Revving the Rolls Royce for a race

Victor Garcia

When most people think of racing, the first thing that comes to mind is NASCAR. When Bill DeStefani thinks of racing, he thinks of the Reno Air Races.

DeStefani, 60, a former Bakersfield College student and farmer, has a team that races his 1945 P51 Mustang Strega. He no longer races the plane himself. The plane is powered by a Rolls Royce V-12 Merlin engine. He said that they take it up to 4,000 horsepower or 530 to 540 mph.

DeStefani went to Bakersfield College from 1964-’65.

“In those days, going to BC was a lot different than it is today,” said DeStefani.

“We used to wear sports coats and ties. I don’t think they do that kind of thing anymore.”

His major was agriculture, and today he is a cotton and alfalfa farmer. He served in the Vietnam War in a construction battalion of the Navy from 1967-’68.

In 1977 he bought his first Mustang plane.

“I had heard about the Reno Air Races and thought it would be kind of a kick to go try and see what it was all about and kind of got hooked on the competition… and just continued on,” said DeStefani.

“I found out that in order to be competitive you have to modify one.”

There are eight planes that participate in the race. It is an 8.2-mile course. Around the course, there are eight pylons that signify the inside of the course. A plane has to stay on the outside of the pylons or it receives a penalty.

“There’s a penalty of four seconds per lap of the race. So if the race is an eight lap race, it’s a 32-second penalty,” he said.

DeStefani said that if they get one penalty, they cannot win the race.

“In order to win the thing, it takes quite a bit along with lady luck,” he said. The top prize is about $150,000.

The Reno event is not the only one DeStefani participates in. He said there are races all over the country, such as in Indianapolis and Kansas City.

DeStefani has won a total of nine air races, including six at Reno.

He was recently inducted into the local Bob Elias Hall of Fame for sports legends from Bakersfield who have been successful.

DeStefani has also been featured on the Discovery Channel show, “Speed Freaks.”