The NASCAR Hall of Fame that opened this week in Charlotte tells the history of the sport from its dusty beginnings on the makeshift dirt tracks of the South to the gleaming superspeedways of today. And no history of NASCAR would be complete without telling the story of the “Woodchopper” from Stuart, Va., and his family race team that have been major players in the sport for 60 years.
Visitors to the Hall get several chances to learn about Glen Wood, the one-time sawmiller who went on to have a distinguished career as both a driver and team owner. And they can see the contributions of the Wood Brothers race team that began with Wood himself doing the driving and continues today with Bill Elliott driving the famed No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion.
In the museum are Wood’s helmet, trophies, a well-worn pit board, race car seats and the team’s most famous car, the 1971 Mercury Cyclone that dominated the speedways in the early 1970’s with David Pearson and A.J. Foyt winning races in it, and Donnie Allison and Parnelli Jones also driving it at one time or another. Pearson drove that car to 11 wins in just 18 starts in 1973, the last season that car was run. In that era of NASCAR, teams didn’t have fleets of identical cars.
The Woods had just two ’71 Mercury race cars. The second was destroyed in a crash with Charlie Glotzbach at Charlotte in the fall of 1973. The car in the Hall of Fame won its last race at Rockingham in October of ’73 with Pearson leading 396 of 492 laps. Its final run was at Riverside International Raceway in January, 1974, where Pearson finished third after starting on the pole. That ’71 Mercury was one of the last cars to compete in NASCAR’s elite division with a leaf-spring suspension in the rear. By 1974, NASCAR mandated the use of the truck-arm suspension that is still in use today. Wood said he’s proud that Hall officials chose his car, which, except for some cleaning and maintenance, is just as it was when it rolled off the race track for the last time, to be a part of the Glory Road exhibit. “What better place could it be?” he said. “I was happy to oblige them when they asked if we would put it down there.”
Also on display is a jack once used by his brother Delano. The pit board and the jack illustrate the Woods’ role as pioneers on pit road, as they’re credited with being the first team to make quick pit stops a regular part of their race-day game plan. Wood, who got his first look at the Hall during a “soft opening” a few weeks back, said he was taken back by what he saw. “It’s sort of unbelievable,” he said. “It’s really an impressive showcase.” Wood said he especially liked the way the trophies were laid out. “You can see my name on mine,” he said of his trophy from a win at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. “Most of them you can’t.”
Eddie Wood, Glen’s son and one of the middle generation Wood family racers, compares the NASCAR Hall of Fame to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and to The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich. “My brother Len and I have season passes to the Henry Ford Museum, and every time we go there, we see something different,” he said. “The NASCAR Hall will be the same way.” Eddie Wood said he and his team will be able to use the new NASCAR Hall to help people – including potential sponsors – better understand his family’s role in NASCAR. “It’s hard to tell the story from 1950 to now in a meeting with just sheets of paper to show them,” he said. “Now we can just walk people through the Hall of Fame, and they can see it for themselves. “It’s going to be a huge benefit for everybody.”
Wood also expects the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame to drive more visitors to the Woods’ museum in Stuart, as well as to museums operated by others in NASCAR like Richard Petty and Richard Childress. But there’s much more to Wood family’s representation at the Hall than the business side of the sport or their 97 victories on the Sprint Cup circuit. It’s more personal. The cars and trophies and helmets that they have on display at the Hall mean much more to them than most visitors will ever know. “These are the kinds of things that you or your mom would keep,” Eddie Wood said. “And the ’71 Mercury represents our family’s tradition more than any other car we’ve ever had. It’s the most recognized – white, with a candy-apple red top and the gold number 21. “It’s a huge honor to have anything of ours in the Hall of Fame.”