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 Herman "The Turtle" Beam
Born: December 11, 1929      Died: August 27, 1980
Home: Johnson City, TN

Herman Beam was a NASCAR Grand National driver and team owner from  who was active as a driver from 1957 until 1963. He is famous for holding the longest streak of races without a DNF, with 84, from 1961 until 1963. He had 57 Top 10 finishes in 194 races.


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Driving Career

Beam made his Grand National debut in 1957, finishing 20th in a self-owned Chevy. In 1958, he ran 20 races, with a single top 10 finish. 1959 was his best season, where he started 30 of 44 events, had 12 top 10 finishes including his first career top 5, and finished 4th in points. He made 2 starts in the NASCAR Convertible Division that year. In 1961, Beam suffered an engine failure at Richmond International Raceway. It was the last last DNF for 84 races, starting the streak of finishing races that he is most famous for, which ended at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1963. Beam retired from racing that year, but continued to field cars for other drivers, including Ned Jarrett and Cale Yarborough.

Beam's 84-race streak took place over the span of 22 months 10 days, and was being threatened by Clint Bowyer, who if he finished the first ten races of the 2009 season could have tied the record. However, he crashed at the 2009 Southern 500 at Darlington to end his streak at 83 finished races. Bowyer's teammate Kevin Harvick fell three short when his engine failed in the 2009 Auto Club 500 ending his streak at 81 races without a DNF.


Career as an Owner

After retiring from driving in the middle of the 1963 season, he remained a team owner in NASCAR. He hired Cale Yarborough to drive for him the rest of the season. In 1964, Larry Thomas and Yarborough split the ride for most of the season, with H.B. Bailey, Larry Frank, and Tiny Lund each driving one race for Beam. Yarborough left Beam's team after one race, and JT Putney was hired to drive the car. His team shut down after running only 2 races in 1966.
 

Herman 'The Turtle' Beam may hold unbeatable NASCAR record      By Jeff Bobo

Some sports records may never be broken. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Wilt Chamberlain’s 23,924 NBA rebounds.  Richard Petty’s 200 NASCAR wins.

But the sports records least likely ever to be broken may belong to a NASCAR driver/ owner better known for his nickname and lack of speed.

Herman “The Turtle” Beam was a chemical engineering graduate from the University of North Carolina. His contemporaries would say that with his horn-rimmed glasses and stoic demeanor he looked and acted more like a college professor than a race car driver. Beam did, however, have a scientific, methodical approach to his career in the NASCAR Grand National series (now known as Nextel Cup). His method was based on the simple principle that the less he abused his equipment and the less money he spent making repairs, the more money he earned.

“He knew the distance to each racetrack, how many gallons of gas it took to get there, what you had to do to qualify for the race, how much money the race paid for each position, and where he thought he could finish,” said Kingsport racer Gene Glover, who was one of Beam’s contemporaries. “He built his own car and towed his own car, and didn’t have much help and didn’t really have a lot of overhead. He was really a genius at stretching a dollar and stretching his equipment longer than anybody.

“They called him Herman the Turtle because he had good equipment but he just didn’t want to drive fast, so he just got down on the apron and stayed out of the way. A lot of times he’d end up with good finishes.”

In an era when it was normal for at least half of a Cup field to fall out of a race, Beam ran a race for survival rather than a race for victory. As other cars crashed out or suffered mechanical problems, Beam gained positions in the finishing order.

His driving career spanned 194 races from 1957-63, and during that time he finished in the top 10 57 times. Twice he finished a race as high as fourth, albeit 10 laps down at Hillsboro, N.C., in 1960; and 12 laps down at Spartanburg, S.C., in 1961.

“Everybody respected Herman and his mechanical abilities,” Johnson City racer Paul Lewis said. “He was very intelligent and very articulate, and he always had good equipment. He just didn’t like to drive fast.”

