AJ Sanders picked up his fourth win of the 2018 season at Ace Speedway on April 13, 2018. Corey Latham Photo

The Stadium Stock Division at Bowman Gray Stadium started in 1990 as the Buzzbomber Division, as a result of the much larger Blunderbust class was on its way out. The division has seen its share of winners ranging from a front-runner to a one and done. There have been only three drivers in the previous 27-year history capture the championship three times (Randy Moore, Kenny Bost & Chuck Wall) and longtime competitor A.J. Sanders looks to tie that record in 2018.

A.J. had a staggering season last year, he captured three wins, 12 top 5’s & top 10’s in 14 starts. You would think with stats like that he would have won the championship, but due to a bad 15th place finish on July 29th hindered his chances last year.

“We had an impressive season at Bowman Gray last year, but we had some terrible luck one night and it took us completely out of the running,” Sanders told RACE22.com. “We lost the title by one position last year, that’s when you go back and do the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, but you just have to move on.”

So with such a nearly flawless season put together last year by the two-time champion, how would he improve his car and performances?

“The goal is to go out there and be consistent and get the best finishes you can, of course, wins are gonna help, but when you’re pulling out of a bag (referring to the random draw the Stadium Stock has almost every night) you want to start out front. If you don’t have good draws every week it kills you, so Wesley [Thompson] & Chase [Hunt] had good draws last year and it helps out tremendously and it showed in the final points. Our second goal is to go over there and stay out of the crashes and just have a good time.”

As a former National Champion of Division IV, would Sanders consider racing for a national championship once again?

“The National Championship has to fall among itself,” said the Mocksville driver. “You just race at the beginning of the season and towards the end of the Bowman Gray season, you look at your NASCAR points and say do we have a shot? After that you decide where do you want to go to race, like which track has your correct division (in this case division IV) I.e. Myrtle Beach, Southern National, Caraway, so you kinda got to hand pick your races and take in account which tracks has decent car counts and then try it from there.”

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series schedule runs from the middle of February to the middle of November, which means they don’t run for approximately two months. The schedule for A.J. last year was longer than that cup series, he started off running the New Year’s Bash at Dillon on the second Saturday in January (it was rescheduled due to rain and cold temperatures) and his last race came at the Turkey Trot 100 at Caraway on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Sanders was really vocal about how a national championship run can really stress you out and test your patience to the max.

“I ran I think 53 races last year and it’s crazy, I like to say I work part time and I race full time. If you run good you’ll have a fun time, but it can still be bad because the car counts could be bad and logistically it can be a bad as you have to factor in the weather too as a threat of rain could ruin your hopes of racing somewhere for a big chunk of points.”

Sanders has raced in many different types of cars throughout his racing career including Modifieds, Super Late Models, Late Model Stock Cars etc. but his favorite car and division are the Mini Stocks (Stadium Stocks at Bowman Gray Stadium) as they’re one of the hardest, but best divisions you can run.

“If you want to get your son or daughter started in racing here’s a good start, it’s cost-efficient and it’ll help them learn about a straight gear and build them up for the next rung on the ladder.”

Many drivers have given their thoughts about the track and voiced their opinions about the track and the atmosphere surrounding it and Sanders, a Concord native now living in Mocksville, has very high praise for the track.

“I like it because of the people, there’s no other race track out there where you pull out onto the race track and whether the fans like you or they hate your guts, because you’re outrunning their driver, they’re either cheering or flipping you off, you got both parts of it and there’s nothing like it. Nowhere else you go…I just like it, people throwing their fingers and boo me because I’m doing something right. It’s fun because I’m rattling their driver’s cage, I’m outrunning their driver or something. The ones that like you…they like you…they’re onboard 100 percent, I’ve never seen a fan base so into it like the fans at Bowman Gray.”

“I don’t care, when it comes down to it and something happens in your family or something tragic happens whether you didn’t think that person like you or not, they will come or send you a text or something to show their support for you and your family. You know it’s a big family over, one big family when it’s said and done over there and that’s what I like about it. You can go up into the grandstands while the races are going in, it’s just a neat thing going on. It’s just like the circus, it’s the greatest show on Earth…it’s a show…you don’t go there just to watch the racing you go there to watch the show and what’s gonna happen next and I don’t think there’s a track out there that’s the same way.”

April 21st will serve as the Platinum Season Opener as the Mighty Modifieds will compete for 200 laps in the Hayes Jewelers 200, following the competitive Sportsman 40 lap race. The Street Stocks follow the Modifieds, they’ll do battle for 20 laps and last but certainly not least the insane Stadium Stock division will have a pair of 15 lap races. Admission is $10, with kids 6-13 only $2 and 5 and under free, there’s plenty of free parking all around the track, so come on out and enjoy The Greatest Show Around Turf!