Winning Wood Brothers

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History is rewritten and analyzed to fit the standards of a changing world — it’s often a sad and frustrating byproduct of the academic world.

At Daytona International Speedway, though, one thing remains true: History is written by the winners.

That being the case, fans at Daytona will never forget the Wood Brothers — ever. As the most successful team in Daytona International Speedway history, the Wood Brothers have won races here with some of racing’s most beloved names: Neil Bonnett, Tiny Lund, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker. In all, team founder Glen Wood and his brother, Len, gathered 14 winner’s trophies at Daytona.

For more than 50 years, theirs had been a small, family-owned, brand-loyal team. They lived and worked in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry-like Stuart, Virginia, about 120 miles from the Charlotte-Mooresville area in North Carolina that is home to most NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams. In recent years, they’ve been using what some say amounted to slingshots and stones against the Goliaths of racing: Hendrick, Earnhardt, Penske, Yates, Roush, Childress, Gibbs, Evernham and Ganassi. More often than not, they’d been overmatched.

Until recently, critics might have been right about that. Folks said the Woods had lost the draft, that time and technology had lapped them. They were bluffing, trying to stay in the game with a pair of threes. But, suddenly, in less than 18 months, Wood Brothers Racing reinvented itself and joined the 21st century. Late in 2003, it moved from Stuart to Mooresville. A year later, the team owned by founder Glen Wood and grown children, Eddie, Len and Kim, moved to a bigger shop near Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

During the second move, they formed a partnership with NASCAR Busch Series owners and marketing experts Jody and Tad Geschickter. Almost overnight, the organization went from a single-car NEXTEL Cup Series team with driver Ken Schrader to a multi-layered business with one full-time and one part-time NEXTEL Cup Series team, two Busch Series teams and two Craftsman Truck Series teams.

“We knew we had to change if we expected to survive,” Eddie Wood said. “We hated moving away from home, but it had to be done. As the sport got more technological, it was harder to get good people to move to Stuart. You can get crewmen and fabricators and mechanics, but you couldn’t always get the difference-maker like (director of racing) Fatback McSwain. It became obvious we needed to be closer to Charlotte.

“Like someone once told me, ‘You have to go where the trees are if you want to cut timber,’” he said. “We had to be closer to the help we were getting from Roush Racing.”

As for the merger with the Geschickters, it was a natural progression.

“They know a lot more about sponsor relations and marketing than we do,” Eddie Wood said. “It made sense for us to bring our NEXTEL Cup Series team and their Busch and Craftsman Truck Series teams under one roof. We’re racers; that’s all we’ve ever done and it’s all we’ll ever do. But, the business and marketing side have become such a big deal. That’s where Tad and Jody come in because we don’t always have time to work on that end of it.”

The relocation and merger with the Geschickters were the latest stops on the long and eventful journey for Wood Brothers Racing. It began in the late 1940s when then-23-year-old Glen Wood went to nearby Morris Speedway in Henry County, Virginia, to watch Gifford Wood (not related) practice in his Modified race car. On a whim, Glen revved up his 1939 Ford and joined Gifford on the quarter-mile dirt track. With new tires and better gearing, his street-legal coupe eventually outran Gifford’s race car. Several weeks later, Glen and a half dozen men bought a car and went short-track racing. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of things.

“I wrecked in the first race at Morris, then went down to Dan River Speedway,” he said. “I ran third there, then won my next one at Morris. I didn’t always think I was doing good, so I’d sometimes let somebody else drive. After a year, I decided to keep fooling with it. We didn’t make any money, but we didn’t lose any, either. We usually made enough to pay the bills.”

Glen’s brothers helped in the early years. Ray Lee stayed until the early 1960s, but Delano stayed active into the 1980s — and Leonard remains a fixture. Glen raced at NASCAR’s highest level from 1953 through 1964, getting his four career victories at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He also had 14 poles, 22 top fives and 34 top 10s. Those 12 seasons made him one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers and laid a solid foundation for the team’s great success through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

But, after more than 30 good years, the team tailed off in the 1990s. It won only twice that decade, with Dale Jarrett at Michigan International Speedway in 1991 and Morgan Shepherd at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1993. Through this year’s Daytona 500, it had only one victory this century, with Elliott Sadler at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2001. All told, the Woods had only 24 top-10 finishes in the 1990s and 11 through the first six full seasons of this decade.

“I don’t think you can point to any one thing that caused that,” Eddie said. “It’s like every sport. You have up years and down years. In every sport, it’s always a combination. Whatever worked for a while suddenly doesn’t work as well. It might be cars or motors or people. It might be any of them, or it might be all of them.

“You keep thinking, ‘OK, we’ll get back if we fix this or if we change that.’ Well, in our case, it never did,” Eddie said. “But, that happens to everybody in racing. People on top now weren’t on top two years ago. They may not be on top two years from now. That’s why we made so many changes.

“We know that we waited too long to start running all the races. We ran just the big ones for years because that’s all Purolator paid us to run. We started running them all with Kyle Petty in 1985 because it was hard to get sponsorship money if you didn’t run them all. We survived so long because we were winning. If you win, you control your own destiny. Running them all was the right thing to do. That was the start of us getting back.”

Many of racing’s best have driven for the Woods. Once Glen retired, the team turned to Marvin Panch for several years. Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison and A.J. Foyt also had success in the No. 21, but nobody did it better than David Pearson. For most of eight years throughout the 1970s, “The Silver Fox” won 51 poles and 46 races, including almost every one of consequence (five for them at Daytona).

How good was that combination? They once won 12 consecutive poles at Charlotte, 14 of 16, overall (in the other two, he started second) and also won 11 of 18 races in 1973.

Glen has a simple way of saying Pearson was the best the Woods ever had: “The record,” he said smiling, “speaks for itself.”

In all, 35 men have driven for the Woods, including 18 of NASCAR’s 50 greatest.

Glen also has fond memories of what he considers his team’s greatest victory.

“It would be hard to say it wasn’t when Richard Petty and David Pearson wrecked on the last lap of the 1976 Daytona 500,” he said. “Richard spun almost down to the checkered flag and let his car die. David looped ours around, but kept it running. He hollered to Eddie on the radio, ‘Did he go across the line?’ When Eddie said Richard hadn’t, Pearson said he was coming, and he did. Even with the front-end smashed up, David came on under the checkered flag.

“Two or three other races stand out — Tiny Lund won the 1963 Daytona 500 (after rescuing Panch from a burning car during a previous race) and that one at Michigan International Speedway where Dale Jarrett beat Davey Allison for his first win.”

The lineup after Pearson included the late Neil Bonnett for two stints, then full-schedule drivers Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty, Jarrett, Morgan Shepherd, Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Rudd, and current driver Schrader. Going into 2006, the Ford-loyal team had 117 poles and 96 victories, plus 334 top fives and 514 top 10s in 1,222 career starts.

Glen Wood was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2001 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002. Leonard was honored with the Snap-On Golden Wrench Award from the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. Glen and Leonard were inducted into the Virginia Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. Wood Brothers Racing received the Bill France Award of Excellence in 1995 and the Spirit of Ford Steuben Award from Edsel Ford III in 1999.

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