Category Archives: 2017

Wood Brothers Looking To Build On Their Rich History at Atlanta

The Wood Brothers and Atlanta Motor Speedway have a lot in common, besides their history with each other.

The Woods are one of NASCAR’s cornerstone teams, having run their first NASCAR race back in 1953 and continuing today, where they’re the sport’s longest-participating team.

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Atlanta Motor Speedway, formerly known as Atlanta International Raceway, is one of the sport’s cornerstone tracks. It was part of the original superspeedway boom back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when tracks opened in Daytona, Charlotte, Atlanta and Hanford, California.

The big, fast tracks joined Darlington Raceway on the NASCAR circuit, and other than the failure of Marchbanks Speedway in California, the three new tracks helped transition NASCAR from a sport built around dirt tracks to the one fans enjoy today.

And just like many a race team, the Atlanta track has had its share of troubles, but persevered to be a major player in the sport today. If not for the dedication of people like Atlanta’s former track superintendent Alf Knight, AMS might not have survived its early struggles and eventual bankruptcy in the 1970s.

“Those people back in the day came up with a plan to keep it going to the point where Bruton Smith could come in and give the track a lot of security,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. “Under his leadership they modernized the place, changed the track from a true oval to a quad-oval and secured the track’s place on the NASCAR schedule.”

 Through the years, the Wood Brothers and their Motorcraft/Quick Lane team have built a rich history at the Atlanta track. The Woods ran in the track’s inaugural race in July of 1960 and have run 103 more races since, sometimes entering two cars in an event. They’ve won 12 times, scored 33 top-five and 45 top-10 finishes and captured nine poles. That’s more victories than at any track other than Daytona International Speedway, where the Woods have 15 Cup triumphs.

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The Woods got their first Atlanta victory in the spring of 1965, with Marvin Panch driving. Panch added another that fall. Cale Yarborough and David Pearson had three Atlanta wins apiece in the No. 21, Neil Bonnett had two, A.J. Foyt had one as did Morgan Shepherd, who won the 1993 Motorcraft Quality Parts 500.

“We’ve had some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers win for us at Atlanta, and we’re looking forward to a chance to add Ryan Blaney’s name to the list,” Wood said, adding that a strong run and second-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 has the team in a good frame of mind heading into Atlanta. “It’s like getting a push in the draft. A good finish at Daytona gets you ready for the rest of the season.

“You worry all winter long about the Daytona 500, and if you come out of there with a good finish it makes the other races some easier because you haven’t put yourself in a bad spot in the points standings.”

Qualifying for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is set for Friday at 5:45 p.m., and the race should get the green flag just after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.

Blaney’s Runner-Up Run Secures 1-2 Finish For Ford In Daytona 500

Thanks to some quick work by the Wood Brothers crew and some heads-up driving by Ryan Blaney, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team was able to do its part to deliver Ford Motor Company a 1-2 finish in NASCAR’s biggest race.

Blaney, in a back-up No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, charged from 40th place at the start into the top five in the first 26 laps of Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500, then into the lead by lap 49.

From there until the end of the race, Blaney had to overcome damage from two multi-car collisions. But on the final lap he used a drafting push from his Ford teammate Joey Logano to surge into second place behind race winner Kurt Busch, who gave Stewart-Haas Racing a win in its first points-paying race under the Ford banner.

Aric Almirola, driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, also came on strong at the end to finish fourth. It was the first time since the 2001 Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway that the Wood Brothers and the Pettys, long-time rivals and fast friends for decades, both finished in the top five in a points-paying Cup race.

In that 2001 race, Elliott Sadler, driving the No. 21 Ford, won over John Andretti in the No. 43.

At Daytona, most of the top finishers, including Busch and Blaney, had considerable damage to their cars.

“Looks like everyone ran a race at Martinsville,” Blaney said in his post-race comments, referring to the beating and banging style of racing that is common on the short track at Martinsville Speedway. “Everyone’s stuff was torn up.”

 

Blaney’s Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew got a major test of their skills under the new five-minute clock instituted by NASCAR this year. That new rule gives teams just five minutes to repair their car enough to get it back up to minimum speed or the car is not allowed to continue in the race.

 

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said his crew was able to get the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion back on the track and back up to speed despite having to beat the clock.

“They fixed it the best they could,” Wood said. “You have to be mindful of the clock and not let it run out.”

“They did a great job under the circumstances.”

As the laps wound down on Sunday, Blaney found himself mired in the middle of a lead pack that seemed content to run single file for most of the final 20 laps.

