Category Archives: 2016

Woods Share Memories On 40th Anniversary Of Pearson’s Dramatic 1976 Daytona 500 Win

NASCAR is unique in the sports world for a lot of reasons, chief among them is that it holds its own Super Bowl of sorts, the Daytona 500, at the start of the season rather than at the end.

Over the years, it’s worked out well, with dramatic races on the iconic Daytona International Speedway setting a positive tone for the entire season. But few Daytona 500s have ended as spectacularly as the one 40 years ago this month.

IMG_5237From the early stages of the 1976 Daytona 500, it was apparent to most that the race would be decided among the sport’s top two drivers, David Pearson and Richard Petty, who were driving for two of the all-time most iconic teams in the sport – the Wood Brothers and Petty Enterprises.

For Eddie and Len Wood, the current owners of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion that Ryan Blaney will be driving this year, the 500 in 1976 was one of the first major races in which they held significant roles on the race team.

“We were there in 1972 when A.J. Foyt won in our car, but I was just getting out of college and Len was still in high school,” Eddie Wood recalled.

In 1976, it was a different story. Both brothers were full-time crew members. Eddie had painted the chassis of the car and was the only crew member in communication with Pearson during the race. Len also turned wrenches and held the catch can during pit stops.

As expected, the race came down to a showdown between Pearson and Petty, with the two swapping the lead on the last lap before both drivers spun off turn four, with Pearson slamming into the wall. Amazingly he had the presence of mind to press the clutch, which kept his engine running during the spin, and allowed him to limp his damaged Mercury past Petty’s stalled Dodge and take the checkered flag.

“It was a special win for Len and me because it was one of the first big wins where the two of us actually worked on the car,” Eddie Wood said. “And it was the Daytona 500.”

1976 Daytona 500 Winner - Pearson[1] For the Woods, the details of that day 40 years ago are as fresh as yesterday’s, and the relationships between the parties involved – then and now – make the memories even more special.

“At that time there was a rivalry between David and Richard and between our family and the Pettys,” Wood said. “But it was a friendly rivalry. There’s always been a great mutual respect there. We’d race one week, and then the next weekend it would start all over.”

Because of that continuing philosophy on focusing on the next race, the Woods didn’t put much emphasis on preserving the car that won that 500 in 1976. It was repaired and raced again and again for several years.

“We didn’t do a very good job of keeping cars,” Wood said. “We raced that one up until the 1980s. Neil Bonnett won a Firecracker 400 in it and a race at Talladega.”
It was changed at some point from a Montego body to a Cougar, taking advantage of the improved aerodynamics of the Cougar.

When NASCAR mandated a reduction in wheelbase from 115 to 110 inches in 1981, the car was basically rendered obsolete so it was made into a show car for the series sponsor at that time, R J Reynolds, showcasing the Winston brand.

After some time on the display circuit, Richard Childress took all the parts, engine and transmission of the car and used them to build what was then known as a “left-right” car to be used in road races on city streets, a NASCAR idea that never got off the ground.

The body and frame were returned to the Wood Brothers, and one of the most famous cars in NASCAR was relegated to the scrap pile.

Untitled28“It sat behind the shop for years, and one day a friend, Mike Foley came by and bought it for $200,” Wood said. “He loaded it up, and it went up the hill and out of sight. We never saw it again.”

Years later, Wood got a call from Donnie Gould, a noted restorer from Florida who said he believed he’d found the car in a junkyard in Ft. Lauderdale.

“I didn’t believe it could have been it at first, but he sent me some Polaroid pictures of it, and I could tell from some of the brackets on there that it was the real thing,” Wood said. “Donnie was able to come up with enough parts and pieces to restore it, and he raced it in some vintage races.”

“We kind of lost track of it after that, and the last we heard it was in a museum in the Midwest.”
When the Woods won their fifth Daytona 500 in 2011, they made sure the winning car didn’t suffer a similar fate.

After a year on display in Daytona USA, it was placed in The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., just like it came off the race track.

