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Johnny Beauchamp
Born: March 23, 1923      Died: April 17, 1981
Home: Harlan, IA

Johnny Beauchamp  was an American NASCAR racer from Harlan, Iowa. He is best known for finishing second at the 1959 Daytona 500 in a photo finish after being declared the unofficial winner. In 23 NASCAR starts he had ten Top 10 finishes, seven Top 5 finishes, and two victories.

Racing career

Beauchamp raced as a barnstormer in the Midwest's IMCA series racecars. He raced in three NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races in 1953, and he became a NASCAR regular in 1957. He placed second at the 1957 Daytona Beach Road Course race in a Chevrolet.

Beauchamp crossed the finish line at about the same time as Lee Petty at the Daytona 500 in 1959. Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner of the race, so he drove the Holman Moody owned Ford to victory lane. Petty protested the win. "I had him by two feet," Beauchamp said. "I glanced over to Lee Petty's car as I crossed the finish line and I could see his headlight slightly back of my car. It was so close I didn't know how they would call it, but I thought I won." NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. studied photographs and news reels for three days before declaring Petty the official winner. He competed in seven events that season, recording his first NASCAR victory in Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway.


In 1960 he raced for Holman Moody and Dale Swanson in eleven events. He won his second and final NASCAR race that year at a 400 mile event at Nashville Speedway USA. Beauchamp and Petty were involved in an accident at the 1961 Daytona 500. Leader Banjo Matthews lost control of his car, spinning in front of the field. Petty and Beauchamp's cars sailed out of turn four and landed outside of the racetrack. Petty suffered career ending injuries, though he came back for a few more races. It also was Beauchamp's last NASCAR race, though he only suffered minor head injuries.



In the 1961 Daytona 500, both were caught up in a wreck when Banjo Matthews lost control and both Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp flew over the guardrails and out of the track. Lee Petty suffered career ending injuries although he returned for a few race but Beauchamp suffered minor head injured and never raced in NASCAR again

Photo finish gave Daytona great start    By ALAN TAYS

Sunday, February 17, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH — For those who think modern NASCAR races take forever to complete, we offer one from 49 years ago that wasn't decided until three days later, when Lee Petty was declared the winner.

Today's 50th running of the Daytona 500 is the perfect opportunity to look back on the first one, on Feb. 22, 1959.

NASCAR's "Strictly Stock" division (later "Grand National," today "Sprint Cup") was 10 years old in 1959, but cars had been racing on the beach at Daytona since shortly after the turn of the century. Founder Bill France wanted a speedway - a 2.5-mile, high-banked, super speedway - to put on a racing spectacle like no one had ever seen.

Thus was born Daytona International Speedway, built in 10 months for $3 million.

The new track was struck by tragedy before its official opening. On Feb. 11, 1959, 11 days before the first Daytona 500, Daytona resident Marshall Teague was killed testing an Indianapolis-style car while trying to set the world closed-course speed record. Teague would have celebrated his 37th birthday on the day of the first Daytona 500.

Teague's death didn't stop NASCAR's plans. Two days before the 500, two 100-mile races were run to set the field. The first was for convertibles, the second for hardtop cars. Shorty Rollins won the convertible race, Bob Welborn the hardtop one.

An unbalanced field

In the 500, the hardtops, led by Welborn in a Chevy, started on the inside row. The convertibles, which included a 21-year-old Richard Petty (racing the No. 43 for the first time)were in the outside row.

NASCAR had run a convertible series since 1956, but the cars had never run on a track like Daytona (neither had the hardtops, for that matter).

To try to boost the convertible field, France offered $1,000 to its entrants.

Marvin Panch
was one of the takers, but he soon had second thoughts. The convertibles were considerably slower than the hardtops. "We got lapped about every 16, 18 laps," recalled Panch, 81. "And we had to drive by the mirror so we wouldn't get run over by the hardtops. It really wasn't that good of a deal for me."

Panch installed a tonneau cover on his 1958 Ford Thunderbird to help with aerodynamics, but it proved more hindrance than help when some of the fasteners came undone.

"I had to drive with one arm holding the tonneau cover to keep it from beating me to death," Panch said, "and the other hand on the steering wheel and watching the mirror so I wouldn't get run over."