 “I tried to make a move with 10 to go to see what would happen,” Blaney said. “No one really went with me. The 22 [Logano] tried to. It really wasn’t happening. I was kind of worried it was just going to end that way.”
Then he and Logano hooked up on the final lap.

   “Luckily I got Joey behind me there down the front stretch, and we were able to lay back to him and get a huge run into [turn] one,” Blaney said. “At that same moment, the 41 [Busch] went to go past the 42 [Kyle Larson], and it kept my run going, all the way up to second.”

Blaney’s final scare came when his fuel supply ran low, a problem that many of his competitors were experiencing at about the same time.

“I started kind of running out the gas there into [turn] three,” he said. “We started sputtering pretty bad.  Luckily it made it back to the line.”

Blaney emphasized that his best career Cup finish was due in large part to having a fast Ford and to the maturity of its driver and crew, including his spotter Josh Williams. He said that although his primary car was knocked out during Thursday’s qualifying races, his back-up was just as fast.  And he said he felt like his own restrictor-plate racing skills are improving.

“It was definitely a little bit of both with the car and myself, and myself and Josh Williams up top, my spotter, getting a little bit more comfortable with each other and communicating really well,” Blaney said. “He’s done a great job.”

 He added that the strong start to the 2017 season gives him and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team a boost heading into this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“It was a good way to start off the year,” he said. “Stinks to be so close, but I think that’s good momentum for our team, to be good at the beginning of the day, get some damage and be able to rally for a good finish.”

For Wood, the team owner, the bottom line from Daytona is a strong finish for Ford Motor Company.

“Having Fords finish first, second and fourth is a great way to start the season,” he said. “And it’s especially nice to be a part of that with Edsel B. Ford II [Board Member] and Joe Hinrichs  [President of the Americas for Ford Motor Company] there to experience it with us on our pit box.”

Blaney, thanks to his finishing position plus nine points earned in the first two stages of the Daytona 500, now sits 2nd in the driver standings heading into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5.

 

Blaney 18th In Daytona 500 Qualifying

27f00a9b364d228530328adbf72e8e5f-1Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion will start Thursday’s second Can-AM Duel qualifying race from ninth position after Blaney was 18th fastest in Sunday’s pole qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Blaney’s qualifying speed of 191.746 miles per hour was a bit disappointing given his speed in Saturday’s practice session. There he was fifth fastest with a best lap at 192.980 mph.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood, after seeing several drivers who qualified just before or just after Blaney also post speeds off their practice pace, said an unfavorable headwind likely was to blame.

45b92294273c16765e8376f010743581-1 “Ryan said he really couldn’t feel anything different, but the wind was probably a factor on his lap,” Wood said. “Still, we’re really happy with the effort so far, and I’m optimistic about the Duels and the Daytona 500.”

Blaney, in his post-qualifying comments, also was a little puzzled by his lap.

“I’m not really sure where our speed went, but we’ll have to go back and figure out where that went overnight,” he said. “No matter. I think we’ll have a good handling car in the Duels, so we’ll just go racing there and see if we can start up front in the 500.”

Unlike previous seasons, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are assured of a starting berth for the 500 after the Wood Brothers rented a charter, which brings with it guaranteed starting spots for races this season.

“Being guaranteed to start the race regardless of how things go in qualifying is a comfortable feeling,” Wood said.

The Can-AM Duel 150-mile qualifying races are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1, and the Daytona 500 should get the green flag on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m., with TV coverage on FOX.

Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team Ready To Build On Its Daytona History

2017_WoodBros1AThe long winter’s wait is over for the Wood Brothers and their Motorcraft/Quick Lane race team.

The iconic No. 21 Ford Fusion returns to the track this week at the Daytona International Speedway to start the 2017 Monster Energy Cup season. It’s the second-straight year that the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will be competing on a full-time basis, but the team’s history in the elite division dates back to 1953, further than any active team on the circuit.

This trip to Speedweeks marks the Wood’s 59th appearance in the February classic at the Daytona International Speedway, dating back to the inaugural event in 1959. That’s in addition to numerous trips to the old Beach/Road Course that preceded the superspeedway.

The Wood Brothers have 15 points-paying victories at Daytona International Speedway, including five in the Daytona 500.

RyanBlaney The team’s sophomore crew chief Jeremy Bullins said he and driver Ryan Blaney, also a sophomore on the elite NASCAR circuit, are anxious to get back on the track after spending the winter months preparing for the upcoming campaign.

