RACE PREVIEW: JOE JAMES/PAT O’CONNOR MEMORIAL
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photo By: Cameron Neveu
Salem, Indiana (August 8, 2019)………The fifth appearance for the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series at Salem Speedway arrives this Saturday night, August 10, on the 33-degree banked paved oval that began its association with USAC in the year of the club’s inception in 1956.
The Silver Crown cars made their debut at Salem in 1988 with Bob Frey capturing the victory aboard a yellow No. 20. More than three decades later, the same scheme remains at the forefront of the series, where Kody Swanson has taken his yellow No. 20, owned by Nolen Racing, to three victories and the points lead entering the series’ seventh event of the season.
Swanson is one of three past Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial winners ready to suit up for Saturday’s round at Salem along with Brian Gerster and Eric Gordon, who make up six total James/O’Connor victories. Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) has won each of the last three since the Silver Crown cars returned to Salem in 2016-17-18. The four-time champ became the series’ winningest driver in last year’s race at Salem and aims, this Saturday, to equal Pancho Carter’s mark of four-straight wins in the James/O’Connor Classic between 1974-77.
Gerster (Fishers, Ind.) won two-straight in 2014-15 when the race was under the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series banner, ripping around the .555-mile high-banked paved oval to victory in a winged sprint car in both years. He’ll wheel a car for Ram Engineering this Saturday, the same team with which he won each of those two races.
Gordon (Fortville, Ind.) captured his James/O’Connor victory in 2000, dominating from start to finish in that night’s USAC National Sprint Car event. His current Silver Crown car owner, Brad Armstrong, has extensive experience himself behind the wheel at Salem, recording a fourth-place finish in the 1996 event.
Swanson and Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) are among the two past Silver Crown champions in the field. Windom has finished second in each of the last three series’ Silver Crown races at Salem.
Kyle Hamilton (Danville, Ind.) was victorious in the series most recent visit to the Hoosier state in May at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind. Hamilton has upped his game in 2019 after earning a career-best, at the time, 5th place finish last year at Salem. In four starts this year, the 2012 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year hasn’t finished outside the top-six, taking home 4th, 6th, 1st and 2nd place finishes.
Five series Rookies are set to strap in this Saturday on the .555-mile, high-banked paved oval, including a pair of first-time series starters. Australian James Davison is a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter who earned a career best 12th place finish this past May at IMS. He aims to become the first driver since Jack Hewitt in 1998 to start both the Indianapolis 500 and the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial in the same year.
Also making his first series start is five-time USAC Western States Midget champion Ronnie Gardner (Riverside, Calif.). Gardner, the grandson of two-time Little 500 winner and five-time Indianapolis 500 starter Ronnie Duman, ranks fourth all-time in terms of USAC Western States Midget victories with 23.
Dave Berkheimer (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) has made all five of his previous Silver Crown series starts on the dirt, including a 16th place finish at his hometown track of Williams Grove Speedway in June, but Saturday, he plans to make his pavement debut.
Another series Rookie, Cody Gallogly (Pataskala, Ohio) has made continuous strides in Curtis Williams’ No. 81 on the pavement. In each of his last two series starts, he’s earned his first two career top-ten finishes, a 10th at Lucas Oil Raceway in May and a best of 8th at Madison International Speedway in June. He started 18th and finished 18th a year ago at Salem.
Derek Bischak (Angola, Ind.) leads all Rookie drivers in terms of points, residing 12th in the standings. The former Rumble in Fort Wayne Midget winner has finished in the top-eight in three of his four starts this year, with intentions to make a strong showing in his first go-around at Salem.
Aaron Pierce (Muncie, Ind.) will make his first Salem appearance in two seasons this Saturday. Outside of Swanson, no driver has led more laps than Pierce, who led 80 laps combined in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, he led the first 30 circuits from his starting position from outside the front row before ultimately finishing 4th. In 2016, he took the lead on lap 11 and led a race-high 50 laps before spinning while leading. He came back to finish 6th.
Bobby Santos (Franklin, Mass.) has been a perennial front runner at Salem, finishing 4th in 2016 and 3rd in both 2017 and 2018. This season has been more of the same for the consistent Santos with finishes of 2nd twice, a 3rd and a 4th in four starts.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) is another who’s been consistent at Salem with three top-ten finishes in three starts, a 5th in 2016, a 7th in 2017 and a 6th in 2018. The 2019 Silver Crown season had been similarly kind to Grant, a winner on USAC’s National Sprint and Midget trails this year, finishing in the top-four in each of his first five starts until mechanical trouble befell him in the most recent race at Madison.
