A wise man once said that the best time to leave a party is while everyone is still having fun. The same can be said for race car drivers in deciding when to end their driving careers.
Many a race car driver hangs on to the steering wheel long after they’ve passed their driving prime, but NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood ran his final race as a driver when he was still among the sport’s best.
Wood’s last run came at one of his home tracks, Starkey Speedway near Roanoke, Va., on Aug. 23, 1964 in a race for the series now known as Sprint Cup.
“Ironically that was the only race that I helped promote,” he said.
“It was Marvin Panch, John Moose and me.”
Panch had been driving the No. 21 Ford on the bigger tracks, while Wood drove on most of the shorter ovals. And since his was the bigger name around Starkey, Wood would do the driving.
“It was thought at the time that since I had won seven in a row there with my Modified we’d have a better crowd if I drove it,” Wood said.
He qualified on the pole for the 50-mile run on the quarter-mile paved track. He and Junior Johnson won their respective 25-lap heat races, but the wins came at considerable expense to their softer left-side tires.
“When the heat races were over, we got to looking at the tires,” Wood said. “The two of us had worn them down, but one of [Johnson’s] was still pretty good. His crew wanted to know if they could have my best left-side tire to go with their best one.”
Since Johnson had been the one who helped Wood get the softer left-side tires, Wood agreed to let Johnson have his best left-side tire and he’d run hard tires on the left side of the No. 21.
“If I had known that that was the last race I’d ever run, he’d have had to put on some hard tires like I did,” Wood said. “He might have still outrun me that way, but I thought he’d blow the tire out.
“But he didn’t. I held him off for five for six laps, but I let him go. I knew what he had.”
Ned Jarrett caught Wood too, and he let him pass as well.
“After I let Junior go, I wasn’t too concerned about where I finished,” Wood said.
Even with the win out of his grasp, Wood had to draw the line somewhere.
“About five laps to go, I felt somebody tap me in the rear end,” he said. It was David Pearson in Cotton Owens’ No. 6 Dodge.
‘The other two in front of me were Fords, and that was all right,” Wood said of the drivers he’d let by. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to let him go with five laps to go.’
“And I held him off.”
Johnson won over Jarrett, Wood and Pearson, but top four in that race turned out to have a lot more in common than good finishes at Starkey Speedway. All have since been become members of one of the first three classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The 15th-place finisher at Starkey made it too, in the first round. His name – Richard Petty.
Only those who know just how hard the work is around a sawmill can fully appreciate how much Glen Wood’s early nickname “The Woodchopper” says about him. They know it goes a long way toward explaining how he and the race team he founded went on to win 98 Sprint Cup races and earn the team founder a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Before Wood was a racer, he was a sawmiller. Sawmilling in the 1940s was physically demanding, required long hours and mechanical ability, and involved both physical and financial risks. In other words, it was a lot like running a NASCAR race team. And Wood was good at it.
His first sawmill experience came as a teenager, when he hired on to a crew and was assigned the job of carrying the slabs away from the mill.
In a typical portable sawmill of Wood’s era, the person running the saw, the sawyer, operated the levers and determined what kinds of boards would be cut from a log. One person stood to his right and helped roll the logs onto the rolling carriage that carried the logs down the track where the spinning blade sliced off a section at a time.
The sawyer and helper rotate the logs as the round bark edges, or slabs, were sawed off, leaving a square beam that would then be sliced into lumber. On the other side of the large circular blade would be one person who would “off bear” or remove the freshly sawn board.
Another would dispose of the slabs, and still another would operate the edger, a separate device consisting of multiple blades that cut the edges off wide boards, many of which still had bark on the sides.
In a modern sawmill, hydraulic lifts move the logs around. In Wood’s day, it was done by hand, with a tool called a “cant hook.” Cant hooks have heavy wooden handles, with a swinging spike at the end. The spike is hooked into the log before turning, but it will easily come loose once the log is turned.
Still, great strength is required to roll over a log weighing several hundred pounds.
“It was a hard job, especially to turn a big log,” Wood recalled. “How I was big enough to do it, I still don’t know. But I got pretty good at it.
