Jennings County driver to be memorialized at ceremony

A memorial to Jennings County racer Pat O’Connor will be unveiled and dedicated in North Vernon’s City Park on Saturday.

Pat O’Connor’s family, representatives from the world of auto racing and others will be present at the public ceremony, which starts at 10:30 a.m. at the north entrance to the park.

Born in North Vernon, O’Connor began his racing career at age 19. His first race was in a roadster in Columbus in 1948, and he drove cheap jalopies at a track in North Vernon called “The Hole.”

He honed his driving skills and scored wins in roadster, sprint and midget races. O’Connor become a well-known Sprint Car driver and was eventually inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1995. O’Connor won the first of three Midwest Sprint Car championships in 1953. He also claimed the title in ’54 and ’56.

His racing abilities, charm and good looks brought him national and international recognition.

He became a test driver for the Firestone Co. and a member of Sumar Racing team in Italy.

O’Connor’s success in racing brought him financial profits which he invested in businesses and a home in North Vernon.

His fame grew with his participation in the legendary Indianapolis 500 race.

O’Connor first tried to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1953 but fell short.

He participated in the race in 1954, starting 12th and finishing 21st. O’Connor placed eighth in ’55.

He led 39 laps of the ‘56 race but finished 18th after starting third. O’Connor won the pole for the ’57 race and led seven laps but finished eighth.

O’Connor was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May of 1958, just days losing his life in that year’s Indy 500. He was one of the favorites, but he lost his life on the first lap.

Two drivers collided and started a 16-car wreck. O’Connor’s roadster flipped and slid down the track, and he was killed instantly.

Local racing enthusiast Ron Clark remembered O’Connor fondly from his days in North Vernon.

“It didn’t matter how famous he got, he was always a good guy. You would see him coming and going around the garages. I was just a kid, and we’d all watch his every move, and he was always a good guy,” Clark said.

“O’Connor’s (second) wife Anne and sons Jeff and Rob stayed in North Vernon. Anne remarried a great guy, and they will all be at the ceremony,” said North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell.

Classic

car show

Mike and Cindy Corya will present a classic car, truck and motorcycle show in the North Vernon City Park adjacent to the Pat O’Connor Memorial from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s open to the public and food will be available for purchase.

A $15 registration fee is required for cars, trucks and motorcycles participating in the show. Awards will be presented for best vehicles in several categories at 3 p.m. All profits from the car show will be donated to disabled veterans of the VFW Post 2021. Rain date for the car show will be Aug 22.