David Hyder and the crew of the Wood Brothers No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion passed their first major test of 2010 Speedweeks on Monday.
Their driver, Bill Elliott, the 1988 Sprint Cup champion and a 44-time Cup winner, gave the Hyder-led crew an enthusiastic thumbs up for their preparation of his Daytona 500 car.
“They’ve got me a hot rod that’s ultra nice,” said Elliott, who drove over from his north Georgia home early Monday morning to help make sure his seat fit just right. “They’re flat stepping it up.”
Elliott said the work at the shop over the winter, coupled with the team’s strong finish at Homestead, where Elliott qualified ninth, then sped through the field late in the race to claim a strong 16th-place finish, have him pumped up about the upcoming season, where he’ll run 13 Cup races in the famed No. 21.
“With what they’ve got going on at the shop, and the way we ended up last year, I believe we can step up our program and be better still,” Elliott said. And at age 54, Elliott says he’s plenty fit physically to give the Motorcraft/Quick Lane red No. 21 Fusion a good workout. He said his performance last year, with strong runs at demanding tracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he qualified fourth and ran up front for much of the race, as well as the strong showing by fellow fiftysomething driver Mark Martin, show that age isn’t a big deterrent to success in the Sprint Cup Series. “Absolutely not,” Elliott said.
While Elliott may have a few seasons under his belt, his Daytona 500 car is a brand-new one for all practical purposes. It was last year’s back-up Daytona car, but it was stripped to the bare metal frame and completely redone. Last year’s primary car was freshened up and will serve as the back-up.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the team will take things one step at a time heading into the sport’s showcase race. Without the luxury of a guaranteed starting spot, the first goal will be to run fast enough in qualifying to be locked in for a Daytona 500 starting berth. That way they won’t have to be under so much pressure in Thursday’s 150-mile Gatorade Duels.
“We’ve worked hard all winter, and hopefully we’ll be fast enough to get in the 500 during qualifying,” he said.
While Elliott and the Woods are mostly looking forward as they head to Daytona, this Speedweeks also will be a time for looking back.
It’ll be the 63rd trip to Daytona for Eddie’s father, team founder Glen Wood, a string that dates all the way back to when races were held on partly on the beach and partly on Highway A1A. And it’ll mark the start of the 60th NASCAR season for the Wood Brothers racing team. A special logo on the B pillar of the car will commemorate the anniversary.
Although the second and third generations of the Wood family weren’t around to witness those early days, Eddie Wood points out that one of the great things about being in Daytona is the opportunity to see the places where early racing history was made.
“The beach is still there, and so is A1A,” he said. And when he enters Daytona International Speedway, he still can drive through the same corrugated metal tunnel that his father and uncles drove through when they scored the team’s first four wins in the Great American Race, in 1963, 1968, 1972 and 1976, and where Elliott drove in when he won the 500 in 1985 and 1987.
Although much has changed over the years, like a new tunnel, new garages and an amusement park atmosphere outside the track, one thing remain the same for Elliott and the Woods - when they hit the track, they’ll be carrying the colors of Ford Motor Company.
“Loyalty is still alive and well in the United States of America,” Wood said.