“The sawyer, Will Hopkins, would sometimes help me turn it. Sometimes the logs were big enough that both of us could hardly turn them over.”
Wood went from turning logs to hauling lumber after it was sawn.“I had an old cab-over-engine truck,” he said. “It was a very awkward truck to drive into the woods to get the lumber.”
He eventually swapped it for a conventional – and more powerful – truck, and continued on with his hauling business until he and his eventual racing partner Chris Williams went into the sawmill business.“We bought the mill and had different people sawing for us,” he said. “One morning we went out to saw, and the sawyer didn’t show up.
“I decided: ‘I’ll just see if I can do this.’ I’d been turning logs and running the edger, so I knew enough about it, I thought, even though I’d never attempted to do any sawing.
“I was cautious to begin with, but before long I was sawing as good as anybody we’d been hiring.”
On good days, Wood could saw between 8,000 and 10,000 board feet. (A board foot is the equivalent of a 1-by-12 inch board one foot long.) Production depends largely on the size and quality of the log, the skill of the sawyer and the horsepower at his disposal.
Eventually he and Williams sold their mill and Wood went to work sawing for Williams’ brother.
By then he was also driving race cars, which made for many a long day and night. He’d be in the woods by daylight to start sawing, then go straight from the woods to a race track and drive a race car that night.
“Somebody would bring the car by where I was working, and pick me up and go on to the track where we were racing,” Wood said.
Among the many items in the Wood Brothers Museum in Stuart, Va., is an old cant hook, which says as much about Wood and his team’s work ethic as any other piece there.
The Woodchopper himself is there most days too, and even at age 86, he’s still strong enough to turn a good sized log if he needed to.
Many of them are associated with his team’s 98 victories in the Sprint Cup division, but one in particular was a rare occurrence for both Wood and NASCAR. Neither came away winners that day.
It happened on Sept. 30, 1956, at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.
The race was for NASCAR’s Convertible Division, a circuit that ran from 1956-1959, with Wood being one of the top drivers, In 89 starts, he had five victories, nine poles, 43 top-five and 62 top-10 finishes.
At Asheville that day in the fall of 1956, Wood qualified on the outside pole in a field of 24 cars. Well into the race, it was an all-Ford show at the front, with Curtis Turner leading Joe Weatherly and Wood.
“The track kept getting dustier and dustier as time went on,” Wood recalled. “We kept running through the dust on the backstretch coming off Turn Two, then we’d pop out on the other side and you could see again.
“But you couldn’t see a thing as you went into it.”
That went on for lap after lap without incident, until there were about 20 laps left to run in the 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track.
“All of a sudden, this particular time, there were cars wrecked in that dust,” Wood said. “I didn’t know it. There wasn’t a caution or anything, or if there was, I didn’t see it. Evidently no one else did either.”
“I went into that dust into a pile of cars wide open,” he said. “It threw me down across the steering wheel, and split my nose and mouth open. I started to get up and get out of the car and I about passed out, so I just sat back down.
“I remember seeing Joe Weatherly getting out of his car, and he jumped up on the fence and just hung onto it.
All told, 14 drivers were involved. Turner, who had managed to avoid the melee, was the only driver left on the track. So he wound up with the distinction of winning the only major NASCAR race ever cut short by a lack of competition.
And Wood, who was credited with third place, ended up with the only serious injury of his driving career.
He spent some time in the hospital while doctors patched up his nose.
“It didn’t hurt anything beyond that,” he said. “But it left me sounding like I had a stopped up nose when I talked.”
In his driving career, Wood took several other tumbles that left him with cracked ribs, relatively minor injuries especially given the lack of safety features in the race cars he drove, compared to the cars of today.
“I went over the bank once at Hillsborough [N.C.] and cracked a rib,” he said, chuckling at the comments of one of the first people to reach his wrecked racer.
“Somebody came over and said: ‘What happened to ol’ Turner?’
“I said: ‘I don’t know. I just got here.’ He didn’t even ask if I was all right.”