“Daytona can’t get here fast enough,” Bullins said. “It doesn’t take long of being in the shop every day of the week to miss the race track.”

“Our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team is really excited about our second full-time season together, and we have a lot of good things going on.”

A new addition to the team, lead engineer Andrea Mueller, will be joining Bullins atop the pit box.

“She and I worked together on Team Penske’s Xfinity program and had a lot of success,” Bullins said. “I know she will bring a lot of value to our team.”

Also new this year for all teams is a change in the race format, which breaks each Cup event into three stages, with championship points paid for all three.

“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the new race format and more opportunity to gain points by being in the top 10 at the end of those segments,” Bullins said. “There will be a lot of opportunities for us this year to get our cars up front and keep them up front, and we look forward to that challenge.”

“Anytime there’s an opportunity for a strategy call I get excited because it’s a chance for us to try to gain an advantage on our competitors.”

“Regardless, your cars will still have to have speed, and we feel like we can produce that, so it’s up to us to capitalize when we have fast cars.  I think having a year under our belt full time together we all feel more prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.”

For team co-owner Eddie Wood, this year’s trip to the Daytona 500 will be much more relaxing than in recent seasons. The No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team has rented a charter, which guarantees a starting spot in the Great American Race as well as the other races on the schedule.

“This year is the first time we’ve been guaranteed into the race since we won it in 2011,” Wood said. “And that year we had the owner points from Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Wood said it’s hard to explain just how much pressure there is on a team that is not assured of being in the starting field.

“You worry about it all year long, not just when it comes time to go to Daytona,” he said. “The worries start multiplying as soon as Homestead is over, and it never really lets up.”

“We’re fortunate this year to have rented a charter, and being guaranteed to start races is good for us, but more importantly it’s good for Motorcraft and Quick Lane and all of our other partners.”

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is set for Sunday, Feb. 19, at 3:10 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX. The Can-AM Duel 150-mile qualifying races are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1, and the Daytona 500 should get the green flag on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m., with TV coverage on FOX.

Rookie Bayne Beat The Odds To Win 2011 Daytona 500

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500Back in February of 2011, Trevor Bayne went into Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway a decided underdog. He was just 19 years old when he arrived at Daytona to begin preparing for the Daytona 500, although he turned 20 on the day before the 500.

He had raced a Cup car just one before, at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2010. Although he put on an impressive performance in his Cup debut, there still were doubts about how he’d perform in NASCAR’s biggest race.

The No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford that he would drive was another story. Even in the team’s lean years, the Woods have had fast cars at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway. For the 2011 race, then-crew chief Donnie Wingo and his Ford teammates at Roush Fenway Racing had worked hard all winter, as all top teams do, to prepare a car that had all the aerodynamic tweaks the rules allow.

When Bayne hit the track for practice he soon was posting speeds as fast as far more experienced drivers. He qualified third-fastest behind Daytona veterans Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

But it wasn’t until the first race practice after qualifying that Bayne began to show signs that he might be a contender for the win in spite of his inexperience.

The 2011 Daytona 500 saw drivers pairing up, with one pushing the other and making both cars run much faster that either one alone. The phenomenon was known as “tandem drafting.”

Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, remembers how taken aback he was at the speeds two cars in tandem could achieve.

“I saw Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon hook up and run 207 miles per hour,” Wood said. “I called my dad, who was staying in a condo over on the beach, and told him he needed to come see it.”

It turns out that Glen Wood had seen it before.

“He said he’d seen Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly do it in a couple of Ford Falcons at Daytona in 1961,” Wood said. “I went over to the NASCAR Archives that afternoon and found a picture of Turner and Weatherly running bumper to bumper.”

Among those who were excelling at tandem drafting was the youngster Bayne.

“Trevor took to it like a natural,” Wood recalled.

“Having no previous experience in a Cup car at Daytona might have been an advantage because he hadn’t learned to race in the draft any other way. He didn’t have any habit to unlearn.”

Bayne’s biggest problem was in the numbers.

Being from a single-car team, he didn’t have any natural drafting partners as did the drivers from multi-car teams. But having a fast car allowed him to build some drafting friendships.

In the last practice before Thursday’s qualifying races, Kyle Busch agreed to draft with Bayne.

Then, right before the start of the 150-mile qualifier, Jeff Gordon told Bayne he’d draft with him in the qualifier.

“They couldn’t get going good just after restarts, but after a few laps they could go from the back of the pack to the front,” Wood said of the Bayne/Gordon combo. “But it was all with Trevor doing the pushing. He was never the front guy.”

