Napa family mourns loss of beloved drag racer

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Ken Rambo was 75 years old, a regular at Sonoma Raceway's Wednesday Night series. (KGO-TV)

At Sonoma Raceway on Thursday, it appeared to be business as usual unless a person knew where to look. On the dragstrip wall, there is a new impact mark. It's just the beginning of a sad tale of loss spanning two counties.

"He just loved it. He loved, ate, slept racing," said Marilyn Rambo, remembering her husband, Ken. He died Wednesday night in his prized-possession -- a homebuilt, Ford Pinto dragster.

RELATED: 75-year-old racer dies in crash at Sonoma Raceway event

Ken Rambo was 75 years old, a regular at Sonoma Raceway's Wednesday Night series.

Witnesses say his car passed the quarter-mile mark at 121 miles per hour, then veered left and hit the wall at an 80 degree angle. "He would not have been able to race if he did not pass inspection," said raceway President Steve Page. It was the first Wednesday night death in thirty years.

This undated image shows a home-built 1976 Pinto dragster that James Kenneth Rambo was driving during a deadly accident at in Sonoma, Calif. on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.



They are holding the car for a closer look by the National Hot Rod Association. "It might have been the brakes," suggested Marilyn.

In Ken's workshop behind the house, his son, Jeff, showed meticulous records of every race run and setting. "That's how he was," said Jeff, who wanted to say more about his father, but just couldn't. "I wouldn't get through one sentence."

The family describes Ken Rambo as a kind, gentle, well-mannered, loving family man. "He took care of everything around here," said Marilyn. Both grew up in Napa. They met in a burger joint where she worked. "He loved burgers," she said. And then, her. "He liked me first." They were married 51 years.

Ken Rambo spend 36 years as an installer for AT&T, then eight more working with the National Park Service in the Presidio. He raced all his life. Photographs in the shop show him tearing around dirt tracks on a motorcycle. "You always worry in the back of your mind," said Marilyn of the racing. "But, if I tried to stop him he would be bitter, bitter."
At least, she says, Ken Rambo left this Earth doing what he loved. "He always said that if he died, we should cremate him, pour the ashes into the gas tank, and take him fast around the track."

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