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Investigation continues into fatal crash at speedway in Roseville

Officials explore causes into why Ron Pestana hit wall in spectator racing car
By: Bill Poindexter, Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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An investigation continued Monday into the death of a race car driver Saturday night at All American Speedway in Roseville.

Ron Pestana was driving in the spectator racing category when his car, similar in appearance to a Modified racer, hit the wall at the top of turn two by the exit ramp on the one-third-mile paved oval.

Speedway manager Ken Brooks on Monday said officials were investigating possible causes, from a mechanical issue with the car to perhaps a medical problem suffered by Pestana.

“We’re not sure. There are conflicting stories,” said Brooks, who saw the “tail end” of the crash but “nothing leading up to that.”

The car was confiscated by the Placer Co. Sheriff’s Department for its investigation. Brooks said speedway officials will want the car returned for their investigation, and NASCAR officials also have offered to do an inspection.

An autopsy was performed Monday, and no cause of death was listed pending lab and other results, according to Dena Erwin, public information officer for the Placer Co. Sheriff's Department.

“By week’s end, we should have something a little more concrete,” Brooks said.

What officials do know is there were no skid marks. Brooks said Pestana, an experienced driver who won the 2006 Super Mini Truck championship at Altamont Raceway Park near Tracy, was driving an estimated 40 to 45 mph at the time of impact.

“If it was some type of mechanical failure on the race car, Ron was experienced enough to try and turn that car and get on the straightaway,” Brooks said, adding Pestana drove spectator cars “probably a dozen times.”

The accident occurred about 7:30 p.m. in front of what Brooks described as a “good-sized crowd” on Kids Night. The speedway was about halfway through its weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program. Heat races and the trophy dashes were completed, and the spectator class was four laps into its 15-lap main event at the time of the crash.

Brooks said EMTs performed CPR, and after a second ambulance arrived, EMTs tried to shock Pestana’s heart. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It was the third death at the track in the last 54 years and the first in at least two decades. It was the first track fatality witnessed by Brooks in his 35 years involved in the sport.

“It’s like anything else: It’s something from the racing world you know can happen, but you never think it’s going to happen at our little short track,” Brooks said. “It takes its toll a little bit on everybody.”

The speedway will fly its flags at half mast in honor of Pestana and are planning a moment of silence and a memorial lap for this Saturday’s program.

Pestana also was a musician and fronted a band called Ron Pestana and the Pit Crew. The band played at All American Speedway last year, and Brooks said officials wanted it to play on Fan Appreciation Night this fall. Brooks said Pestana wrote a song for Altamont and was in the process of writing a song for Roseville.

“He was one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet,” Brooks said.