His experiences on tracks surrounded by fences made of upright boards gave special meaning to the old saying about drivers “knocking the wall down” in a crash.
“When you hit it, you knocked the whole thing down,” Wood said.
One time he knocked the fence down at a track in Draper, N.C., but it was no joking matter.
“Somebody crossed me up, and I went through the fence,” he said. “I had a little ‘34 Ford in that particular race.”
Wood said that race drivers often will say they closed their eyes just before impact, but in most cases that’s not true. In his case, it was. So it wasn’t until he and the crew were back in the shop at Stuart, Va., that he realized just how close a call he’d had.
“We got to looking at the car when we got home with it,” he said. “There was a dented streak, from a board, all the way from the front of the hood to the back of it, and the steering wheel was bent towards me.
“That just about scared me right there.”
Another time a broken spring shackle launched his car into the air at a track near Floyd, Va.
“I went straight over the bank,” he said. “I remember going through the air and it was quiet.”
Then his car slammed into the ground outside the track.
“Later I checked my helmet, and it had cracked it,” he said. “And I had dirt in my ear where I had landed on the driver’s side.
“How I didn’t get hurt I don’t know, unless that dirt was softer than I thought.”
It wasn’t enough to keep him out of a race car, even that same night.
“We had two cars at that time, and I was dumb enough to send my partner Chris Williams back to Stuart to get the other car,” Wood said, “He got back in time to start the race, but I think something happened to that one too.”
Wood said he never considered himself a daredevil, and he said he wasn’t much for superspeedway racing.
“I guess that’s one reason I quit, the speedways were getting really fast,” he said.
But Wood still finds it hard to explain how it is, he loved the breakneck speeds of the old beach-road course at Daytona, where speeds on the road portion of the track were much faster than those seen in the early days of Daytona International Speedway, but didn’t like the sweeping new track.
“We used to run faster on the sand than we did at the big track at Daytona,” he said. “We ran a two-mile straight run. However fast the car would run, that’s how fast you’d go.
“I liked that, but somehow I didn’t care for the new speedway that much.”
The Wood Brothers have had lots to celebrate in 2011, including a win in the Daytona 500 and the election of team founder Glen Wood into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The celebration continues during the Bank of America 500 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as the paint scheme on the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion honors Glen Wood’s final win as a race driver.
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane car will be painted in the same colors as the 1963 Ford Galaxie that Wood drove to victory at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., on July 13, 1963, and crew members will wear shirts just like the ones the Wood Brothers wore in the mid-1960s.
That No. 21 Ford from 1963 was rugged, fast and versatile. In its first race, at Riverside, Calif., Fred Lorenzen turned the car over in practice, but the Woods repaired it at the track, and Lorenzen took a 22nd-place finish. From there it was on to Daytona, where the Woods’ regular driver Marvin Panch was badly burned in a sports car crash and one of his rescuers, Tiny Lund, took over the No. 21 and drove it to victory in the Daytona 500 in one of the biggest stories ever in auto racing.
Wood returned to the seat at Bowman-Gray that July, and the “Master of the Madhouse” lived up to his nickname earned on the quarter-mile track known then and now as the “Madhouse.”
He started on the pole, but was involved in an early spin. While fellow future Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett took turns on the point, Wood was using his mastery of the Madhouse to work his way back to the front, no small feat on the small, narrow track. On Lap 107 of 200, he took the lead from Jarrett and led the rest of the way.
The red-and-white Ford was back in Victory Lane on Sept. 29 at North Wilkesboro Speedway with Panch driving, and Dave MacDonald finished second in it at Riverside. That talented stable of drivers combined to give the Woods the 1963 car owner’s championship for the series now known as Sprint Cup.
Then that history-making Ford was turned back in to Holman Moody in exchange for a new model, and the Woods began to focus on building a faster car for the 1964 season.
The Stuart, Va.-based team also began to change its strategy when it came to its driver line-up.