But on the last lap of the qualifier, Bayne was swept up in a multi-car melee and the No. 21 Ford was damaged on the nose and on both sides.

Despite finishing 19th in the qualifier, Bayne made the starting field for the 500 based on his qualifying time.

As Eddie and Len Wood were returning to the garage to help decide whether to fix their primary car or roll out the back-up, they came upon Doug Yates, their engine builder.

Yates answered the question by asking a question of his own: “What would Leonard Wood or Robert Yates do?”

And with that the decision was made to repair the damaged primary car.

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, DaytonaWingo, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew and a contingent from Roush Fenway Racing set about repairing the car. The team worked through the day on Friday and didn’t get back on the track until the final practice session on Saturday.

Bayne ran a handful of laps and reported that the car was as fast as it was before.

“That was good to hear, because it meant we’d made the right decision in fixing the car instead of going to a backup,” Wood said.

In the 500, Bayne ran near the front all day. He drafted some with Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon, then hooked up with Ford teammate David Ragan.

“Back then drivers could talk on the radio to other drivers, so a lot of that time, they were on David’s channel and using his spotter,” Wood said. “It worked fine because Trevor was always pushing.”
A late-race wreck with two of 200 scheduled laps left to run set up a dramatic run to the checkered flag.

On first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, one that could have been the final one of the race, Ragan and Bayne started on the front row, with Ragan the leader of the race in the outside lane.

After the green flag was displayed but before the leaders reached the start finish line, Ragan shifted lanes to hook up with Bayne. That’s a rules violation, so Ragan was penalized and Bayne assumed the lead for the next restart, which followed a crash on the backstretch.

“Since he hadn’t been in the top spot all day for a restart, Trevor asked Donnie what to do,” Wood said. “Donnie told him to go as hard as he could.”

When the green flag dropped for the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Bayne had a strong restart, with some dedicated pushing help from Bobby Labonte.

“Bobby got them both out into the lead,” Wood said.

Carl Edwards and David Gilliland were hooked up and coming in a hurry, but when they got to Bayne and Labonte, Edwards bypassed Labonte and fell in behind Bayne and wound up pushing him across the finish line. Bayne led just six laps all day, but they were the final six, from Lap 203 to 208.

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, DaytonaThe victory, the Woods’ fifth in the Daytona 500 and the 600th Cup win for Ford, was timely for the family-owned team, which had cut back to a partial schedule and was focusing on the restrictor-plate and intermediate tracks.

“Along about that time, the economy was down and it was hard to get enough sponsorship to run competitively for the full season,” Wood said. “We hadn’t won a race in a long time, so it was good to be able to show that we could still do it.”

The winning No. 21 Fusion never raced again. It spent a year on display at Daytona, covered with the spray from sugary soft drinks and brightly colored confetti.

Now it’s on display in the Henry Ford Museum, still just as it rolled out of Victory Lane at Daytona other than being signed by the Wood Brothers team and by the Ford Motor Company officials involved in the NASCAR racing effort.

“Every time I go to the Henry Ford, I climb over the ropes and check the car,” Wood said. “There was a plastic water bottle jammed under the seat during the race, and it’s still there.”

1976 Daytona 500 Was NASCAR Racing At Its Best

IMG_7557 Magical moments in motorsports can’t be manufactured by rules changes or other machinations.

They just happen, like in 1976, when two of NASCAR’s top teams, the Wood Brothers and Petty Enterprises, and the two most successful drivers of that era, David Pearson and Richard Petty, squared off in the closing laps for the win in the Daytona 500.

As is the case for any other Daytona 500, the preparation for the sport’s biggest race in 1976 began months earlier. Unlike today, when fleets of race cars are the norm, most teams in the 1970s prepared just one car for Daytona.

Eddie and Len Wood, who were just getting started as full-fledged members of the family team, picked up the car at the Arden, N.C. shop of famed car builder Banjo Mathews.

“It was just a chassis, roll cage, quarter panels and roof,” Eddie Wood recalled. “We brought it back to Stuart on a trailer behind a pick-up truck.”

Back at the shop, the Wood Brothers team set about to transform a basic car into one that could win the sport’s biggest race.

Tommy Turner, using an improved Ford block manufactured in Australia, built the short block while Leonard Wood crafted the cylinder heads.
Leonard Wood also hung the rest of the body, which was painted by long-time Wood Brothers crew member Ophus Agnew, who moonlighted at the race shop after working a day job at a local auto dealership.

