From Jim Hanks
HOLLY, Mich. – As the Xtreme Sprint Series prepares to take on the challenging high-banks of Salem Speedway on Aug. 6, it becomes a weekend that is more than just another race for competitors, officials, and fans. The 52nd annual “Joe James-Pat O’Connor Memorial” is all about honoring the memories of two great racers and their families.
In 1952, California racer Joe James lost his life in a racing accident at San Jose, Calif. at age 27. Immensely popular with fans and his fellow competitors, it was decided that a memorial race should be held to perpetuate his memory, and the inaugural event took place the following year at Salem.
In 1954 Pat O’Connor, who hailed from nearby North Vernon, Ind. and enjoyed a large following in the Hoosier state, won the Joe James Memorial, winning it a second time in 1957. Tragically, the 29-year-old O’Connor was killed in the opening laps of the 1958 Indianapolis 500. It seemed appropriate to also honor O’Connor at the Salem event, and the race became known as the “Joe James-Pat O’Connor Memorial.”
As the event prepares for the 52nd running, it is notable that it remains one of the most important and enduring memorial races in the U.S. Now spanning six decades, the memory of two great racers has been honored by countless fans and competitors. The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame has since inducted both O’Connor and James.
This year marks the first time the event is sanctioned exclusively by Must See Racing, the controlling entity of the Xtreme Sprint Series.
“Joe James and Pat O’Connor were great racers, and it’s important that we continue to honor their memory,” said MSR founder and president Jim Hanks. “Our generation has a responsibility to grow and strengthen the events that are the foundation of our sport, and we are privileged to do our part in continuing the many years of excitement associated with this race.”
As always, winning the James-O’Connor race is a special goal for today’s competitors. The winner’s name is added to a list of stellar talent, including Eddie Sachs, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Rollie Beale, Gary Bettenhausen, Tom Bigelow, Pancho Carter, Rich Vogler, Larry Rice, Steve Butler, Kenny Irwin Jr., Tony Stewart, Chet Fillip, Dave Steele, Eric Gordon, Bryan Clauson, and Jacob Wilson.
Wilson will be among those seeking this year’s title, and will be challenged by a growing roster of XSS stars including Troy DeCaire, Ryan Litt, Jason Cox, JoJo Helberg, Jeff Bloom, Jimmy McCune, Dave Baumgartner, Aaron Pierce, Hank Lower, Jason Blonde, Travis Miniea, Kyle Flint, Mike Larrison, and Jerry Caryer, among others.
The “Joe James-Pat O’Connor Memorial” will be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis through Comcast Sports and a variety of networks across the U.S., reaching over 90 million American households.
The Xtreme Sprint Series features powerful winged sprint cars with 800-plus horsepower, racing at a variety of prestigious and historic venues including Salem Speedway, Anderson Speedway, Berlin Raceway Park, Winchester Speedway, Auto City Speedway, Dells Motorsports Park, Rockford Speedway, Kalamazoo Speedway, and Bristol Motor Speedway. Based in Holly, Michigan, the series is amidst their third season of competition in 2011.