With the team finding increasing success with other drivers behind the wheel of their fast Fords, Glen Wood soon cut back on his driving. After his win at Bowman Gray, he only ran three more races, two of them at Bowman Gray. Then the driving portion of his Hall of Fame career came to a close on Aug. 23, 1964, at Starkey Speedway in Roanoke, Va., where he started on the pole and finished third in a race that he also helped promote.
The 2011 version of the Wood Brothers’ car will carry the same color scheme as the ’63 version, with red on the bottom of the car and white on top, and the logos will be 60s style as well. Glen Wood’s name will be on the roof, but where the Glen Wood-driven version carried the logos of English Ford in High Point, N.C., the Trevor Bayne-wheeled car will have Motorcraft/Quick Lane instead. But as Wood’s son and team co-owner Eddie Wood pointed out, the sponsor really is the same, even after nearly 50 years.
“Back then it said ‘English Ford’ but it was really sponsored by the Ford factory,” Wood said. “And 48 years later we’re still sponsored by Ford Motor Company.”
For the 20-year-old Bayne, the Charlotte paint scheme is another part of his ongoing, year-long lesson in Wood Brothers and NASCAR history. Since he began driving for the Woods about a year ago, one of Bayne’s favorite parts of the job is being around the shop and hearing stories from the past from Glen, Leonard, Eddie or Len Wood. The conversations are a bridge to an earlier era, one that drivers his age and many a fan know little of.
“When they’re telling stories, I think, ‘Did racing really used to be that way?’” he said, adding that the Woods’ history is in many ways the history of NASCAR. “The Wood Brothers are timeless. They have wins and history from the early days of the sport until now. They’re very proud of their history.”
Bayne said that as he runs paint schemes like the ones he’s run featuring David Pearson and now Glen Wood, he’s reminded that the men he knows only as friendly senior citizens once were tough competitors behind the wheel in an often rough-and-tumble era.
“But you can tell that once they put the helmet on they’d really go for it,” he said. “Glen Wood is The Man.”
Donnie Wingo, the current crew chief on the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, has only been a part of the Wood Brothers history for a short time, but he’s been friends with the family for years.
So it’s no surprise that he’s already a fan of the throwback paint scheme that will adorn the same Fusion that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. drove to an 11th-place finish earlier this year at Charlotte when he was filling in for the recovering Bayne.
“It’s pretty cool,” Wingo said. “The car really stands out. I like the background and the way it makes the numbers and the writing on the car stand out.”
And Wingo likes the idea of being part of a gesture to honor a true racing legend.
“It means a lot,” he said.
Qualifying for the Bank of America 500 is set for Thursday at 7:10 p.m., and the race is set to get the green flag on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with TV coverage on ABC.
Over the years, the Wood Brothers have made many a memorable trip to Michigan International Speedway, the home track for Ford Motor Company and the site of Sunday’s Heluva Good 400 Sprint Cup Series race. But this Father’s Day weekend trip is extra special for the Wood family and their race team.
On Tuesday, team founder Glen Wood was selected as one of the five inductees for the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And this weekend marks the return to the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion of the Woods’ Daytona 500 winning driver Trevor Bayne, who has been sidelined by illness.
The success of the race team founded by Glen Wood is as evident at Michigan as anywhere. The Woods and fellow Ford team owner Jack Roush are tied for the lead in Michigan victories with 11 apiece.
But Glen Wood and his brothers Leonard, Delano, Clay and Ray Lee were winners nearly everywhere they ran, and the team, now in its 61st year, continues to find success under the everyday management of Glen Wood’s children Eddie, Len and Kim.
Wood, whose team now has 98 Cup victories including five in the Daytona 500, said he was humbled by his selection, which puts him among the first 15 people inducted in the Hall.
“I could hardly believe it when they called out my name,” Wood said. “But I don’t take it lightly. It’s the greatest honor you can get in this sport of NASCAR, and it’s especially nice to have a Daytona 500 victory and this in the same year.”
Wood pointed out that his time in the sport hasn’t always been marked by success. “It hasn’t been an easy thing from the get-go,” he said. “I know the ups and downs, both sides of it.”
He said his selection to the Hall is something to be celebrated by his entire family.
“I’m prouder for my children than I am for myself,” he said.