Lewis recalled, “I remember one time at Richmond qualifying got rained out — they drew for starting position, and he drew the pole. When the race started he just dropped down to the bottom of the track and let the rest of them go on. He was happy to run around at the bottom by himself.” As a result of that conservative driving style, Beam finished 84 consecutive races in a streak that lasted most of three seasons — a NASCAR Cup record that will probably never be broken.

On April 23, 1961, at Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds he blew an engine and failed to finish a 200-lap race, although he still ended up seventh. Beam didn’t fall out of another race until the Atlanta 500 on March 17, 1963, at Atlanta International Raceway when he lost the clutch and finished 30th.

Beam also holds a number of other distinctions. In 1959 he finished fourth in the Grand National point standings ahead of legendary drivers including Buck Baker, Rex White, Jack Smith, Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, and the young second-year driver Richard Petty.

He was also the first driver ever to be black flagged at Daytona International Speedway. It occurred in 1960 during one of the two Daytona 500 40-lap qualifying races when he somehow forgot to put on his helmet before the race.

Beam ran eight laps before officials noticed he didn’t have on a helmet and threw the black flag.

And unlike most independent racers of that era, Beam earned a coveted factory deal from Ford, but only after he quit driving halfway through the 1963 season. “Ford Motor Company was real high on Cale Yarborough, and they gave Herman two cars and a lot of parts to help Cale mature as a driver,” Lewis said. “I guess Herman was getting tired of driving, and this Ford deal was too good to refuse. It was really Cale’s first big break in racing, and they put together some strong runs together.” Driving a Herman Beam-prepared Ford, the 24-year-old Yarborough earned seven top 10s and three top fives in 14 starts in 1963. In 1964 Yarborough drove 17 races for Beam, earning six top 10s and two top fives.

Bluff City racer John A. Utsman recalled, however, that during the Yarborough period Beam’s trademark frugality actually ended up costing him. “Cale Yarborough was driving his car, and a wheel bearing went out of it one day, and Herman asked Cale what he was doing running the car so hard,” Utsman said. “Well, Ford Motor Company wasn’t happy, and they asked Herman why the wheel bearing went out. They said, ‘Didn’t we give you some new wheel bearings?’ and he said ‘Yeah, but that old bearing looked good and I put it back.’ “Ford didn’t like that, and they pulled their support. And I’ll tell you what, that was like losing the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

Tony Morton, son of the late Church Hill Cup racer Bill Morton, stopped at Beam’s garage with his dad on their way home from a race one night around the time Yarborough and Beam parted ways. “I remember Daddy walked into the garage, and Herman’s car was tore all to pieces,” Morton recalled. “Cale wrecked two or three in a row, and the third one was pretty bad. I remember Herman looking up at Daddy, and he said, ‘Bill, I had to fire Cale.’ Daddy said, ‘How come?’ “He said, ‘Well, just between me and you, Cale Yarborough will never make a race car driver.’

“Daddy always aggravated Herman about that. He’d tell Herman that three national championships later and four Daytona 500 wins later he’s right — Cale Yarborough is never going to make it as a race car driver.”

After Yarborough parted with Beam, he hired Larry Thomas of Thomasville, N.C., to finish out the 1964 season. That partnership produced the best results of Beam’s career as a car owner. In 10 races together at the end of 1964 Thomas earned nine top 10 finishes and five top five finishes for Beam including a second-place finish at Hickory Motor Speedway behind David Pearson.  Following that streak, Thomas was hired by a Chrysler factory team to replace driver Jimmy Pardue, who’d been killed in a racing accident that September. On his way to join the team, Thomas was killed in a traffic accident in January 1965.

J.T. Putney earned a seventh-place finish in the Cup point standings in 1965 driving for Beam. But as the price of operating a Cup team escalated, Beam ended his car owner career in 1966 after fielding a car in only two events.

