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Drag racer dies

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
April 6, 2018

A 75-year-old Napa resident died after crashing his 1976 Ford Pinto into a rail at high speed at an organized contest drag race at the Sonoma Raceway last Wednesday evening.

According to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, the avid racer, James Kenneth Rambo, died around the 6 p.m. hour after crashing the customized vehicle into the k-rail (wall) of the raceway during the popular Wednesday night event. Wednesday Night Drags is a community evening event that runs from March until November where the track is opened for around 300 vehicles per night to race. Prior to racing the vehicle must pass a safety inspection and the driver must have a valid California Driver’s License.

First responders were called to the scene to provide assistance and lifesaving efforts, however, Rambo died at the scene due to the severity of his injuries.

The accident occurred when, “At the conclusion of the drag race, after he crossed the finish line, it appears he braked but his vehicle pulled to the left and he hit a k-rail at over 100 miles per hour,” according to a press release from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Initially after the accident occurred details were limited, according to a tweet from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, however, they did confirm the accident and time of death to be sometime around 6:15 p.m.

According to a Sonoma Raceway press release, Rambo was the only racer along the quarter mile stretch of track at the time of the accident.

Jere Starks, Sonoma Raceway vice president of facilities and operations, told KGO-TV that the driver had made one pass, and everything seemed OK prior to the accident. Starks also told KGO-TV/ABC 7 News that Rambo was wearing all the proper safety gear and that his car even had a full roll cage.

As reported in an NBC Bay Area article, Rambo’s family had said that he had no medical conditions and was in good health. According to the same article, Rambo’s son, Jeff Rambo, says he believes the crash was due to a problem with the car’s brakes even though they did not have any previous problems.

For Wednesday Night Drags, this is the first fatality in the program’s 30-year history. 

According to the Wednesday Night Drags website, the aim of the program is to, “Give people a safe, legal, controlled environment in which to drag race their cars, away from city streets.”

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies are continuing to investigate the cause of the crash.

In the same Sonoma Raceway press release, the raceway offered its condolences to Rambo’s family, “We send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.”