While Wood, at age 85, is bracing for a year of appearances related to his induction, the team’s rookie driver, age 20, has been preparing himself for his return to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. He’s already raced once since he recovered from his illness, in his Nationwide Series Mustang at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago, where he finished a strong third. But driving the No. 21 Ford Fusion on the Cup circuit is a greater challenge, and one he’s been busy preparing for.
“I’ve just been really working out hard and running and doing all that kind of stuff to try to help myself physically as much as I can because of the issues I had before,” Bayne said. “I don’t think there’s anything I did to induce that, but I definitely want to do all I can to prevent it again now. So I’ve been doing that…
“I just can’t wait to get out there and get practice underway and start working with [crew chief] Donnie Wingo again and get that Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion back at the top of the board again.”
Qualifying for the Heluva Good 400 is set for Saturday at 1:10 p.m., and the race is schedule to start just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on TNT.
Over the past 61 years, the Wood Brothers of Stuart, Va., have played a part in some of the most memorable moments in motorsports. But Trevor Bayne’s victory in Sunday’s Daytona 500 topped them all. Bayne, making just his second career Sprint Cup start and his first in the Great American Race, scored a stunning victory, ending a 10-year losing streak for NASCAR’s oldest race team and giving Ford Motor Company its 600th Sprint Cup victory.
The win was special in many ways. It was a dramatic victory by a clean-cut fresh-faced youngster, and it was a popular triumph for the Woods, who remain some of the most respected people in the NASCAR garage. But for the Woods themselves, their fifth Daytona 500 triumph was a way for the current members of the team to pay back all the people that have stood behind them all these years.
“I walked in Victory Lane with Richard Petty and Edsel Ford and my dad,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the winning Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. “I don’t know how much better that can get.”
Wood went on to say that the victory is important not only for his father, team owner Glen Wood, but also for the original members of the family race team, people like Glen’s brothers Leonard, Ray Lee, Delano and Clay, as well as all the others who have been a part of the team over the years.
Wood also mentioned the leaders at Ford Motor Company, who stuck by the Woods even as they struggled on the race track in recent seasons. He pointed to people like Edsel Ford, Alan Mulally Jim Farley and Mark Fields who not only helped the Woods get back on track but did the same for Ford Motor Company itself.
“They knew what to do,” Wood said. “We’re so proud to be a part of those guys. We have raced Ford Motor Company products exclusively since 1950. One of the most important things to our racing family is our relationship with Ford Motor Company.”
Wood said it meant even more to be the team that gave Ford its 600th Cup victory.
“For us to be the guys that gave it to them with Trevor at the wheel is just a storybook ending for it,” he said. “I’m just so proud to be a part of their world. They mean the world to us.”
Crew chief Donnie Wingo also found himself talking about long-term relationships during his part of the winner’s interview. “I’ve known these guys here for probably about 30 years,” he said of Eddie and Len Wood.
“With everything the way it worked out last year, the opportunity for me to come over and work with this great group of people, you know, I couldn’t be prouder, couldn’t be happier.”
Bayne, who held off a pack of veteran drivers in a green-white-checkered-flag dash to the finish and beat Carl Edwards by .118 seconds, said he felt fortunate to be a part of one of the greatest moments in NASCAR history.
“I almost feel undeserving because there’s guys like Donnie and all these guys out here that are racing against us that have been trying to do this for so long,” he said. “But there’s nobody that deserves it more than any of these guys sitting up here. I’m just glad I got to be the guy sitting behind the wheel for these guys to get this win.”
For 85-year-old Glen Wood, who has been to Victory Lane with some of auto racing’s all-time great drivers, Sunday’s trip was about the sweetest he can remember.
“It’s the greatest thing we’ve ever had happen to us,” he said. “It’s certainly put us in the spotlight more than I can ever remember.”
He said he was especially proud for his sons Eddie and Len and daughter Kim, who now manage the day-to-day affairs of the family race team. He said the second generation racers are responsible for forging a relationship with Roush Fenway Racing that helped them get a Roush car, and it was that trio that decided to hire Donnie Wingo as crew chief and Bayne as the driver.