Mixing it up, side by side

Fifty-nine cars took the 500's green flag from starter Johnny Bruner Sr., who stood on the track apron. It was a competitive race right from the start, with Welborn, Tom Pistone and Joe Weatherly trading the lead 10 times in the first 22 laps. Daytona resident Glenn "Fireball" Roberts led the next 21 laps, but a broken fuel pump ended his day on Lap 57.

For the next 106 laps,
Johnny Beauchamp, Pistone and Jack Smith traded the lead, with Smith, an Atlantan who was voted NASCAR's "Most Popular Driver" in 1958, leading a race-high 57 laps. The elder Petty, 44, NASCAR's 1958 Grand National champion, took the lead for the first time on Lap 150, and it was a two-man race between him and Beauchamp, a 35-year-old driver from Harlan, Iowa, the rest of the way.

They swapped the lead almost a dozen times the rest of the race, but Petty's Oldsmobile was a car length in front when Bruner waved the white flag.

Weatherly, though a lap down, was racing beside the leaders. As the three cars came off Turn 4, Weatherly went high,
Beauchamp went low and Petty took the middle. That's the way they crossed the finish line, but who had won? According to Daytona 500: An Official History, by Bob Zeller, France was standing below the flag stand behind the fence, a yard in front of the finish line. He and Bruner thought Beauchamp had won, but they weren't certain. Neither was 25-year-old Bill France Jr., who was in the control tower. Nat Kleinfield announced Beauchamp as the winner over the public-address system, which elicited boos from the crowd.

Too close to call

          Beauchamp (73), Petty (42), Weatherly

Bernard "Benny" Kahn
, sports editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, polled a dozen writers, all of whom thought Petty was the winner.

Both drivers headed for Victory Lane, but
Beauchamp got there first and went through the ceremony. "I figured I had him about like this," he said, holding his hands about 18 inches apart.

Speedway photographer T. Taylor Warren was shooting the race from the grass in front of pit road. He initially didn't realize the potential significance of his finish-line photo.

"I didn't realize that the thing was so close," said Warren, 82, who still works as a racing photographer. "I just wanted a shot of the finish because they'd use that in the (next year's) program."

After he developed his film, however, Warren told NASCAR Executive Manager Pat Purcell, "Pat, we've got a problem." Warren's picture, the first one France saw, showed Petty ahead of
Beauchamp. But it wasn't conclusive - the cars hadn't reached the finish line.

Five hours after the end of the race France announced the result was unofficial. That guaranteed more headlines. "RACE PHOTOS SUPPORT PETTY" was the lead item in Monday's Daytona Beach Evening News. "Amateur's Photo Shows Petty Ahead At Finish" was the header on a story about a picture taken by a Minnesota man.

Instant replay to the rescue

The Petty family remained in Daytona Beach, awaiting the decision they were confident would go their way. "I think we just hung around (NASCAR headquarters) all day long, talking to different people and waiting to find out what kind of decision they were going to make," Richard Petty said. "I think we aggravated everybody. Everybody we talked to, we tried to get them on our side."

Finally, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, after France and NASCAR Vice President Ed Otto viewed the Hearst Corp.'s News of the Week newsreel footage, which had been sent from New York, the decision came down. Petty was the winner.

He was reached by phone at a local motel, where he and his wife were having dinner. He said he was in no hurry to pick up his trophy and $19,050 winner's check.

"I'm still eating my supper and I'm going to finish it," he said. "This is a pretty good piece of ham and man, I'm hungry. Then I'll be downtown."

"It was the greatest thing from the (public relations) standpoint that could happen," Richard Petty said. "If Lee Petty had won on Sunday night, it would have been in the Monday paper, then it would have been forgotten. The way it was, France was smart enough, or somebody was, to say 'OK, the longer we make this thing last, the more publicity we're going to get.' " So it wound up really being a real good opening for the Daytona track."

Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.