“It still has the Powerade, Coca Cola and confetti on it,” Wood said. “Len and I have always been big fans of the Henry Ford museum, and we used to think it would be cool to do something worthy of having a car in there. We’d hoped for something like that for a long time, and it all worked out.”

Now the Woods are headed back to Daytona with another Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford and with the same excitement of numerous other similar trips through the years.

“You start working on your Daytona 500 car in September,” Wood said. “You work on it all winter because the Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year, the one you think about the most.”

“That’s never changed since the days of racing on the beach, and it never will change.”
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is set for Sunday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX. The Can Am Duel qualifying races will follow on Thursday, Feb. 18, with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1. The Great American Race is set to get the green flag on Sunday, Feb. 21, just after 1 p.m., with TV coverage on FOX.

New NASCAR Fusion Ready to Contend for Sprint Cup Series Championship in 2016; Debuts at Daytona Speedweeks

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  •  The new NASCAR Fusion, which hits the track next month at Daytona Speedweeks, is capable of producing 750 horsepower at 9,000 rpm under the current rules package
  • Ford Fusion NASCAR drivers will digest more information with a new digital dashboard system that is mandatory this season – teams can switch between as many as 16 preset screens to display information with three different graphic looks

DETROIT, Jan. 11, 2016 – History is repeating itself when it comes to preparing the new NASCAR Fusion for its competition debut in February at Daytona Speedweeks.

Much like three years ago, when NASCAR allowed manufacturers to include more brand-specific characteristics, Ford once again used the talents of its designers to ensure the same eye-catching components on the 2017 Ford Fusion production car are included on the new racing version. This latest iteration marks the third major body change for Fusion, and represents another step toward keeping “stock” a relative part of stock car racing.

The result of the efforts of designers and engineers is an aggressive-looking new race car capable of producing 750 horsepower at 9,000 rpm under the current rules package.

“There’s no mistaking we’re here to win races and championships,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “And we believe the new NASCAR Fusion will be a powerful tool in the hands of our teams and drivers.

“Aerodynamics are more important than ever at the speeds these cars run,” he added, “so we used some of the best wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics technology available to create this new Fusion. Fortunately, the Ford design team gave us a great car with which to start.”

The new NASCAR Fusion follows in the tire tracks of its successful predecessor by not only mirroring the exterior of its production counterpart, but in bringing a better interior to the driver.

Ford NASCAR drivers will digest more information through a new digital dashboard system that’s mandatory this season. Teams can switch between as many as 16 preset screens to display information, which they can access either in bar graph or numbers format, or via the standard gauge and needle that has been used for years.

This latest technological advancement from NASCAR comes on the heels of several significant changes, including the Gen 6 model that brought brand identity back to the sport in 2013, the switch to electronic fuel injection in 2012 and the move to an ethanol fuel blend in 2011.

Ford has continued to refine its own technological program as well, opening up Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina, in 2014, which features a state-of-the-art full-motion simulator that assists both racing and production car development.

“The technical center and the full-motion simulator have been great tools for our teams and engineers,” said Pericak. “As important as aerodynamics are in NASCAR, it’s also imperative the computer simulations that assist the teams in arriving at the track with a proper setup are best-in-class as well. We’ve worked very hard the past year to refine our simulation tools to create a real benefit to our race drivers, as well as the drivers of our new passenger vehicles.”

Fusion makes track debut Tuesday in Las Vegas

The new NASCAR Fusion makes its public debut Tuesday, when 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski participates in a two-day Goodyear test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Team Penske driver is coming off a season in which he qualified for The Chase after winning at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, then finishing seventh in the final standings. This is Keselowski’s fourth season driving with Ford, his seventh for car owner Roger Penske. He has 17 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, with eight of those coming behind the wheel of Fusion.

Fusion is entering its 11th season of NASCAR competition. The car debuted as Ford’s flagship model in NASCAR in 2006 and has won 71 Sprint Cup races since, including 21 the past two seasons.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle drove Fusion to a milestone victory in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 16, 2013, representing Ford’s 1,000th win in NASCAR’s top three series combined.

