Wood Brothers Racing: A Storied History of Success at the Monster Mile
Harrisburg, NC (September 17, 2008)-Wood Brothers Racing has been competing at Dover International Speedway since 1972 when the track promoter at the time, Melvin Joseph, invited them to try out the 500-mile event. The team decided to give it a shot, and with their first run at the Monster Mile with driver David Pearson, won the “Delaware 500” after leading 350 laps in the 500-lap race in the No. 21 Purolator Mercury.
David Pearson and the Wood Brothers would go on to sweep both races in 1973, later won in the spring of 1975, and then again in 1978. With these successful results, the team has been traveling to the “The First State” to compete in both annual NASCAR events at Dover ever since.
Leonard Wood was David Pearson’s chief mechanic and recalls the race in May 1976 when they finished second to Benny Parsons. “The day was humid and extremely hot. Several drivers were experiencing heat exhaustion and needed to be replaced with a relief driver,” Wood said. “I remember we were on a five or six win stretch when Bobby Allison made the comment that Allison must have been ‘lucking him.’”
David wasn’t keen on the idea that luck had anything to do with his success. With his infamous high self-confidence, he believed that with as many wins as he had that year, he must have been doing something right and was determined to show that he could outrun the best of them at Dover. Wood spoke of the race with ardent reminiscence, “In 1976, Donnie Allison sat on the pole and David ran him into the ground! Donnie got out and Bobby [Allison] got in the race car, then Pearson ran him into the ground and finished second. After the race, they were all stretched out in the shower room and David walked in as proud as can be and said, ‘What’s the matter with you sissies?’”
Even though he finished second, he felt that he made his point after placing in front of Allison who finished fourth.
After another win with Pearson in 1978, the team came back to win two more races with driver Neil Bonnett in May 1979 and in September 1981. In May 1981, Bonnett led 404 laps of the 500-lap event. He was four laps ahead of the field with Cale Yarborough two laps behind him when the engine blew on lap 455, forcing him to the garage. As the team packed up the No. 21 on the transporter, the scoreboard still showed Bonnett in the lead. He would eventually finish 13th. Wood Brothers Racing and Neil Bonnett would return to Dover for the September 1981 race and win.
The most vivid recollection of Dover International Speedway that Wood has is the high speeds and the ability to watch cars as they came out of the corner. He recounts his experience, “Dover is a fast one-mile track. I would stand down in the corner and watch the car come in the corner between one and two. Pearson would come down off of that high banking and would drive down to the bottom. I would take notice how the car reacted.
At this particular track, I could watch and see exactly what the car was doing. He [Pearson] would get on the throttle in the middle of the corner and I could hear it pulling in and I could watch if it pushed coming off. I do remember that, in fact, that’s the only track a mile or over that I could do that. It was very helpful with setting the car up.” To this day Leonard enjoys watching the cars come out of the corner at high speeds from the overpass on the walkover bridge in turn two.
Wood Brothers Racing has an extensive portfolio of drivers who have raced at the Monster Mile including Buddy Baker and Kyle Petty in the ‘80’s, and Morgan Shepherd, Michael Waltrip and Elliott Sadler in the ‘90’s. In the new millennium there was Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader, and today, currently part-time is Bill Elliott along with new generation drivers Jon Wood and Marcos Ambrose.
With only four starts at the speedway under his belt in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, Ambrose’s highest finish was sixth in 2007. Marcos will make his first Sprint Cup Series attempt at the track in the no. 21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion for the Camping World RV 400 and is looking forward to joining the long list of drivers in the history of Wood Brothers Racing. “It’s such an honor to be able to race for the Wood Brothers and being a part of their long history,” said Ambrose. “I’m excited about being in the No. 21 car and just hope that I can contribute in moving their race program in the right direction.”
Ambrose affirms that Dover is one of the most challenging tracks that NASCAR competes on as its high speeds makes it one “monster” to conquer. “Dover is one of the most aggressive race tracks on the circuit,"Ambrose said. "Being outside of the top-35 we will focus on qualifying, but once we get the car in the show, then we can switch gears and work on racing. This is a track where I tend to focus my energy on racing the track, and then worry about competition second. You can carry a lot of speed into the corners. It’s very challenging but I’m looking forward to it.”
Wood Brothers Racing has a long history of racing since 1950 and has experienced both the highs and lows that the sport can bring, yet they look toward the future and what a new generation of drivers will add to their repertoire.
Read more Wood Brothers Racing history at the newly designed web site: www.woodbrothersracing.com
*Last Photo by Dorsey Patrick Photography