From Jim Hanks
SALEM, IN, August 1 – The 52nd running of one of the most historic sprint car races in the nation is set to take place at Salem Speedway on Saturday night, as the Must See Racing (MSR) Xtreme Sprint Series visits the venerable high banks for the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial.
The honor roll of past James/O’Connor victors reads like a “who’s-who” in open wheel racing history with such names as Bob Sweikert, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Pancho Carter, Rich Vogler, Kenny Irwin Jr. and Tony Stewart gracing the list of former winners.
The 2011 edition of the sprint classic brings together many of the top short-track pavement drivers in the nation as they attempt to add their name to the list of racing giants who have won the prestigious event.
“We’re expecting a strong line-up of cars and drivers for Saturday’s race,” said Salem Speedway general manager Richard Deaton. “We anticipate having at least 22 to 25 sprint car teams in attendance. That number will give us our first full field of cars for the James/O’Connor in the past three years.”
Former Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial winner Jacob Wilson of Crawfordsville, Ind., heads the list of distinguished entrants for the 52nd annual classic.
Wilson, driving the Wilson Bros. Racing Chevy, pulled off a stunning victory in the 2008 James/O’Connor; winning the race in convincing fashion in what was his very first outing on the Salem high banks.
Wilson can expect plenty of competition on Saturday night from the likes of Aaron Pierce, who has won two of three MSR Xtreme Sprint Series races at Salem, including a victory on the high banks in early April.
Pierce, whose petal to the metal driving style is well suited to the super-fast Salem oval, charged from the back of the field, gaining 19 positions in 30-laps, to post a win at Salem last season.
Other top drivers expected include Michigan’s Jason Blonde and Jeff Bloom, Florida’s Troy DeCaire, California’s JoJo Helberg, Ohio’s Jimmy McCune, Illinois’ Jason Cox, and Canada’s Ryan Litt.
Blonde, the one-lap track record holder at Salem, won the title “Fastest Of The Fast” during the World’s Fastest Half-Mile Speed Trials earlier this season at Bristol Motor Speedway. Turning the half-mile oval in a blistering 13.245-seconds for an average speed of 144.871 mph.
The ageless Hank Lower, Mike Larrison, Dave Baumgartner and Travis Miniea are also scheduled to be among those seeking the prized James/O’Connor trophy on Saturday night.
For the first time in a number of years 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 United States, reaching over 90 million American households.
Sharing the high banks with the “Word’s Fastest Short-Track Cars” will be the Lucas Oil Super Stocks and the Dave & Deb’s Winner’s Circle Great American Stocks.
The annual visit by the Midwest Oldtimers Vintage Race Car Club is also a part of the festivities on Saturday. An early on-track warm-up for the vintage cars is set to take place at 3 p.m. A select group of vintage cars will return to the track prior to the start of the James/O’Connor Memorial race.
Jeff O’Connor, son of the late Pat O’Connor, will once again pace the field during parade laps in a replica of the Sumar Special that his dad drove in the 1950s.
PNC pits open at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, with spectator gates opening at 3 p.m. Practice is set to start at 3:30 p.m., with qualifications at 5:45 p.m. and the first race at 7 p.m.
Advance adult general admission tickets are priced at $18 for adults and $3 for children, age 7-12. Kids, age 6 and under, are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Advance reserved seat tickets are priced at $23 each. All prices are $2 more on day of race.
For tickets call 812-883-6504 or toll free 1-888-246-7223. For more information visit the Salem Speedway web site at www.salemspeedway.com or visit Salem Speedway on Facebook.