Fusion has won the Daytona 500 four times in the last seven years, including 2015 when Team Penske’s Joey Logano won The Great American Race for the first time.

Daytona 500 marks first official points race for new Fusion

The new Fusion makes its competition debut Feb. 21 at Daytona Speedweeks in the 58th running of the Daytona 500, kicking off a 36-race schedule that culminates with the champion being crowned at Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead, Florida, Nov. 20.

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Marvin Panch Was Like One Of The Wood Brothers

Photo Credit: Tom Kirkland/Smyle Media

Photo Credit: Tom Kirkland/Smyle Media

Of all the drivers who have taken the wheel of the Wood Brothers’ Fords over the years, none were as close to the Wood family as Marvin Panch.

Panch, who died Dec. 31 at the age of 89 at his home in Port Orange, Fla., drove the No. 21 from 1962 to 1966, winning eight races, including a sweep of the superspeedway races at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1965. When Panch drove the Wood’s Ford, now driven by Ryan Blaney, he was more like a member of the family than an employee of the team.

“Of all the people that ever drove our cars, Marvin was the closest to our family,” team founder Glen Wood said. “When we were on the road, we always stayed at the same motel. We ate together, and we always went to a movie together.”

When the team raced near the Wood family home in Stuart, Va., Panch stayed in Glen Wood’s home on race weekends. And Glen Wood bought a home adjacent to “Pancho’s Rancho” home in Port Orange, which made them neighbors twice each year when the circuit raced at nearby Daytona International Speedway.

Besides his victories as a driver for the Woods, Panch played a big role in the team’s first Daytona 500 victory in 1963. Panch qualified the No. 21, but was seriously burned in a crash of a Maserati sports car he was driving at Daytona.

Tiny Lund, who helped pull Panch from the burning car, was hired to replace Panch and drove the No. 21 to the team’s first of five Daytona 500 victories.

Photo Credit: Tom Kirkland/Smyle Media

Photo Credit: Tom Kirkland/Smyle Media

Panch had his greatest success for the Woods on the shorter tracks, but he dominated at Atlanta in 1965 – with relief from A.J. Foyt in the first race – and won on the road course at Watkins Glen that year.

Watkins Glen dropped off the Cup schedule after that and didn’t return until 1986. For that race, Panch was the Honorary Starter, and the green flag from that race, along with the signatures of all the drivers in the starting field, was recently given to the Woods by the Panch family.

Leonard Wood, who was the team’s crew chief and engine builder during the Panch era, said those dinners and movies on the road back in the day had a way of facilitating success on the race track.

“We’d get to talking about the car, and that would help us pick up things to make it better,” Wood said. “Something would come up in conversation and it would ring a bell, and we’d know what to do the next day.”

Photo Credit: Smyle Media

Photo Credit: Smyle Media

Wood recalled a race weekend at Charlotte in which the No. 21 Ford handled great for most of the practice sessions but developed a handling issue the day before the race.

“I was trying to figure it out at dinner, and Marvin said that it felt like the right front was low,” Wood said. “Sure enough, when we checked it, the air pressure in the right-front tire was too low.”

Wood said the easy communication with Panch made it easier to tune the car for him, and when he got on the track, his driving style was just what the team needed to be fast.

“He backed off the gas at the right places, and got back on the gas at the right places,” Wood said, adding that Panch was especially good on superspeedways like Atlanta. “From the old pit road, you could see all the way around the track, and I remember watching him pulling away from guys off the corners.”

Wood said that between the dinners, the movies, the races, the discussions about the car and the joking back and forth, the Woods and Panch had a great relationship that continued to the week he died, when he phoned the Wood family to wish them a Merry Christmas.

“I can’t say enough good things about Marvin Panch,” Wood said.

The Panch family is planning to hold a memorial service sometime around Speedweeks at Daytona.