The 1972 Daytona 500 falls into the latter category.
Since its first running in 1959, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s showcase race. In 1972, just like today, NASCAR teams spent much of the off-season preparing for that one race.
A.J Foyt, who already had an impressive, diverse resume at that point, was driving the Wood’s No. 21 Mercury. The year before in the 500, Foyt was poised to win only to be thwarted by a twisted fuel filler hose that caused him to run short of fuel in the closing laps.
But in 1972, there were no issues from start to finish. Foyt started from the outside pole position and led 167 of 200 laps, including the final 120. With many of the usual Daytona contenders falling out of the race early on or dropping hopelessly behind, Foyt was in a class by himself and was a lap ahead of runner-up Charlie Glotzbach at the finish.
Leonard Wood, long-time crew chief and mechanic on the No. 21, said the ’72 Daytona 500 was one of the team’s easiest wins.
“It was,” he said. “But we had some easy ones with David Pearson too. In 1973, he led every lap but one to win at Rockingham.”
The ‘72 Daytona 500 victory, was the third in the Great American Race for the Woods, coming after Tiny Lund’s triumph in 1963 and Cale Yarborough’s in 1968.
Wood said that when a team has a car as dominant as the No. 21 was that day, it can be stressful.
“You still have to worry about finishing,” he said.
It was the first Daytona 500 win for Foyt, and it gave him victories in three of auto racing’s premier events including the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He and Mario Andretti are the only drivers ever to win all three.
Leonard Wood said the versatile Foyt, who won four times in 11 career starts for the Wood Brothers, was a competitive driver who wanted to be kept abreast of adjustments made to the car over the course of a race weekend.
“If you wanted to change something, you didn’t just do it and tell him about it, you explained why you were doing it,” Wood said.
Once at Ontario Motor Speedway, where Foyt won twice in the No. 21, Foyt wanted to change a spring on the car. Wood made the changes, and Foyt reported that the car felt better.
“But when I told him that he was running a half-second slower he said to change it back,” Wood said, adding that Foyt was at his best when he could see a checkered flag in his immediate future. “If he had a chance to win a race, he knew how to get it done.”