Our program is getting better and I’m excited for next week and what comes next."

Long says they've never talked about winning, missing that feeling or what it takes to get back there, but they know.

"We take it day by day," she said. "It's been seven years since he's won, and he's starting to get better and we do think this can be our year."

Sanders thinks so too.

"He has put so much work into this and into himself," Sanders said. "I think we’re going to win some races."