Eddie and Len Wood decided that the interior of their new Mercury needed some dressing up, so they decided to paint it bright red instead of the flat black of their earlier cars.

“By that time Roger Penske was painting the interior of his cars the same light gray color his teams use today, and the Pettys painted their interior Petty Blue,” Eddie said. “We wanted ours to look nice too, so Len and I, along with Hylton Tatum, painted ours red, using lacquer paint.”
Eddie and Hylton did the actual application of paint, using the standard equipment of the day, a Binks No. 7 paint gun.

“We painted it right in the middle of the shop,” Wood said. “When we were finished everything in the shop was red, but the car looked great.”

The Mercury not only looked great, it was fast when it arrived in Daytona. And as the 500 began to unfold, it soon was apparent that barring any unexpected developments, the race for the win eventually would boil down to a battle between Pearson and Petty.

A.J. Foyt led the most laps, 66 of them, but his Hoss Ellington-prepared Chevrolet blew an engine.

Buddy Baker led 28 laps in Bud Moore’s Ford but also lost an engine.

That basically left Pearson and Petty at the head of the class.

Petty led for a total of 40 laps, including Laps 188 through the white flag lap, No. 199.

Pearson, who had led 36 laps up to that point, was running a close second.

“The end of the race played out under the green flag,” Wood said. “We all kind of had the feeling that it was going to come down to Richard and David.”

Eddie Wood was on the radio with Pearson, and only those two were privy to the conversation. There was no TV in the pits to keep the team abreast of what was happening out of their sight, and much of the track can’t be seen from pit road.
When the white flag flew, signaling one lap to go, Eddie Wood keyed his microphone. “Can you get him?” he asked Pearson, who replied that he certainly was going to try.

And with that the lead duo barreled off into Turn One and out of sight. The radio was silent.

IMG_7558“Then, as they entered Turn Three, the crowd kind of livened up,” Wood said. Pearson came on the radio and said: “I got him.”

But not for long.

Pearson then radioed: “He’s under me.”

That was followed by: “He hit me.”

“By then everyone was going nuts, including me,” Wood said, still unaware just exactly what had transpired. “When they came into sight, David was headed toward pit road, and Richard had piled into the wall and slid to a stop in the infield grass.”
Through the spinning and sliding, Pearson had pushed in the clutch on his car and kept the engine running, remembering what had happened to him in the Daytona 500 the year before.

“David was leading that race with three laps to go and got into an incident with Cale Yarborough and his engine died,” Wood said.

With his engine still running, Pearson radioed Wood to see if Petty, who was ahead of him, had crossed the finish line. Wood told him Petty was short of the finish line, and Pearson responded: “I’m coming.”

Wood initially thought Benny Parsons had won for the second straight year, but although Parsons crossed the finish line before Pearson arrived at a snail’s pace, he was a lap down. Pearson had his first and only Daytona 500 triumph.

IMG_7559It also was a first for Eddie and Len Wood, although it was the Wood Brothers’ fourth Daytona 500 win. “It was the biggest win that I had ever been a part of, at that time,” Wood said. “I was there when A.J. Foyt won in 1972, but Len and I had more to do with preparing the car in 1976.”
That car was rebuilt, and with the same engine under the hood went on to win the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 that year.

After its racing days, the Mercury that won one of the all-time thrillers in NASCAR history, served as a show car for then-series sponsor Winston before being returned to the Woods’ shop in Stuart, where the obsolete chassis was pushed aside.
“We sold it for $200 just to get it out of the way,” Wood said.

The car found its way to a junkyard in Florida, where it was rescued and restored by Donnie Gould. Now it is prominently displayed in the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Neb.

Flawless Performance Carried Foyt, Wood Brothers To Victory In 1972 Daytona 500

N-DY1-753 Smyle Media copyThe Wood Brothers have enjoyed their share of unexpected triumphs over the years, and then there have been some wins that were unexpectedly easy.

The 1972 Daytona 500 falls into the latter category.

Since its first running in 1959, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s showcase race. In 1972, just like today, NASCAR teams spent much of the off-season preparing for that one race.

A.J Foyt, who already had an impressive, diverse resume at that point, was driving the Wood’s No. 21 Mercury. The year before in the 500, Foyt was poised to win only to be thwarted by a twisted fuel filler hose that caused him to run short of fuel in the closing laps.

Victory lane AJ Foyt copyBut in 1972, there were no issues from start to finish. Foyt started from the outside pole position and led 167 of 200 laps, including the final 120. With many of the usual Daytona contenders falling out of the race early on or dropping hopelessly behind, Foyt was in a class by himself and was a lap ahead of runner-up Charlie Glotzbach at the finish.

