Len and Eddie Wood will never forget the moment they saw the 1963 Ford Galaxie with No. 21 on the side in their rearview mirrors, exactly where they never thought it would be.
As it rolled by, they could see it was obviously a replica, with chrome wheels and Hoosier tires where Firestones should have been. It was at this precise moment, as the Woods sat in the infield of the Brickyard waiting for the garages to open in July 2011, the spell was cast.
“We knew there was going to be a historic car show at the track that afternoon, with Dan Gurney, Cale Yarborough specials, as well as other muscle cars from the sixties.” said Len, who owns and operates Wood Brothers Racing with his brother Eddie and sister Kim. “That morning we heard something coming, looked up, and it was a replica of Tiny Lund’s car. We said ‘we’ve got to go look at that.”’
When they saw it, they knew they’d build one too.
Tiny Lund became a hero twice during speed weeks of the 1963 Daytona 500. First, literally.
Driver Marvin Panch was supposed to drive the No. 21 Galaxie for the Wood Brothers, qualifying it P12. Then came a freak accident.
Panch was attempting a speed record in a Birdcage Maserati 10 days before the 500 when the car flipped in turn three and burst into flames with the driver trapped inside. Fortunately for Panch, Lund was nearby with Glen Wood, founder of Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR official Johnny Bruner, crewmen and drivers, who ran to pull him out of the fire.
It was Lund, the strongest of the group, who pulled Panch out. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Honor for the rescue.
Ten days later, thanks in large part to the Wood Brothers original crew chief-engineer-fabricator Leonard Wood, Lund drove the 1963 Ford Galaxie, with English Motors on the sides, to victory lane. It was Ford Motor Company’s first win in the Daytona 500.
After seeing the replica in Indianapolis, recreating the 1963 Galaxie became an ongoing, but casual topic of conversation for the family.
“It came up in conversation while on airplanes, in the garage and at home,” Eddie Wood said, “but the decision to make it period-correct wasn’t made until later.”
First they needed a car. The treasure hunt began.
“There were several cars that were too expensive to take it and cut it up to make a race car,” Len said. “We needed a donor car. We made several trips riding around looking for one.”
By then it was October, and after searching and looking at several cars, the answer turned out to be closer than they’d expected.
“We found a street car that was light blue,” Len said. “A former pit crew member of ours had it. We’d looked at several cars, but this one was in Roanoke, Va. It had some rust on it and a 390 engine, but we bought the car and stripped it.”
Eddie and Len made a wish list: They wanted a 427 tunnel port engine and a top-loader transmission.
“Those were things we had to have,” Len said. “The correct engine would have been a regular 427 with a low-riser intake manifold and the transmission at the time would’ve been a Borg-Warner. The tunnel port was the first engine we found as was the top-loader transmission. We weren’t concerned about being period correct at this time. We just wanted the coolest 427 and the best known transmission. We will correct both of these when the car comes out of the HOF.”
Eddie found the engine in California and sent longtime crewmember William Fulp on the cross-country journey to fetch it. The 427 needed some work so they took it to Jimmy Tucker, the same man who built engines for the team in the 1960s.
“We had him blueprint the engine, which is basically where you take it apart, measure it and reassemble it,” Len said. “There were a few things that needed changing. That took several months to make sure all the right parts were there, but we were in no hurry for it either.”
By December 2011, with the Galaxie’s engine off for work, the Woods were ready to focus on the body and interior of the car. Originally a project for Leonard Wood, builder of the original 1963, and Butch Moricle, Len and Eddie’s cousin, the recreation was soon adopted by the Motorcraft/Quick Lane-sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup team the Woods compete with today.
At first, the family and team worked on it sporadically, between races. Once it was announced Leonard Wood was voted into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame, the family had a deadline.
“Our goal (at first) was to have it ready for the week of the Daytona 500,” Len said. “We’d gone to (Living Legends parade) for several years, but instead of being spectators, we wanted to be participants, share something with the people that had shared with us. Give something back.”
“That was the long-term goal. We also knew we were coming up on the 50th anniversary of that car winning the Daytona 500. When Leonard got nominated into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May 2012, we said ‘OK, now there’s a deadline.’”
They got the engine back, had the frame painted, and suspension components like they wanted by summer 2012, Len said.
“We had the engine running in the frame,” Len said. “No body, just sitting there with a frame and a bucket of gas with a hose dropped in it. That’s how Leonard cranked it up to make sure everything was running.”
Then, by Christmas, came the metamorphosis. Rust was replaced by the Rangoon Red and Corinthian White, circa Ford colors in 1963. The Woods, now devoted to making the car period-correct with the help of the same classic car historian/appraiser that helped them with the 2011 Daytona 500-winning Ford Fusion, used acrylic enamel, the paint from the day. The appraiser, Jim Cowan, suggested the Woods hire NASCAR Hall of Fame historian Buz McKim to hand-letter the Galaxie just like it was back in 1963.
“Buz loved the project,” Len said. “Overall, he spent about 20 hours on it. He used One Shot paint, a thick paint. He used a Campbell soup can and an assortment of sixties-style tools. He did buy some new brushes. He had these sticks that were used to steady his arm while he made his strokes. It had what looked like a pencil eraser on the end of it. He did it like he was doing it in the 1960s.”
Eddie and Len used old photos taken at English Motors, the Ford dealership the original race car was taken to for an appearance after it won, to make sure the interior of the car, from holes in the dash to logos on the vinyl panels and the direction tape was wrapped, was all correct. It was ready just in time for Leonard’s Hall of Fame induction Feb. 8, 2013. They even had the right tires and trophy.
In a rare move, the NASCAR Hall of Fame allowed the family to bring the recreated 1963 Galaxie to this year’s Daytona 500, where driver Trevor Bayne qualified P3 with a replica paint scheme on the sides of his 2013 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. This year’s 500 marks the exact 50th anniversary date of Tiny Lund’s win. Fans can see the 1963 Galaxie in the Sprint Fanzone in the infield of Daytona International Speedway this week.
Bayne starts Thursday’s Budweiser Duel on the outside of row one.
“We’re so proud of it,” Len said. “Anytime someone is in the garage, and something gets brought up about the 63, I say ‘You got a few minutes? Let’s go walking.’ I betcha I made 12 trips to the Fanzone. We’re just so proud of the accomplishments that our Dad and Leonard had with that car. (This win was) One of the biggest and one of the earliest ones. When people see it their faces light up. I think that’s what I was looking for. Everybody’s been really pleased with it.”
“When our Dad got here Saturday I asked him if he wanted to walk down there, so we crossed into the Fanzone and there was a mob of fans, so he had to sign autographs. That was very special. They have a little grassy knoll with palm trees around it. Every time I go down there, there’s fans all around it. I think it’s a big hit. For us to have a good qualifying run, that helped too.”
For live updates from the Daytona 500, follow the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team on Facebook and Twitter (MQL_Racing). Follow Wood Brothers Racing on Facebook and Twitter (@WoodBrothers21) and driver Trevor Bayne on Facebook and Twitter (@TBayne21).