Swanson Seeks Back-To-Back James/O’Connor Wins

RaceChaser Staff Featured, USAC 0 Comments

Kody Swanson (63) battles Chris Windom during last year’s Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial. (Neil Cavanah photo)

SALEM, Ind. — Defending Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial winner Kody Swanson is seeking to join an elite list of drivers to have won the prestigious event in back-to-back years this weekend at Salem Speedway’s high-banks.

After 58-straight years of sprint cars taking center stage for the James/O’Connor, last year’s event marked the debut for the USAC Silver Crown Series as the headline division for the race.

Swanson has the chance to become the fifth different driver to win the James/O’Connor in successive years this weekend, joining Parnelli Jones (1960-61), Greg Leffler (1979-80), Brian Gerster (2014-15) and the legendary Pancho Carter, who won the event in four straight years from 1974 to 1977.

Also on Swanson’s horizon is an 18th series win, which would move him past Brian Tyler and into sole possession of second on the USAC Silver Crown Series presented by TRAXXAS all-time win list.

Jack Hewitt leads all drivers with 23 career Silver Crown wins.

Swanson was a victor on the pavement in May at Lucas Oil Raceway in the seat of the DePalma Motorsports No. 63, but the one to beat on the hardtop of late has been Bobby Santos. The Franklin, Massachusetts native has won the last two asphalt races in the series at Lucas Oil Raceway on July 20 and Toledo Speedway on July 28. In April of this year, he was also a winner at Phoenix.

Santos, who finished fourth in last year’s James/O’Connor, has six career USAC starts at Salem, with a best of third in the midget in both 2005 and 2006.

Jerry Coons Jr., who currently sits third in points, finished third last year in the Gene Nolen Racing No. 20 and has made more starts at Salem than any other current pavement Silver Crown competitor since his 1999 debut there in a midget.

Indiana’s Jacob Wilson was victorious the first time he ever turned a wheel on the banks in a USAC sprint car, during the 2008 Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial in the Wilson Brothers Racing No. 07.

Swanson, one of the great dominators of the series in recent years, lost the lead in last year’s main event when Aaron Pierce got by on lap 11, leading the next 50 laps.

With just 15 laps to go, as Pierce bid for his first Silver Crown victory since 2007 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the back end of his car snapped around between Turns 3 and 4, though he did recover to finish sixth.

Swanson led the remaining 15 laps for his first Salem win, after beginning the night’s proceedings in qualifying by laying down the first sub-16-second Silver Crown lap at Salem, breaking Rich Vogler’s 28-year-old one-lap track record.

The race honors 1952 AAA Midwest Sprint Car champ and Salem winner Joe James, who lost his life in a champ car at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in California later that November. Larry Crockett was victorious in the inaugural memorial race held the following year.

Throughout the 1950s, during the first several years of the “Joe James Memorial,” Pat O’Connor was at the top of his game, winning the event at Salem twice in both 1954 and 1957 in addition to AAA Midwest Sprint Car titles in 1953 and 1954, plus a USAC Midwest Sprint Car championship in 1956.

O’Connor perished in a crash on the first lap of the 1958 Indianapolis 500, and in honor of his legendary career, his name was added alongside James on the race’s marquee, as it still remains today.


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