Wood Brothers Back On Top

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The face of NASCAR racing has changed drastically over the years, but one constant through it all has been the Wood Brothers Racing team.

The team has been somewhat competitive over the years, but has noticeably slipped a bit from its glory years of the 1970s and 1980s. But the moment Elliott Sadler took the checkered flag Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, years of frustration were erased and the No. 21 team’s pride once again shone in splendor.

In a sport dominated by multi-car operations, the Wood Brothers, who celebrated their 50th year of existence in 2000, at least for a weekend were back on top of their game.

"Even on your darkest, worst day, you never think of stopping racing," said team co-owner Eddie Wood. "This is what we do. This is what we eat, drink and believe in. I don’t golf and I don’t hunt. We don’t do anything but race. We don’t care about anything but racing, and that’s why it’s so special."

The last time the Wood Brothers visited victory lane in any Winston Cup points race was 1993, with driver Morgan Shepherd. Michael Waltrip won The Winston, a non-points race, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1996.

The Wood Brothers team isn’t rich enough to compete on a regular basis with the glamour teams of the Winston Cup Series. Unlike most of those, the team is based in rural southern Virginia and not in the Charlotte, N.C. area, but that fits their style of racing.

Wood said Sadler’s victory will go a long way in proving the Wood Brothers team will still be a force to reckon with for some time to come.

"It means we can stay in this sport a little longer," he said. "When you're down like we've been down the couple of three or five years and struggling, you wonder if you're going to get back to where you're competitive every week. You worry about qualifying every Thursday night. You can’t sleep Thursday nights because you’re waiting on Friday’s qualifying.

"It’s just a deal that I can’t really put into words what this means. I was there for the David Pearson and Richard Petty crash at Daytona in 1976, and people wonder if that was this team’s biggest wins. This today is our biggest win."

Len Wood couldn’t help but agree with the assessment of his brother.

"I'd have to say it’s THE biggest win," Len said. "I can’t describe how this feels. The pressure is off, although the pressure will be back on tomorrow morning. But for right now, we’re just tickled that we’re the ones sitting in victory lane."

Sadler, who, in his third season in the Winston Cup Series recorded his first career victory, was awestruck after the race and getting the Wood Brothers team back to the winner’s circle.

"I can’t tell you how special it is to be in victory lane for the Wood Brothers," said Sadler, a native of Virginia who grew up watching the team race during his childhood. "They’re definitely the nicest team in racing and the way they treat people. I wish everybody could be treated like that. It’s pretty good to give back what they’ve given me the last couple of years."

Despite the team’s struggles since Sadler came on board, Eddie Wood said they never lost faith in Sadler’s driving abilities.

"When we made the decision three years ago to hire Elliott, we had faith in him," Eddie said. "We knew he could do it. Together we’ve had a lot of hard times the last couple of years and a lot of people doubted us, but we just believed in Elliott and ourselves.

"Elliott believed in us and Motorcraft came on board when we needed them the most and that’s the key to it. They jumped in when we were probably at our lowest point. I’d just like to thank Motorcraft and Ford for jumping in with us and making all of this possible, because without those guys, we would not be here, I promise you."

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