This has to be a rare photo.  Here Darrell receives his trophy from co-promoter Johnny Beauchamp(middle).  This is believed to be in Des Moines.  Johnny Beauchamp was famous for running second to Lee Petty in the very first Daytona 500.  Johnny also returned to the local dirt track racing wars.  He won two consecutive championship point titles at the Peoria Speedway driving a 1955 Chevy sponsored by Al Baker's Kartville.  (Bob Dixon collection)

Johnny Beauchamp is better known for the race he didn't win than the two Grand National victories he claimed during his brief career in stock car racing's premiere level. In the inaugural Daytona 500, Beauchamp drove a Holman-Moody Ford Thunderbird into a last-lap photo finish with Lee Petty. At first, Beauchamp was declared the winner and motored to Victory Lane to claim the trophy. But Petty protested, and after studying still photographs and news film of the finish, NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. declared that Petty had won by a nose. Beauchamp will always be remembered as the driver who finished second in the very first Daytona 500. Born March 23, 1923 in Atlantic, IA, Beauchamp barnstormed his way through the Midwest IMCA circuit before becoming a regular in l957. He drove in three races in 1953 and then competed in the 1957 Daytona race on the Beach course, finishing second in a Hugh Babb-owned Chevrolet. In 1959, he ran seven events and claimed his first Grand National victory at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway. In l960, he competed 11 times, driving for Holman-Moody and Dale Swanson and won his second race, this time at Nashville. In his 23 career starts, he had 10 top-10 finishes, seven top-fives and two victories.


57 Chevy With A Resume        Photography & Story by Phil Roberts

Restored Johnny Beauchamp car is a tribute to the late driver

Johnny Beauchamp #50 on Daytona Beach

Thunderbirds driving fast and turning left by Wally Warpeha 
                              (written for the Midwest Thunderbird Club Newsletter)

Conventional wisdom says that modern American automobile development comes out of Detroit and Stock Car racing comes from the Deep South. Yet Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota all had part of the revolution where auto racing became linked to new car sales and auto advancement was driven by racing success. What’s more, some special Thunderbirds played a pivotal role!

An important part of this connection started at the Minnesota Fairgrounds dirt track in 1956. Richard (son of television pioneer Stanley E.) Hubbard approached the Burdick Garage Racing Team that had just drove up from Omaha and were sitting in the shade of some trees waiting to get into the grandstand and unload. Mr. Hubbard had felt that this unique “Late Model” racing where every American family came with built in brand loyalty had a bright future. He convinced his father to televise live that Labor Day race, which is thought to be the first Stock Car event so covered in the world. KSTP was starting a relationship with the Burdick's that would end up halfway across the country.

Racing that year for Roy Burdick was his 19-year-old son, Bob, and Roy’s brother Bud. Dale Swanson owned a second Omaha area team with his driver John Beauchamp (Bow-camp) both of them from nearby Harlan, Iowa. Along with a fourth driver, Marvin Panch, these men won nearly all the Late Model races held that year at the Fair. One more figure is the announcer at the Grandstand, himself a racer and a radio and TV personality, Bob Potter. Soon each of these seven men and a TV station would run cars in the revolutionary high banked Daytona, Florida track which started the factory assisted “Super Speedway Boom” and ushered NASCAR into a multi-million dollar sport.

Not that this successor to Moonshine running and Jalopy racing ever had full technological and financial support of the car manufacturers. A terrible accident in1957 where spectators were killed forced the carmakers to distance themselves. As fate would have it long time Ford racing team members, John Holman and Ralph Moody, would buy out Ford’s racing parts. Using their former connections they gained a backdoor access to Ford’s plants and were able to get salvage parts that they assembled into the first turnkey “factory racecars.” The T-Bird Power Products cars with the Lincoln 430ci engine were guaranteed to go an unheard of 150mph. One was sold to the Burdick’s for $5500 and Roy and Bud (Bob wouldn’t get out of the military until May) with John Beauchamp as driver and Dale Swanson as mechanic all packed for Florida.

 History was made in February 1959 with the opening of the fastest racetrack in the world...the Daytona Super Speedway. Nobody beforehand knew just how fast. In the first 10 years of NASCAR, average winning speeds went from 70 mph to just over 100 mph. Incredibly, and to the tire companies dismay, qualifying speeds only one year later were up to 140+ mph! Seven 1959 Thunderbirds were entered under a special exemption including five that were Holman Moody prepared.

