Leonard Wood has always had a rare gift when it comes to things mechanical. When he was just 13 years old, he built himself a car, using crude tools and cast-away parts. He took a washing machine-style engine, parts from an old Ford car, valve springs from a Lincoln Zephyr and built a car that would run 15 miles per hour. It would do 25 miles per hour with a quick change of pulleys.
One day while he was cruising out on the highway, he came upon the local high school principal.
“He got up and made a big speech about me and that little car,” Wood said in an interview some time back. “He talked about how unusual it was for someone to make something like that.”
On Wednesday, more than 60 years after that principal’s speech, people were again talking about Leonard Wood and his mechanical wizardry. This time, it was the voting panel for the fourth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame; and the members were similarly impressed. Wood carried 57 percent of the vote, tying two-time driving champion Herb Thomas at the top of the class.
For the Wood Brothers, it was yet another honor for the brothers, who ran their first race in 1950 at Morris Speedway near their home base in Stuart, Va.
“It’s quite an honor for Leonard, and it’s nice that he’s going in the Hall of Fame right behind our dad,” Eddie Wood said. “They’re both in there, and that’s the way it should be.”
Team founder, Glen Wood, was a member of the Hall’s third class.
Eddie Wood said he and his family are honored that his uncle is being inducted along with Rusty Wallace, Cotton Owens, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas, all of whom have crossed paths with Leonard Wood over the years.
In his 990 races as crew chief of the No. 21 Fords and Mercurys, Leonard Wood parlayed his mechanical skills and innovative thinking into 96 race victories and 117 poles. He worked with some of auto racing’s greatest drivers, including David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and A.J. Foyt. His resume is even more impressive given the fact that his team focused on the superspeedway races, rarely running a full schedule.
Wood revolutionized the pit stop, developing tactics and tools that are still in use today. He and his brothers, at the urging of Ford Motor Company, worked the pits for Jim Clark in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. The Woods stunned the racing world with their quick work, which played a key part in Clark’s victory. Clark’s Ford-powered Lotus spent just 41.9 seconds in the pits during the entire race.
Even the Indy veteran-turned-commentator Rodger Ward speculated that the Indy-inexperienced Woods had failed to fill the tank.
But as race teams and race fans in NASCAR land already knew, Leonard Wood and his brothers rarely made mistakes when it came to racing matters.
“We got the most publicity in the least amount of time that we ever got in our lives,” Leonard Wood said of that day at Indy. “We hit a home run for sure.”
Leonard Wood hit lots of home runs in his NASCAR career, earning his place in NASCAR history and in the sport’s Hall of Fame.