(NOTE: This was my first Hickory Motor Speedway feature for the Hickory Daily Record in 2011.)
Hickory was beloved training ground for Mike Beam
Hickory Motor Speedway was still dirt when Mike Beam, then 10 or 11, visited the track with his neighbors in the 1960s.
Beam quickly fell in love with the track in particular and racing in general. In fact, he sold seat cushions at the track for his church, St. Stephens Lutheran, so he could watch racing.
“I’d do anything to go along and get into a race,” said Beam, now 55 and a long-time NASCAR crew chief. “My neighbor, James Spencer, was a driver, and he lived two houses up from my mom and dad. I was going with him to the track, looking at the cars, and I intrigued was by it.”
Later, Beam’s buddy, Rick Townsend, was helping driver Morgan Shepherd. Beam and Townsend built a race car, a ’66 Chevelle. This was, he thinks, 1972.
Beam spent four years building cars at HMS, where he knew people like Andy Petree, later a championship crew chief with Dale Earnhardt; Dale Jarrett, later the 1999 Cup champion, and Jerry Punch, now a long-time racing announcer for radio and television.
Beam then moved to Greenville, S.C., to work on cars. He won two Late Model Sportsman (now Nationwide) national championships as the crew chief for the late Butch Lindley. He’s worked with several notable Cup drivers, including Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin, Elliott Sadler and Ricky Craven. He’s currently the crew chief for the Carl Edwards/Roush Fenway Racing Nationwide Series team.
But he has fond memories of Hickory.
“The Hickory track is a special place,” Beam said. “Look through the history of all the people who went through. It’s a neat situation that I went through.”
Beam remembers cleaning the concession stands there, as well as seeing Ned Jarrett, then the track promoter, making laps in the pace car, a ’67 or ’68 Ford.
“I remember when it was paved,” he said.
His worst memory of Hickory came the day Bobby Isaac got sick in mid-race and died. That was Aug. 14, 1977.
“We were leading,” Beam recalled, “and I remember it like yesterday. Jack Ingram changed tires, and we (the Butch Lindley team) didn't, and we got beat. Butch called my parents’ house later to tell me that Isaac died. It was a tough deal. Two years later, I was working with Harry (Gant) when he won the Bobby Isaac race at Hickory.”
Beam and his family were living in Hickory until a couple of months ago, when they moved to Concord to be closer to the Edwards race team. Nancy Beam, his wife of 33 years, is a Hickory native, and they have three children, ages 27, 21 and 17.
He says he’s sat in the HMS stands in recent years, sometimes just to watch practice. Usually, he’s been on the road for Cup or Nationwide races when Hickory is racing.
Would he like to return to Cup racing?
“I don't miss that at all,” he said. “I did that a long time. I enjoy this Nationwide stuff. On Sundays, I can go to church and spend time with my family.
“To do this sport, you have to have a lot passion. To do it as long as we have, the passion never goes away.”
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