The race had received a great deal of hype in the weeks leading up to it; even Walter Cronkite came to cover it. Any spectator could see every part of the 2.5-mile Tri-oval track (almost twice as long as any other track raced on to that time) from any seat in the grandstand. The question was whether the cars, back when “stock cars" really meant stock, could maintain that kind of speed for 500 miles. Someone said that the abuse these racecars took was like letting your teenager put an anything but gentle 50,000 miles on the family car some Sunday afternoon!

And most cars didn’t finish. Engines were blown, tires came apart, or the transmissions or clutches failed. Only 25 of 59 cars (5 of 7 T-Birds!) that started were running at the checkered flag. As the number of racecars dwindled, the pace continued at record speeds. Dramatically two cars piloted by Lee Petty #43 (Richard’s dad) in an Oldsmobile and Johnny Beauchamp #73 in the Roy Burdick H&M T-Bird circled the course neck and neck. The lead changing hands 11 times in the last 50 laps.

The finish could not have been better scripted in Hollywood. Petty and Beauchamp’s cars crossed the finish in a dead heat with a third car, which was 2 laps down. Photo finishes are common in horse racing where 45mph is the top speed. It hadn’t occurred to anyone that after 500 grueling miles there would be a need to determine who crossed the line first at 150mph! Beauchamp and his T-Bird was called the winner and got to kiss the pretty girl. Yet Lee Petty is noted as the NASCAR’s greatest at disputing race results. He even once had a race overturned taking the victory from his son!

After three days and reviewing news film, the decision was reversed and given to the “Southern Good Ole Boy” over the “Farmers from Nebraska.” This inaugural race goes down as one of NASCAR’s most controversial. Many thought Petty was also one lap behind but Mrs. Petty happened to be the lap judge and said no. Beauchamp was given 2nd place, Pauch, 17th and Potter 53rd. Later that year Bob Burdick nearly took # 73 to the winners circle finishing 2nd in the Daytona 250 mile Fourth of July race.

The next year Bud and Bob Burdick, John Beauchamp, Marvin Panch and Bob Potter once again ran at Daytona. Bud finished in the 100mile -9th, in the 500mile-11th, in the same white #73 Thunderbird with sponsor KSTP-TV painted on the rear quarters in big letters. Meanwhile Thunderbird sales rocketed, Ford was back in racing and NASCAR was firmly seated as an American sport. 


Forty years later you might think it would be difficult to talk to anyone who was actually there. Stanley E. Hubbard, Roy Burdick, Marvin Panch and John Beauchamp have passed away. Omaha resident Bud Burdick is over 80 and tells me he doesn’t remember much but then we talked for 40 minutes. Yet Bob Burdick (of Oklahoma) is younger as is the son of Beauchamp’s mechanic, Dale Swanson Jr. (of Harlan, Iowa). Bob Potter, the racer /announcer, has good memories along with a great voice and lives in Plymouth. Another source was the MN Fairground’s flagman Jake Borzoni who lives in Fridley. His modified car is still enshrined in his garage. Only after talking to all these people could I tell this story and recognize the significance of its part in auto history.

Only one of the Holman/Moody 8 T-Birds still exists. It used to be kept in a now closed down Daytona Museum. Kruse and ebay tried to sell it and a $30,000 bid did not reach the reserve. Obviously they think that even one that did not win races like #73 is quite valuable.

#73 stats: 3 top 5 & 9 top 11 finishes in 12 starts, 2 pole, 2 share pole. All time fastest qualifying time as a NASCAR (zipper top) convertible. Thought to be the most successful of that 1st batch of Homan/Moody cars. Ran ’59 and beginning of the’60 season without mechanical failure, on the original engine!

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Johnny Beauchamp DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1953 30 3 of 37 0 0 1 0 0 0 150 50   12.3
1957 34 1 of 53 0 1 1 0 39 0 2,450 66 13.0 2.0
1959 36 7 of 44 1 3 3 0 1107 130 10,465   21.5 13.7
1960 37 11 of 44 1 3 5 0 2669 1 17,374 11 15.4 15.3
1961 38 1 of 52 0 0 0 0 37 0 75 166 24.0 16.0
5 years 23 2 7 10 0 3852 131 30,514   17.6 13.9

Convertible Series Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1959 36 1 of 15 0 0 0 0 207 0 300   31.0 12.0
1 year 1 0 0 0 0 207 0 300   31.0 12.0

DNQ data may be incomplete or missing for some seasons.


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