SALEM, IN, August 6 – One of the longest running memorial sprint car races in the nation is set to unfold on Saturday night, August 11th at Salem Speedway, as the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series returns to the historic high banks for the 53rd annual 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 and Tony Stewart gracing the list of former winners.
The 2012 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.
“A strong line-up of drivers is building for Saturday’s race,” said Salem Speedway general manager Richard Deaton. “The overall quality of the field is going to be extremely strong with several car/driver combinations capable of pulling off a win.”
Former Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial winners JoJo Helberg and Jacob Wilson top the list of distinguished entrants for the 53rd annual classic.
Helberg of Santa Rosa, Calif., scored an emotional and exciting victory at Salem one year ago.
The 21-year-old driver battled his way to the front from his fifth place starting position and then had to hold off a torrid charge from veteran Aaron Pierce at the end. Pierce, a four-time winner in sprint competition at Salem, finished second just a car length back of Helberg.
“To stand here in victory circle, it means everything,” said an elated Helberg following the 2011 race. “To win here at Salem at such a prestigious and historic race, I can’t describe how good this feels.”
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.
Helberg and Wilson can expect plenty of competition on Saturday night from the likes of Indianapolis 500 veteran Jimmy Kite of Stockbridge, Ga.
Kite, who will be driving for veteran car owner Mike Blake, is returning to Salem for the first time in 15 years.
“It’s always fun to go back to tracks where you’ve run well and even better when you’ve won at them like at Salem,” said Kite, a five-time Indy 500 starter.
Kite was victorious in his last outing at Salem Speedway on July 19, 1997 when he won a 50-lap NAMARS Midget race.
Other top drivers expected include Pierce, Jason Blonde, Brian Gerster and Troy DeCaire.
Gerster established a new Salem Speedway track record during qualifications for the 2011 James/O’Connor with a blistering lap of 14.169-seconds (over 140 mph avg.).
The ageless Hank Lower, Mike Larrison, Jason Cox, Sondi Eden, Jimmy McCune and Jeff Bloom are also scheduled to be among those seeking the prized James/O’Connor trophy on Saturday night.
The Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial will be broadcast on a tape delayed basis through Fox Sports Net and a variety of networks across the United States, reaching over 90 million American households.
Sharing the high banks with the “World’s Fastest Short-Track Cars” will be the Lucas Oil 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. (EDT).
Advance adult general admission tickets are priced at $18 for adults and $5 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.
Tickets may be ordered on-line at www.salemspeedway.com or by calling 883-6504 or toll free 1-888-246-7223.
LUCAS OIL GREAT AMERICAN STOCKS 50 TO SERVE
AS PRELUDE TO JAMES/O’CONNOR MEMORIAL
SALEM, IN, August 6 – Race number four of a five race shootout for the 2012 Lucas Oil Great American Stock season championship serves as a prelude to the 53rd annual Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial on Saturday night. And what a championship battle it is, as the top five teams in the current standings are separated by just 23 points with a tie for first place.
“With just two point races remaining we have five drivers with a legitimate shot at winning the championship,” said Salem Speedway general manager Richard Deaton. “From this point forward, every lap of each race, as well as qualifying, is so very important. One mistake could spell the difference between winning a championship or finishing in fourth or fifth place.”
Shawn Smith of Louisville and David Bayens of Memphis, Ind., are tied for first place (284-284) in the standings, while Todd Kempf of Huntingburg, Ind., is just seven points back (277) in third place.
Brian Bayer of Birdseye, Ind., (268) and Kyle Hadley of Louisville (261) round out the top five.
The first three races in the championship chase have been won by Chuck Barnes Sr., Bayer and Bayens.