“It was their call,” he said.
And he had high praise for Bayne, who was a front-runner from the first day of practice for the 500.
“Trevor deserved to win,” Wood said. “He earned it. He didn’t luck into it at all.
“He ran as good or better than any of them did all day long.”
Bayne’s victory continues a streak that has seen the Woods improve their performance over the past year or so, an uphill turn that the team badly needed.
But Eddie Wood said that even as the team struggled through tough times and failed to qualify for races, no one in the family ever considered giving up.
“You begin to think you can never get back, but you keep trying,” he said. “Just the fact that you want one more trophy, one more trophy, you just can’t quit. And we never did quit. We just kept trying.”
And on Sunday, just like in the team’s glory years, the red and white Ford with the gold 21 on the doors was in the hunt all day and in Victory Lane afterward.
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion was painted in those throw-back colors to honor David Pearson’s upcoming induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but Wood said the colors seemed to do much more than honor a famous former driver.
“Bringing back the red and white car with the gold numbers that Pearson drove, that just seemed like it put things back to normal,” he said.
One race that stands above the rest from Wood’s early days as a full-time mechanic was the 1976 Daytona 500, a race that is rated by many as having the most exciting finish ever in NASCAR.
In that race, the Woods’ driver David Pearson drove a 1976 Mercury Montego.
Eddie Wood, then 24, said he and his brother decided they’d like to paint the inside of their car something other than the dull flat black that it had been in the past. Their inspiration came in part from seeing their friends and rivals at Petty Enterprises paint the insides of their cars blue.
Wood said the first color chosen for the Mercury’s interior was silver.
“We painted it in the middle of the floor,” Wood said.
But when it was done, it just didn’t look right.
“We got together, Len, myself and Leonard and got lacquer thinner and some rags and wiped all that paint off,” he said. “Then we painted it in red lacquer.”
Wood said that experience illustrated how his uncle Leonard, who is still regarded as one of the brightest minds in the NASCAR garage, was patient with his nephews and willing to try their ideas on a race car.
But, as Wood pointed out, Leonard’s primary focus was on that No. 21 and making it fast. And at the race tracks, when Len and Eddie would wander around the garage and check out other cars, Leonard never ventured far from the No. 21’s garage stall.
A former Woods driver, A.J. Foyt led the most laps that day, but his Hoss Ellington Chevrolet blew an engine. Buddy Baker, who would eventually drive the No. 21, led 28 laps in Bud Moore’s Ford, but also blew an engine.
But all the while, from the drop of the green flag, the two drivers at the head of the class were Pearson and Richard Petty, just as they were at countless other races and countless other tracks back in the day.
The Pettys and Woods were fierce rivals, but also friends. It was true then, and it’s true today. “We’ve always been friends with the Pettys,” Wood said. “When we were running a limited schedule and happened to fall out of a race, we’d go stand with Dale Inman in Petty’s pits. It’s still that way today.”
As the laps wound down back in February of 1976, Pearson led from Lap 177 to 187. Then Petty led from 188-199.
As usual for those times, Eddie Wood was the only team member in radio contact with Pearson. “Leonard was the crew chief and changed tires, and he didn’t want to be bothered with the radio,” Wood said.
As the cars roared off Turn Two down the backstretch, the crowd began to stand up. A roar was building.
Pearson came on the radio with a simple update: “I got him.”
Pearson went high to the lead, but Petty came back on the low side. The two future Hall of Famers ran side by side, but a slight bump set in motion a series of events that have become an unforgettable part of Daytona and NASCAR lore.
Wood still couldn’t see what was happening and only got a brief report from Pearson over the radio: “He hit me.”
Then Wood heard Pearson on the radio, asking: “Where’s Richard?”
It was a moment that clearly illustrated just how calm Pearson was in that situation compared to everyone else around him.
“I couldn’t even find the button to push to answer him,” Wood said.
Wood said that over the years, he’s watched replays of that finish, and come to appreciate even more just how calm the Silver Fox was in those critical moments.
