STOCKTON — Before the engines were fired up for the start of last Saturday’s program at the Stockton 99 Speedway, PA announcer Wayne Pierce stood on the track at the start/finish line and told the fans about his former racing rival and good friend Ron Strmiska Sr., who passed away last Wednesday.
Pierce confided that while he really didn’t care for him at first, Strmiska soon became one of his closest and most cherished friends. Pierce also told the fans stories of how Strmiska was once pulled over by the cops when he attempted to drive his race car to track, of how he helped make Pierce a better race car driver and how he was always there for Pierce in times of need.
It was a poignant and fitting tribute to the man known as the “Manteca Missile.”
“To me he was a bigger than life character and I will miss him,” explained Pierce. “On the track he was hell on wheels, but off the track he never bragged. He didn’t have to because his actions always spoke louder than words.”
Strmiska began his 30-year racing career around 1970 competing against the likes of local legends Dan Reed, Johnny Brazil, Ken Boyd, David Philpott and Harry Belletto. He picked up his first victory in 1971 and became Stockton 99 track champion in 1978 and 1979, succeeding future NASCAR Winston Cup star Ernie Irvan.
“On the track each person was their own, but off the track Ron was one heck of a nice guy. We did things together, we had family events, we fought and we had great times,” reminisced David Philpott, who also claimed two track championships. “As I get older and think back I’m learning and understanding more of what it was all about back then.”
Strmiska’s racing passion has become a family tradition, passed down to his sons Ron Jr. and Ryan, both of whom became successful drivers, and to Ron Jr.’s sons Ross and Robert. Robert Strmiska is the car chief for NASCAR Nationwide driver Ty Dillon of Richard Childress Racing while Ross competes in the SRL Spears Southwest Tour.
“When he strapped his helmet on he went all out and he didn’t care who you were or what happened. He was out there to win and he would put a fender on you or take you out if he had to. It was checkers or wreckers,” remembers Ross. “A lot of racers said that he was a pain in the butt on the track, but off the track or in the pits he would also help you out in any way he could.”
One long standing Strmiska family tradition started by Ron Sr. during the early 1970s was the distinctive pink and black color scheme that continues adorn all of their No. 90 race cars to this day.
“As I understand it, back in the day my grandpa and my uncle Wayne had race cars and somebody donated a couple of gallons of paint to them – one yellow and one pink. And my grandpa chose pink,” said Ross. “My grandma always liked it so we kept it. It has become a family trademark.”
After five decades of racing Ron Strmiska Sr. finally hung up his helmet for good and in 2009 his racing exploits earned him the honor of being inducted to Manteca’s Hall of Distinction “Sports Heroes.”
Although his dad taught him much about racing, Ross also sees a lot of his grandpa in the way he drives and he hopes that some day he can emulate his grandpa’s success.
“I got my aggressive side in racing from him. My dad was a little more controlled when he was driving, but I definitely have some of that Strmiska temper. I think I inherited some of his talent, but I don’t know if I have as much as he did because he figured out how to win championships early on and I haven’t yet. He was good at everything he did.”
A private family service will be held for Ron Strmiska Sr. on Wednesday morning. It will be followed by a celebration of life, which will be open to the public, at 11 a.m. at PL Fry and Son Funeral Home, 290 N. Union Rd., Manteca and a reception at Manteca Golf Course, 305 N. Union Rd.