Thursday, February 22, 2024

1959 – Beauchamp Wins Torrid Daytona 500-Miler

Johnny Beauchamp is joined by speed queen Scotty McCormick after the Harlan, Iowa, speedster won the Daytona 500-mile race.

Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 22, 1959) – Out of Harlan, Iowa, by way of racetracks all over the Midwest, 35-year-old Johnny Beauchamp came to Daytona Beach and drove a beautiful 1959 white Ford Thunderbird in a photo finish victory over Lee Petty of Randleman, N.C., in one of the closest auto races of all time -the 500-mile sweepstakes.

More than six hours after the race ended, Bill France, president of the speedway and the National Association of Stock Car Racers (NASCAR), said results would be ruled unofficial pending examination of photographs and movies of the finish.

Ten minutes after the race ended, the public address system and the electric scoreboard both announced to the 47,000 spectators that Beauchamp was the official winner.

Trailing by inches on the way past the grandstand, the tall, boyish-looking Iowan took advantage of the slope of the track as he pulled towards the infield. The added momentum put the nose of his car into the lead of Petty’s 1959 Oldsmobile at the finish line.

Officials first announced an average speed 135.735 miles per hour for the race, but it was later corrected to 135.521 miles per hour.

It was strictly a two-man race for the last 15 circuits with Charlie Griffith of Chattanooga, Tenn., finishing far behind in third place in a 1957 Pontiac. Cotton Owens of Spartanburg, S.C., was fourth in a 1958 Pontiac.

Only 32 of the 58 cars were on the track at the finish.

Fireball Roberts of Daytona Beach, driving a 1959 Pontiac and starting far back in post position 43, took the lead as expected after he weaved his way through heavy traffic, and set a sizzling pace. At the end of 40 laps, his average speed was 143.08 miles per hour.

The pace eventually killed off his own car. He lost 15 laps in the pits with a broken piston, and although he eventually returned to the race, he failed to finish.

The lead was held alternately by others until Beauchamp and Petty decided to make it a two-car affair.

Tom Pistone of Chicago, in a 1957 Thunderbird, at one time led the field as did Jack Smith of Atlanta in a 1959 Chevrolet.

A variety of mechanical ailments sent cars to the pit area. Bob Welborn of Greensboro, N.C., blew two pistons and was out for the day.

Beauchamp’s car is owned by Roy Burdick of Omaha, Neb., who also served as Beauchamp’s chief mechanic.

The victory was worth $20,000 to Beauchamp. He won $18,400, including a $5,000 bonus for driving a 1959 model car. Lap money and other awards boosted his total materially.

Results –

1. Johnny Beauchamp, Harlan, Iowa
2. Lee Petty, Randleman, N.C.
3. Charlie Griffith, Chattanooga, Tenn.
4. Cotton Owens, Spartanburg, S.C.
5. Joe Weatherly, Norfolk, Va.
6. Jim Reed, Peekskill, N.Y.
7. Jack Smith, Atlanta
8. Tom Pistone, Chicago
9. Tim Flock, Atlanta
10.Speedy Thompson, Charlotte, N.C.

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