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Pick of the Litter – Johnny O’Connell

johnny

“Fast, funny and fearless,” Johnny O’Connell was one of this year’s inductees into the Sebring Hall of Fame and there is no one more deserving of the honor.

Like many other Sebring superstars, O’Connell’s career began in single-seaters. He quickly rose through the ranks and after winning the Jim Russell School championship in 1984-85 he landed his first professional opportunity in the Formula Atlantic series. In 1987 he won five races and Rookie of the Year honors on his way to the Formula Atlantic championship.

O’Connell subsequently raced in both sports cars and open wheel. He may have stayed in open-wheel racing but two brutal crashes in IRL permanently altered his career path. The first was at Las Vegas in 1996, where the rear suspension of his Reynard-Ford failed at 224 mph as he closed in on race leader Richie Hearn. O’Connell walked away from that one shaken and bruised but otherwise okay. He was not as fortunate the next time.

After Conseco/A.J. Foyt Enterprises regular Scott Sharp was injured in a practice crash, O’Connell got the call to take Sharp’s place for the 1997 Indy 500. Entering Turn 1 at well over 200 mph during Friday practice the engine blew up, sending O’Connell into a spin that quickly culminated in a head-on collision with the wall that caused severe injuries to his feet and ankles.

When O’Connell recovered he devoted all of his time to closed-wheel competition, a venue where he felt he’d have a much longer career. He was quite correct, with a sports car racing record that ranks him among the immortals.

He is Sebring’s all-time winner with one overall victory (driving a Nissan 300ZX in 1994) and eight class titles (three with Nissan and five with Corvette). He also holds the Sebring record for class podium finishes with 12 and is tied for consecutive Sebring starts with 20.

The vivacious redhead from Flowery Branch, Georgia also has earned four class wins at Le Mans (the most for an American) and an overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (with Corvette in 2001).

And in ALMS GT competition he practically owns the record book with most podiums, most top-five and top-10 finishes, and most career starts.

LOCATION

Track:
20000 S. Maricopa Road, Gate #3
Chandler, AZ 85226

Mailing:
P.O. Box 51980
Phoenix, AZ 85076

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