“When he asked me ‘Where’s Richard’ he was spinning,” Wood said. “He had clutched the car and was keeping it running, which was using both feet. He had to use one hand to push the talk button, which was on his shoulder harness, and he still had to steer the car.
The car later served as a show car for series sponsor Winston, then ended up parked out back of the Woods’ shop in Stuart, made obsolete by NASCAR’s downsizing of the Cup cars.
“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. At last report it was on display in the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Neb.
The racing accomplishments of the Wood Brothers over the past 61 years are well documented. Their on-track records have been compiled by NASCAR statisticians and are now available to all simply by a few clicks of a computer’s mouse. And other parts of the team’s history, artifacts that tell even more of the story, can be found in racing museums across America.
The Woods’ family history also is well preserved, thanks in large part to Crystal Wood, sister of the original brothers Glen, Leonard, Ray Lee, Delano and Clay.
Crystal Wood, who only saw her brother Glen race one time and hasn’t been to a NASCAR race since Buddy Baker was driving the family’s famed No. 21 Ford, considers herself the team’s No. 1 fan, but she also has spent countless hours documenting and honoring her family history and heritage. She’s traced her father’s and mother’s family trees back to the 1600s. The Woods are of English descent, while her mother’s family, the DeHarts, were French Huguenots.
“I have worked on heritage books within the county, and I’m into genealogy,” Mrs. Wood said. “The mantle has been passed to me.”
While the genealogy records are important to her younger family members, the things that really bring the family history forward are her home-made Christmas ornaments.
For the past 21 years, she’s made ornaments for her kin from things their grandmother, her mother Ada Wood, once used.
They’ve been made from clothes pins, hair pins, canning rings, buttons, marbles, puzzles, Christmas cards, nails, quilt pieces, beads, yarn, and even the spark plugs once used to weigh down the draperies. They’re items the grandchildren remember seeing their grandmother use.
They survived the years because the Wood family homeplace remains much as it was in Walter and Ada Wood’s day. Walter died 44 years ago, Ada’s been gone for 21.
Ray Lee Wood now lives in the home house and has made few changes. Many of Ada Wood’s clothes pins, buttons and such were still in the drawers where she left them when Crystal retrieved them to make ornaments. The neat, white-framed house still looks and feels like home to several generations of the Wood family.
“The furniture on front porch is the same,” Mrs. Wood said. “The old shed is the same, the old long table in kitchen is the same…That’s what we cherish.”
And just as going to a museum and looking at a red-and-white Mercury Cyclone with David Pearson’s name above a gold No. 21 on the door, takes a race fan back to some of the greatest moments in NASCAR history, seeing Crystal Wood’s ornaments brings back precious memories for the Wood family members who receive them.
“As they receive their ornament the memory of our mother comes back,” Mrs. Wood said.
For Glen Wood’s daughter Kim Wood Hall, the angel ornament is among her favorites. The angel’s body is a spool of thread and her arms and legs are buttons – all materials from her Nannie Wood’s sewing box. And there’s the star ornament, made from the 150-year-old beech tree at the homeplace, where the family gathers each summer. The ends of the star are seeds from the beech tree, and the center is the seed pod. A gold cross ornament is made from nails, one of them slightly bent, from her grandmother’s tool drawer.
“All the ornaments made us feel that Nannie Wood is still with us and are very special to us,” Mrs. Hall said.
Crystal Wood said the Christmas ornaments have become a family tradition in themselves.
“They are forever guessing what I’m going to make next,” she said. “They do look forward to it. I never dreamed when I first started this that it would become what it has.”
Just as her brother Leonard has a knack for fashioning innovative race car parts, Crystal seems to know just what to do when making unique and meaningful Christmas ornaments. She combines her skills as a seamstress with her craft-making talents.
“It comes natural to try to figure out ways to make something pretty of an everyday thing,” she said.
As another year rolls around and the racers in her family are looking forward to adding some new accomplishments to the Wood’s racing records, Crystal Wood is seeing to it that the family also will be able to carry its Christmas ornament tradition well into the future.
