A 75-year-old Napa man died Wednesday at the Sonoma Raceway in Northern California when his customized 1976 Ford Pinto hit a wall at 100 mph during a sanctioned amateur drag racing event, officials say.
James Kenneth Rambo had already taken at least one lap in the Wednesday Night Drags program, in which people can bring their own vehicles to drag race one the raceway’s quarter-mile track, reported KGO.
“This particular participant had a full roll cage,” Jere Starks, vice president of facilities and operations at Sonoma Raceway, told the station. A roll cage is a special frame reinforcing the passenger compartment of a vehicle to protect the occupants, particularly in the event of a rollover. “He had all the proper harnesses, proper helmets, and all the safety gear appropriate for his class.”
“I think our safety record speaks for itself,” Starks told KGO. “It is a tragic, tragic accident and we’re grieved by it.”
Rambo was the only driver on the track when the crash took place at 6:15 p.m., raceway spokeswoman Diana Brennan told The San Francisco Chronicle.
It’s the first on-track death in the Sonoma Raceway’s 30-year history of hosting the Wednesday night amateur races, the publication said. The program allows anyone with a driver’s license and a vehicle that passes a track inspection to participate in drag races or perform road tricks. Drivers must have proper safety gear, including a helmet and neck brace. The event runs from March to November.
A Twitter poster who witnessed the crash said the driver’s “extremely fast” Ford Pinto jerked to the left at the end of the track, hit the wall and careened across the track into the grass, reported The Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The track was closed after the accident.
Formerly known as the Sears Point Raceway and Infineon Raceway, the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma County north of San Pablo Bay hosts IndyCar, NASCAR and NHRA races along with other car and motorcycle races.