53rd Annual Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial Sprint Classic Set For Saturday at Salem Speedway

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 SALEM, Ind. – 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.


SALEM, Ind. - 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.

53rd Annual Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial - Saturday August 11, 2012

Divisions: Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series and the Lucas Oil Great American Stocks.

Event: Eleventh of 14 events for the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series in 2012. 

Schedule of Events:

12-noon – Vintage Race Car Pits Open

12:30 p.m. – PNC Pits Open

3:00 p.m. – Spectator Gates Open

3:00 p.m. – Vintage Race Car Warm-up Laps

3:30 p.m. – Practice (MSR Sprints and GAS – Two Sessions Each)

5:30 p.m. – End of Practice

5:45 p.m. – Qualifications

6:55 p.m. – Invocation & National Anthem

7:00 p.m. – Sprint Car Heat Races (8 Laps)

Lucas Oil 50 - Lucas Oil Great American Stocks

MSR Xtreme Sprint Series B-Main (12 Laps)

Vintage Race Car Parade Laps

MSR Xtreme Sprint Series Autograph Session

Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial -MSR Xtreme Sprint Series (30-Laps)

Broadcast : TV – Fox Sports Net (Taped Delayed)… Radio – WUME-FM, 95.3 (Live)

Salem Track Facts: Track Size - .555 Mile…Surface – Asphalt…Banking – 33 degrees in turns with slightly pitched straights…Width – 55ft front stretch, 65 ft in turns.

Notes of Interest: The last 26 Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial races have produced 22 different winners.  There have been no repeat winners in the past nine races. Two former winners, Jacob Wilson (2008) and JoJo Helberg (2011), are expected for Saturday’s race…An elite group of drivers; Eddie Sachs, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Rich Vogler, Pat O’Connor, Rollie Beale, Mario Andretti, Pancho Carter, Greg Leffler, Dave Steele, andTracy Hines, have recorded more than one James/O’Connor victory. Jones, Carter and Leffler are the only drivers to have won back-to-back races…Elmer George, Don Branson and Jason McCord have the distinction of posting the most top-three James/O’Connor finishes by a non-winning driver with three each…Eric Gordon holds the record for most runner-up finished in the race with four…Jacob Wilson’s 2008 James/O’Connor win came in his very first race on the Salem oval…Tony Stewart’s very first sprint car race came at Salem Speedway during the 1991 Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial.  He finished fourth in the last chance race and failed (by one position) to transfer to the main event…For three drivers, Bobby Unser, Sonny Ates and Wayne Hammond, their first and only victory at Salem came in the James/O’Connor race.  Mario Andretti and Greg Leffler, both two-time memorial champions, were winless in all other visits to Salem…The very first ESPN telecast of an automobile race was a taped delayed showing of the 1979 Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial…The 2012 James/O’Connor Memorial will be broadcast on a tape delayed basis through Fox Sports Net and a variety of networks across the U.S., reaching over 90 million American households…Jeff Gordon finished fourth in the 1989 James/O’Connor Memorial. That was the very first sprint car pavement race for the 18-year-old driver…Jeff O’Connor, son of the late Pat O’Connor, will pace the field prior to the start of the James/O’Connor in a replica of the Sumar Special that his dad drove during the 1950s…For the second consecutive year the James/O’Connor Memorial is sanctioned by Must See Racing (MSR).  MSR is also the sanctioning body for the famed “Little 500” at Anderson Speedway…California’s JoJo Helberg (694) and Indiana’s Jacob Wilson (683) are locked in a tight battle for the 2012 MSR season championship.  Just 11 points separate the top two drivers with only four races remaining (Salem, Anderson, Winchester and Berlin)…Over the past five years Aaron Pierce has been the most dominate driver at Salem Speedway in sprint car competition. During that span he has posted four wins and a second place finish in seven starts…Jimmy Kite, a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter, last raced at Salem in July of 1997 when he won a 50-lap NAMARS midget feature…Hank Lower, at 74 years young and a veteran of over 50 years of racing, is expected to start his second consecutive James/O’Connor Memorial race on Saturday.Lower of Angola, Ind., won a heat race and finished third out of 19 starters during a 2009 sprint race at Salem…Sondi Eden holds the distinction of being the only female driver to have ever competed at Salem in a sprint car. The former Indiana All Star and Morehead State basketball player won a heat race and finished 10th in the 2011 James/O’Connor Memorial…Brian Gerster established a new one-lap Salem Speedway track record during qualifications for the 2011 James/O’Connor Memorial. His time of 14.169-seconds is an average speed of over 140 mph…The Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial is the only open wheel race of the season at Salem Speedway in 2012…Salem Speedway is again happy to host the annual visit by the Midwest Oldtimers Vintage Race Car Club during the James/O’Connor Memorial event. Upwards of 40 vintage race cars were on hand for the 2011 Salem show…The Lucas Oil Great American Stocks “Lucas Oil 50” serves as a prelude to the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial…This is race number four of a five race shootout for the 2012 GAS season championship…Shawn Smith and David Bayens are tied for the top spot in the season standings (284-284), while Todd Kempf is just seven points back (277) in third place…The season championship race for the Lucas Oil Great American Stocks will take place at Salem on Saturday night, Sept. 15th as part of the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic.


Past James/O’Connor Race Winners

2011 JoJo Helberg

2010 Shane Hmiel

2009 Tracy Hines

2008 Jacob Wilson

2007 Rain – No Winner

2006 Bryan Clauson

2005 Brian Tyler

2004 Dave Steele

2003 Michael Lewis

2002 Ed Carpenter

2001 Tracy Hines

2000 Eric Gordon

1999 Dave Darland

1998 Jay Drake

1997 Dave Steele

1996 Chet Fillip

1995 Tony Stewart

1994 Kenny Irwin Jr.

1993 Jim Keeker

1992 Jim Mahoney

1991 Steve Butler

1990 Rich Vogler

1989 Wayne Hammond

1988 Bob Frey

1980 Greg Leffler

1979 Greg Leffler

1978 Rich Vogler

1977 Pancho Carter

1976 Pancho Carter

1975 Pancho Carter

1974 Pancho Carter

1973 Tom Bigelow

1972 Lee Kunzman

1971 Rollie Beale

1970 Gary Bettenhausen

1969 Sam Sessions

1968 Rollie Beale

1967 Sonny Ates

1966 Mario Andretti

1965 Bobby Unser

1964 Mario Andretti

1963 Roger McCluskey

1962 A.J. Foyt

1961 Parnelli Jones

1960 Parnelli Jones

1959 A.J. Foyt

1958 Eddie Sachs

1957 Pat O’Connor

1956 Eddie Sachs

1955 Bob Sweikert

1954 Pat O’Connor

1953 Larry Crockett