She’s been busy gathering materials and ideas.
“I’m four years ahead already,” she said.
When it comes to back seat driving, Glen Wood was among the best.
But Wood’s back seat driving didn’t involve nagging the one behind the wheel. He did his back seat driving from the back seat.
If you’ve been to the Wood Brothers Racing Museum in Stuart, Va., or saw races back in the day at Martinsville Speedway or Bowman Gray Stadium or Starkey Speedway you know where this story is headed. If not, here’s the story of one of the first examples of the Wood Brothers ingenuity when it came to preparing winning race cars.
Back in the old Modified days, where rules were much more liberal than today, teams got more rear grip and thus more acceleration off the corners, by moving the engine rearward in the car. Glen Wood and his brother Leonard kept moving the engine back in their 1937 Ford until the driver was sitting in the back seat of the car.
“We wound up putting the engine further back than we aimed to, to get everything to fit right,” Leonard Wood said. “It put the driver in the back seat. We put a long steering shaft on it and took a Ford Falcon steering wheel that was deep dished to get it back a little more.”
Today’s Modified cars also have engines located rearward on the frame, but the bodies are shifted back so the driver doesn’t appear to be sitting in the back seat as Wood did.
The Woods’ Modified was powered by a 361-cubic-inch engine taken from Glen’s 1958 Edsel. It was bored out to 370-cubic-inches with three Stromberg carburetors using methanol, instead of gasoline.
“Those Stromberg carburetors are the best you could get for burning methanol,” Leonard Wood said.
With Glen Wood driving, the back seat car was all but unbeatable on the short tracks around Virginia and North Carolina. It won eight in a row at Starkey Speedway near Roanoke, countless features and a championship at Bowman Gray and a big Modified race at Martinsville Speedway, where the Sprint Cup Series will be racing this weekend.
Glen Wood said the back seater was quite the innovative car in its day.
“When I first got in it after Leonard fixed it up, I thought, ‘If I can drive that, I can fly an airplane,’” Glen Wood said. “But after I got used to the distance between where I was sitting as compared to where you usually sit, it was fine. And I had to get used to getting close to other cars. You’d think you were closer to them than what you were, but you had to be close to them to do any good.”
The car had so much rear weight that it wasn’t uncommon to see the left front wheel off the ground at speed.
“If you put a little wedge in it, it would pick up the left front wheel a foot high,” Glen Wood said. “I have carried it halfway down the straightaway.”
But when Leonard Wood recalls the back seat car at Martinsville, it’s not a race that first comes to mind. It’s a practice session in which he did a little back-seat driving, so to speak.
Glen Wood decided the car needed a heavier right front spindle like they’d been running on the rough dirt tracks. Leonard had other ideas.
“I didn’t see why he needed that heavier spindle on a smooth asphalt track, so I got in the car and Glen took me for a ride around the track,” Leonard Wood said. “Well that thing with those big slicks and all, was getting such a good grip in the corners that it felt like it was going to throw me out the right side window.”
“I’m trying to get him to stop, but he can’t hear me. I’ve had enough right off. Finally he pulled in, and I said, ‘Glen, I think you do need a stronger spindle.”
“I mean the force it was putting on that right front spindle felt like it was tremendous. I had to hold on tight or it would have thrown me right out the window.”
Glen Wood said he doesn’t remember many of the details of his 1960 Modified win at Martinsville. But it was a victory at Martinsville, where he always ran strong but had one thing or another keep him out of Victory Lane in Convertible and Grand National races.
“I led a lot of them and was on the pole for about half of them, but somehow they all eluded me,” he said. “But that was one of my favorite tracks, along with Bowman Gray Stadium.”
A replica of the back seat racer, complete with the actual Stromberg carburetors on the original car, along with other cars and memorabilia from the Wood Brothers’ 60 years of NASCAR racing are on display at the Wood Brothers Racing Museum on Performance Drive in Stuart, just 30 miles west from Martinsville, Va.
Museum hours are 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. this week and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, and most days, Glen and Bernece Wood will be there to greet visitors. Admission is free.