Thousands of people gathered at the Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday for the funeral of Ralph “Sonny” Barger, longtime president and founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
It was an event the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office warned on Friday could become dangerous.
But those in attendance cried, shared stories and remembered the 83-year-old Modesto native who died in June 29 from cancer.
“Even though he was blind in one eye, and he packed his oxygen, well, when his kickstand went up, you better catch up,” one speaker said.
As of early evening on Saturday, no significant incidents had occurred at the funeral, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said. Sheriff Patrick Withrow advised residents at a press conference Friday to avoid the area of the speedway, located at 4105 N. Wilson Way, and said rival organizations to the Hells Angels would likely be in the area.
The Sheriff’s Office, Stockton Police Department, and California Highway Patrol planned to maintain a highly visible presence in the area, he said.
Medical assistance was requested at the service for two attendees on the infield of the track. Traffic was light on the stretch of Wilson Way outside the speedway as of about 4:30 pm CHP could not immediately be reached for comment.
About 7,000 people showed up for Barger’s funeral, according to Tony Noceti, the president of the business that operates the speedway. Some came from various parts of California, others sported club colors from New Jersey, Minnesota and Nebraska.
Throughout the afternoon the track infield was filled with people gathered in front of a stage decorated with rose wreaths where Barger’s family and friends spoke. Barger was a founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels, started in 1957.
Barger was well-known as the public face of the club, which has chapters across the world and is considered a gang by the Department of Justice. He authored several books and contributed to several films and was a consultant and had a role on the television show “Sons of Anarchy.”
Barger was convicted in 1988 of conspiracy to kill rival club members and blow up their headquarters, The Associated Press reported at the time.
The funeral was scheduled to take place from 2 pm to 8 pm, to include speakers, a slideshow and performances by the Fryed Brothers Band.
Record reporter Aaron Leathley covers public safety. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LeathleyAaron. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.
This article originally appeared on The Record: Funeral for Hells Angel Sonny Barger held in Stockton