By Shawn Brouse – For the Daily Item
When sprint car action revs up this weekend at Port Royal Speedway for the 43rd annual Tuscarora 50, there’s a chance fans will be watching the end of an era as the Gary and Patty Beam No. 88 sprinter takes what may be its final laps at the oval.
The Gardners’ couple has spent the last 30 years fielding one of the top, most identifiable mounts in eastern sprint circles.
Having entered the sport in 1981 with now late driver Maynard Yingst of Linglestown, the Beams, both in their 50’s, are as close as they’ve ever been to retiring from the sport they love.
“It’s just the cost anymore,” Gary Beam says.
“It’s just terrible. Back in 1984, we bought a pair of brand new Gaerte motors for $25,000. Now you can’t even buy one for that. We were running then for $2,500 to win and just this past year, they (Williams Grove) raised it to $3,600, before that it was $3,000. In 25 years, they only raised it to win $500. The money just hasn’t kept up with things.”
“These tracks, everytime they make a rule change, it costs us tens of thousands of dollars. And I’m sick of it. I’m just tired of it,” Beam emphatically says.
Weekdays Beam runs Alvin Beam Painting and Contracting, a business started by his father in 1971.
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma bone cancer in 2001 and just this summer was diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, which is an accumulation of excess antibody proteins produced by bone marrow.
Beam says his health too is a factor in his decision to call it quits.
“My cancer’s in remission. But my cancer produces a protein that my body can’t pass so it forms a mass and is pressuring my nerves and arteries in my legs,” Beam reveals, saying numbness is hurting his quality of life.
The Beam machine started off with Yingst as driver before moving on to Joey Gravino, Penbrook; Scott Gessford, Harrisburg; Larry Jackson, Newville; Chuck Reinert, Dover; Barry Camp, Beaver Springs; and its current driver since 1994, Todd Shaffer of Millerstown, save for a stint by TJ Stutts of Liverpool in 2006.
Shaffer has been the most prosperous of Beam’s drivers, taking 11 season track titles for the stables, at Port Royal (5), Selinsgrove (3), and Williams Grove Speedways (3). Yingst garnered a Selinsgrove crown in 1984. Along the way there have been countless victories and prestigious events including the 1995 Tuscarora 50.
During their tenure, the Beams have taken wins at Lincoln, Sharon, Susquehanna, Grandview, Selinsgrove, Williams Grove, Port Royal and Bedford Speedways. They’ve beaten the All Stars and the Division II Outlaws but a full-blown World of Outlaws victory has eluded them.
“They were just nice people and great racecar owners. It was the only car I ever drove that they put an ashtray in the car for me,” retired veteran Barry Camp says.
“They didn’t operate as rich people, they operated as regular people who just happened to have a racecar and they had a very competitive racecar.”
“It was one of the best handling cars I ever drove, period,” Camp notes of his stint in the car in 1993 during which time he took his last Port Royal victory.
“It was a very competitive car from the time they came on the scene with Maynard. You knew when you went out, it didn’t matter who was driving it, you better be good if you planned on beating them.”
After 17-years in their car and innumerable wins, Shaffer has only good things to say about the Beams.
“The best thing about them is they ask us only to do our best. It’s an up and down sport and they stuck behind me and we’ve had a lot of success together,” Shaffer says.
“They are my career, as far as the word career goes. I had other people surely help me to get going and help me throughout but they’re the ones that kept it together. We never went to a race without what we needed.”
“When we made runs at championships, especially here in the later years, we’ve always had good stuff and most of the ones we went after, we got.”
Shaffer says he has always put more pressure on himself than the Beams ever have.
“Obviously, when we’d get in a stretch where we’re not going good, I could see they left frustrated. But never in 17 years have they said anything negative to me or my guys,” Shaffer says.
“As far as owners and friends, they’re absolutely top shelf. Gary cares about us and our families and that’s what makes this whole deal with him not being healthy so tough to handle.”
Among their proudest accomplishments, the Beams say their track title at Williams Grove in 2007 was a highpoint due to the level of competition. They regret never winning the Williams Grove National Open. Plus, they always wanted to win a race at Hagerstown, Md., Speedway.
“Before, quitting never was an issue. We just figured we were staying in as long as it went,” Gary Beam says.
“But right now, if I had to say, I’m going to say definitely yes, I am quitting.”
A partial listing of Beam Team Statistics
Port Royal Speedway:
Track titles – 1995, ’98, ’03, ’08, ‘09
Tuscarora 50 – 1995
Night Before the 50 – 2007, ‘08
Labor Day Classic – 1995, 2004, ‘08
Opening Day – 1989, 1995, ’96, ’97, 2007, ‘08
Bob Weikert Memorial – 2005
Division II World of Outlaws – 2001
All Star Circuit of Champions – 1998, 2005
Track titles – 1984, 1998, ’99, 2000
Series titles – 2001, ‘08
National Open – 1983, ’84, ’85, 1994, 2001, ‘08
Opening Day – 1996, 2006
Jack Gunn Memorial – 1995, ’97, 2000
All Star Circuit of Champions – 2000
Williams Grove Speedway:
Track titles – 1995, 2007, ‘09
Series title – 2009
8th on all time owner win list – 37
Jack Gunn Memorial – 2000
Mitch Smith Memorial – 1998
National Open Preliminary/All Star Circuit of Champions – 1986
All Star Circuit of Champions – 1997, 2009
Division II World of Outlaws – 2002
Opening Day – 2009
Overall Central Pa title – 1995