SALEM, Ind. – Kody Swanson is trying to go where only one man has gone before, win four consecutive Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorials at Salem Speedway.
The four-time USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series champion will get his opportunity Saturday when the 60th running of the Visit Scott County James/O’Connor Memorial presented by the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers rolls out onto the Salem high-banks in southern Indiana.
Ongoing since 1953, the James/O’Connor Memorial is Salem Speedway’s longest running race event tradition and boasts a winner’s list that would get anyone’s attention. Pancho Carter is the all-time James/O’Connor winner, taking four-straight 1974-77. Swanson has won the last three.
“It’s really neat to have a chance at tying Pancho,” said Swanson. “Considering the success he had at Salem and throughout open wheel racing, it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence. It’s really important to me.”
The all-time Silver Crown winner and current championship points leader has already won three this year at Memphis, Toledo and Madison. He’s also the unequivocal favorite headed to Salem.
“I feel like of all the tracks on the schedule, Salem is the most outlier. It’s for sure got the most banking and you have to do completely different things to the race car.”
If Swanson is fairly comfortable with the ole track now, it wasn’t always that way.
“Traditionally, I hadn’t been real comfortable with the high-banks…Salem, Winchester and Dayton. Never ran Dayton but I knew about it…one of the triplets. Getting to run Salem, it’s becoming more familiar. But no matter how much track time you have there, you always feel on edge; it’s such a challenge…but that’s what makes it so rewarding if you’re able to conquer it and get a win there.”
Swanson tested at Salem this spring, in preparation for the Memphis race. It was also a way to get familiar with his new team: Gene Nolen Racing.
“It’s going to be the first time I’ve run there with the 20 car.”
Running with a well-established championship team helps ease the fear, but it doesn’t take away all the nerves.
“Salem just heightens your nerves more than anywhere else. Your nerves build the moment you leave the house. I’m a little more comfortable and familiar now; but the first time I ran there…you look down at turn one; then you turn around and look back up at four…it’s intimidating. It’s not just the thrill of running there, but the danger. It’s tough to work through that at Salem. It always commands your attention and respect.”
The list of Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial winners reads like a who’s-who of racing giants. Winners include A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Roger McCluskey, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Rollie Beale, Gary Bettenhausen, Carter, Rich Vogler, Kenny Irwin Jr., Tony Stewart, Dave Darland, Eric Gordon, Ed Carpenter, Bryan Clauson and Swanson to name several.
Sharing the high banks with the USAC Silver Crown Series on Saturday 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 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 75.
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.