Racing community pays a touching tribute to Pestana
ROSEVILLE — Ron Pestana touched many people in his 60 years — in the racing world, the real estate world and just the real world itself.
Pestana helped the racers he competed against, entertained thousands of sets of ears with his music about auto racing, did everything he could to help people save their homes.
So while it was a stunning site to see every car in the pits take part in memorial laps to honor Pestana the night of July 21 at All American Speedway, it really was no surprise at all.
“It showed me there were a lot of people there that really cared about him,” Gina Pestana said of her dad, who died on the track the night of July 14.
Pestana’s car crashed during spectator racing. The Placer County Sheriff’s Department is investigating whether it was the crash or a medical issue that killed Pestana. There were no skid marks before Pestana hit the wall near the exit ramp in turn two. An autopsy remained pending.
A week later, speedway officials, racers and fans paid tribute to Pestana. The Mini Super Truck he drove to the 2006 championship at Altamont Raceway Park near Tracy came out first, driven by good friend Larry Bohringer.
Pestana’s dad, John, built Altamont in the 1960s and served as the track’s first general manager. He also knew the legendary Mario Andretti, who bounced a baby Ron on his knee.
There were three divisions on the program July 14, and every car lined up three wide on the track. The drivers exited their cars and stood as “Outback” Andy Foster, a former announcer at Altamont, talked about Pestana. There was a moment of silence, and the memorial laps followed.
“It was really, really nice,” said speedway manager Ken Brooks, who counted 52 cars. “The Pro 4 Modifieds were visiting; they all came out and were a part of it. The pits were empty. There were no race cars left.”
Several family members attended the event with Gina Pestana — her brother Michael, Ron’s mom Lee and his brothers Jim and Ed, aunts, uncles and cousins, and his girlfriend Deb.
“It was a grand event,” Gina Pestana said. “It was just really obvious a lot of people cared about him. There has been a lot of support from the racing community. It really meant a lot to the family.”
Gina Pestana said she watched NASCAR races with her dad while growing up. Ron taught her how to understand the sport. He was “stoked” about his 2006 title but never disappointed with where he finished in a race.
“He just loved being out there with everyone else that loved racing,” Gina Pestana said. “He was always having fun.”
Patrick LaPenna owns spectator racing and knew Pestana for nearly 20 years. He said they considered themselves blessed to race.
“To quote him, ‘There are millions who want to do what we do. There’s only thousands that get to do it,’ ” LaPenna said.
Pestana graduated from Santa Clara University and hooked up with a band mate in the 1970s to form Broken English, which gigged at restaurants and clubs in Fremont and Hayward. Pestana played guitar, piano, harmonica “and I believe accordion as well,” Gina Pestana said.
It was Pestana’s producer, Bill Bently, who steered Pestana toward “speedway rock,” according to Gina Pestana. Ron Pestana and the Pit Crew were born.
They wrote songs about Stockton 99 Speedway, Altamont, Madera and beyond: Darlington and tracks in Canada and Australia. The band also put out CDs. Brooks said Pestana was writing a song about All American Speedway.
“We came up with the concept to play live after seeing the non-race themed bands playing on TV at NASCAR events,” Bently said. “(The) band played in local clubs but focused on racetracks.”
LaPenna heard Ron Pestana and the Pit Crew play several times.
“Last year, they came to Roseville and knocked the walls down,” he said.
Pestana lived in Byron, near Tracy, and worked in real estate. LaPenna recalled how Pestana did all he could to help people save their homes during a down economy.
“A great deal of (people) are going to say, ‘Ronny saved my life. Ronny saved my family,’ ” LaPenna said. “I remember talking to him, and it would take him weeks, sometimes months, to find something that would work for these people. He’s one guy in Tracy, California, and he’s getting it done.”