With his throwback color scheme in tribute to Pancho Carter’s 1970s-era ride with car owner Steve Stapp, David Byrne (Shullsburg, Wisc.) is hoping that some of the same success that those two achieved, with four-straight Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial wins, will rub off on them this Saturday. Byrne has started a high of 4th in each of the last two seasons and finished 7th in 2016 and 8th in 2018.
Joe Liguori (Tampa, Fla.) will make his Silver Crown season debut this Saturday at Salem as will his Williams & Wright Racing No. 32. Liguori has made one Salem Silver Crown start in his career, starting 8th and finishing 8th for the RPM/Fred Gormly team in 2016.
Patrick Lawson (Edwardsville, Ill.) strives for his third Salem Silver Crown start after starting 12th and finishing 9th in 2016, his personal bests on the .555-mile southern Indiana high-banked paved oval. Last year, he started 14th and finished 13th in his Salem return. He finished 19th in his only Silver Crown start this season at Madison.
Kyle Robbins’ (New Castle, Ind.) first time at Salem last year saw him start 11th and finish 17th, bowing out after five laps with steering issues. The 2018 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year’s two best finishes this season have come on pavement, an 11th in the opener at Memphis and an 11th again in May at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Austin Nemire (Sylvania, Ohio) aims to make his second Salem Silver Crown start, and first since 2016, where he started 11th and finished 13th. Austin’s grandfather, Jerry Nemire, competed twice in the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial, finishing 7th in 1988 and 10th in 1989.
Mike Haggenbottom (Levittown, Pa.) has a new car and brand-new red colors to sport for his second Salem appearance following a 16th place start and 12th place finish in the 2018 race. Haggenbottom is having a solid sophomore season, running 7th in points with a best finish of 4th on the dirt at Williams Grove.
Matt Goodnight (Winchester, Ind.) enters his third Salem Silver Crown experience on Saturday after competing in both the 2017 and 2018 events. In 2017, he started 13th and finished 11th. He began the 75-lapper from 13th again in 2018 before finishing 15th after experiencing handling problems a third of the way through the race. He earned a best finish of 10th this year at Williams Grove.
Silver Crown pits open at 1pm Eastern, spectator gates open at 3pm, vintage car warm-ups at 3pm, Silver Crown drivers meeting at 3:15pm, stock car practice from 3:30-3:50pm, first Silver Crown practice from 3:55-4:25pm, stock car practice from 4:30pm-4:45pm, final Silver Crown practice from 4:50-5:20pm, Qualifying at 5:45pm, opening ceremonies at 6:55pm followed by stock car and Silver Crown main events.
Advance adult general admission tickets are $23 for adults/teens and $5 for ages 7-12. Advance reserved tickets are $28.
Saturday’s prestigious event can be watched LIVE and on-demand on FloRacing, listened to via live audio on the USAC app as well as live timing and scoring on both the USAC app and the Race-Monitor app.
JOE JAMES/PAT O’CONNOR MEMORIAL ENTRY LIST
NO. / DRIVER / HOMETOWN / ENTRANT
2 Patrick Lawson/Edwardsville, IL (Patrick Lawson)
6 Kyle Hamilton/Danville, IN (Klatt Enterprises)
7 Kyle Robbins/New Castle, IN (KR Racing)
11 ®James Davison/Melbourne, AU (DHR-Byrd Racing)
16 Austin Nemire/Sylvania, OH (Nemire-Lesko Racing)
17 Chris Windom/Canton, IL (Goodnight-Byrd Racing)
20 Kody Swanson/Kingsburg, CA (Gene Nolen Racing)
22 Bobby Santos/Franklin, MA (DJ Racing)
24 Mike Haggenbottom/Levittown, PA (John Haggenbottom)
26 Aaron Pierce/Muncie, IN (Sam Pierce)
31 ®Dave Berkheimer/Mechanicsburg, PA (Dave Berkheimer)
32 Joe Liguori/Tampa, FL (Williams & Wright Racing)
39 Matt Goodnight/Winchester, IN (Goodnight Racing)
40 David Byrne/Shullsburg, WI (Byrne Racing)
43 ®Ronnie Gardner/Riverside, CA (A.J. Felker Racing)
78 Eric Gordon/Fortville, IN (Armstrong-Slinkard Racing)
81 ®Cody Gallogly/Pataskala, OH (Curtis Williams)
91 Justin Grant/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn Racing)
94 Brian Gerster/Fishers, IN (Ram Engineering)
131 ®Derek Bischak/Angola, IN (Derek Bischak)
® = USAC Silver Crown Rookie