Throughout his NASCAR career, Herman Beam never tasted victory as a Cup series driver or car owner, but he did taste victory one time as a Cup crew chief in 1966. “I can say that one of the proudest achievements of my career was that I gave Herman Beam and Jess Potter their only NASCAR win,” Lewis said. “Herman was the crew chief on my Plymouth in 1966, and he got the car ready for me to race every week. Herman and Jess both helped me. We got on a real hot streak. We finished second at Bristol and then won the race over at Smokey Mountain Speedway. “Jess was never one to show much emotion, and Herman was even worse. He’d just stand there with that sheepish smile. But it was a joyous occasion because it was the only Cup win that any of us had been a part of.”

Beam continued to operate a garage in Johnson City until his death in 1980 at the age of 50. He also continued to work with area drivers and was instrumental in the early career of NASCAR veteran Brad Teague.

Beam may never make the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but his name is likely to forever be etched in the NASCAR record books.  “With restrictor plates and such close competition, I just don’t see any driver finishing 84 consecutive races in this day and age,” Lewis said. “These days that would be almost three consecutive seasons without falling out of a race. For somebody to pull that off, they’d really have to defy the odds.”

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 Herman Beam Winston Cup DRIVER Statistics

 
Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1957 27 1 of 53 0 0 0 0 0 0 50     20.0
1958 28 20 of 51 0 0 1 0 3651 0 2,598 13 21.1 16.7
1959 29 30 of 44 0 1 12 0 6034 0 6,379 4 23.0 13.1
1960 30 26 of 44 0 1 6 0 5348 0 5,916 12 25.1 14.9
1961 31 41 of 52 0 1 14 0 8827 0 9,392 15 18.1 13.3
1962 32 51 of 53 0 0 18 0 11217 0 12,571 11 18.9 13.0
1963 33 25 of 55 0 0 6 0 5061 0 5,255 27 18.3 15.0
7 years 194 0 3 57 0 40138 0 42,161   20.4 14.0

Herman Beam Convertible Series Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1959 29 2 of 15 0 0 0 0 362 0 200   26.5 18.0
1 year 2 0 0 0 0 362 0 200   26.5 18.0
 

 Herman Beam Winston Cup OWNER Statistics

Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1957 Herman Beam 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 50     20.0
1958 Herman Beam 20 0 0 1 0 3651 0 2,598 13 21.1 16.7
1959 Herman Beam 30 0 1 12 0 6034 0 6,379 4 23.0 13.1
1960 Herman Beam 26 0 1 6 0 5348 0 5,916 12 25.1 14.9
1961 Herman Beam 41 0 1 14 0 8827 0 9,392 15 18.1 13.3
1962 Herman Beam 51 0 0 18 0 11217 0 12,571 11 18.9 13.0
1963 Herman Beam 25 0 0 6 0 5061 0 5,255 27 18.3 15.0
1963 Ned Jarrett 1 0 1 1 0 195 0 45,843 4 9.0 5.0
1963 Larry Thomas 1 0 0 0 0 373 0 8,945 22 28.0 14.0
1963 Cale Yarborough 14 0 3 7 0 3936 0 5,550 25 13.9 10.1
1964 H.B. Bailey 1 0 0 0 0 6 0 900 136 43.0 38.0
1964 Larry Frank 1 0 0 0 0 12 0 7,830 24 27.0 27.0
1964 Tiny Lund 1 0 1 1 0 196 0 9,913 20 20.0 5.0
1964 Larry Thomas 10 0 5 9 0 3712 0 21,226 8 14.2 6.0
1964 Cale Yarborough 17 0 2 6 0 3194 10 10,378 19 11.5 13.8
1965 Rene Charland 1 0 0 0 0 18 0 1,005 108 39.0 39.0
1965 J.T. Putney 28 0 10 20 0 6614 0 22,329 7 14.3 10.1
1965 Cale Yarborough 1 0 0 0 0 12 0 26,586 10 19.0 20.0
1966 Gil Hearne 1 0 0 0 0 229 0 100 117 15.0 24.0
1966 J.T. Putney 1 0 0 0 0 102 0 18,653 8 11.0 26.0
10 years 272 0 25 101 0 58737 10 221,419   18.7 13.4

 




 

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