Leonard Wood, long-time crew chief and mechanic on the No. 21, said the ’72 Daytona 500 was one of the team’s easiest wins.

“It was,” he said. “But we had some easy ones with David Pearson too. In 1973, he led every lap but one to win at Rockingham.”

The ‘72 Daytona 500 victory, was the third in the Great American Race for the Woods, coming after Tiny Lund’s triumph in 1963 and Cale Yarborough’s in 1968.

Wood said that when a team has a car as dominant as the No. 21 was that day, it can be stressful.

“You still have to worry about finishing,” he said.

It was the first Daytona 500 win for Foyt, and it gave him victories in three of auto racing’s premier events including the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He and Mario Andretti are the only drivers ever to win all three.

Delano copy 2Leonard Wood said the versatile Foyt, who won four times in 11 career starts for the Wood Brothers, was a competitive driver who wanted to be kept abreast of adjustments made to the car over the course of a race weekend.

“If you wanted to change something, you didn’t just do it and tell him about it, you explained why you were doing it,” Wood said.

Once at Ontario Motor Speedway, where Foyt won twice in the No. 21, Foyt wanted to change a spring on the car. Wood made the changes, and Foyt reported that the car felt better.

“But when I told him that he was running a half-second slower he said to change it back,” Wood said, adding that Foyt was at his best when he could see a checkered flag in his immediate future. “If he had a chance to win a race, he knew how to get it done.”

Gurney Was NASCAR’s Best Road-Course Ringer As His 1968 Riverside Win Showed

DG #2Every time the NASCAR circuit visits a road course there’s a lot of buzz about the road-course experts or “ringers” that are brought in to compete with the drivers who earn a living primarily making only left-hand turns.

But winning a Cup race with a ringer is more difficult than it might seem, even considering the different skills required to be successful on road courses.

More often than not, NASCAR regulars wind up in Victory Lane. A true ringer has never won a race at Sonoma Raceway in the track’s 28 Cup races since 1989. At Watkins Glen, there have been 38 Cup races without a ringer victory although several races have been won by road-course experts like Marcos Ambrose, but they were competing full-time in the Cup Series when they won at the Glen.

But in the 1960s, the Wood Brothers had great success using road course ringers at the old Riverside International Raceway in California.

Dan Gurney pitcrew Of the Woods’ seven career victories at Riverside, four were with road-course racer Dan Gurney at the wheel of the No. 121 Ford. The other three were by David Pearson, who was an expert on any type of race track.

Gurney’s win at Riverside in 1968 was one of the final “ringer” wins in the series now known as Monster Energy Cup. Mark Donohue won at Riverside in 1973, and after that all the victories there went to Cup regulars.

In addition to the fact that Gurney won in ’68 despite not being a regular NASCAR competitor, he and his Wood Brothers team had to overcome a broken exhaust box and tire problems late in the race to score the win.

Leonard Wood said that during the race, which Gurney led for 124 of 186 laps after starting from the pole, Gurney was leading but slowed and began signaling to the crew. Radios weren’t in regular use at that time.

“He was holding his hand to his ear, but we couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell us,” Wood said.

What had happened was that the top of a box underneath the car that collected exhaust from the headers before sending it out the side of the car had broken loose. That meant Gurney was having to deal with the side effects of a major exhaust leak.

“It was deafening him, plus it was hot,” Wood recalled.

Then on Lap 145, Gurney rolled into the pit area with a flat tire. Team owner Glen Wood, Leonard’s brother, noticed shreds of rubber wrapped around the rear axle. It took a lengthy pit stop to remove the rubber from the axle, but it only took Gurney 15 laps to regain the lead and score the fifth and final Cup victory of his 16-race NASCAR career.

Dan Gurney #7 Leonard Wood said that in the early days of competing at Riverside, road-course experts like Gurney were a second per lap faster than the NASCAR regulars. But the NASCAR drivers soon learned the quick ways through the esses and other tricks that the road-course ringers knew from competing in other series.

For example, Wood said Gurney would run a constant speed through the esses, while his then-teammate Cale Yarborough, who drove the No. 21, would be on and off the throttle, which upset his car and cost him time on the track.

“When we first started running road courses, if you had a road-course driver you had an advantage,” Leonard Wood said. “But it didn’t take the NASCAR drivers long to figure it out, and then they were just as good as the road-course drivers.”