Wood Enters Hall As Powerful Team Patriarch

Glen Wood was a successful driver on tracks around his home in Stuart, Va., but it’s not his on-track skills that make him a member of the third class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Rather, it is because he is the patriarch of one of the oldest, most venerated and most celebrated teams in NASCAR history – Wood Brothers Racing.

With brothers Leonard (who served as crew chief) and Delano (the jackman), Glen Wood started an organization that dates back to 1950 and continues to this day.

With some of the most notable drivers in NASCAR lore, a couple of whom have preceded Wood into the Hall of Fame, Wood Brothers Racing won nearly all the major superspeedway events. To date the organization is credited with 98 victories.

Unlike most NASCAR teams, the Woods did not compete for championships. They preferred a schedule that was limited to primarily superspeedway events. Their reasoning was that big-track races paid the most money and to do well increased the bottom line. Besides, it cost a lot of money to pursue a championship on a coast-to-coast schedule.

To say the Woods did well is an understatement. They did exceptionally well, so much so that their team was widely recognized as NASCAR’s best on superspeedways, regardless of who was doing the driving.

The Woods always seemed to find the combination that served them well on the big tracks – be it raw horsepower (which many believed) or the right mixture of power and handling.

Add to his another ingredient. The Woods, in their prime, were masters of the pit stop. They merged fluidity and creativity with speed to routinely produce the fastest stops in any race.

It’s likely there is no better proof of the Woods’ dominance on superspeedways and the contributions made by their pit skill than the 1973 season.

David Pearson, already a member of the Hall of Fame, was in his second year behind the wheel of the Woods’ Mercury. Impressively, he had won six times in only 14 starts in 1972.

The Woods planned to race in just 18 of 28 scheduled events in ’73, all but two of them on superspeedways.

Remarkably, they would win 11 times. It was an astonishing record.

“They ran against overwhelming odds,” said the late Harry Hyde, then crew chief at K&K Racing, “and they won anyway. Their record is incredible and may never be broken.”

Perhaps the season offers no better example of how, and why, the Woods dominated the superspeedways than the Motor State 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 24, 1973.

Roger Penske had take over the financially beleaguered track early in 1973 and the first thing he did was to cancel the speedway’s second NASCAR race, the Yankee 400, scheduled for August.

Penske felt the two-race NASCAR schedule was too tight and could have a negative financial impact.

Turns out he made the right move. The Motor State 400 drew the largest crowd in the track’s six-year history – 44,800 – and made a profit of $190,000.

The race itself seemed to play right into the Wood’s hands. It was free of any caution periods, something that has happened only three times in MIS history, which meant raw speed and pit stops could make all the difference.

Four pit stops were required by each competitor to cover the 400 miles. As predicted, the Woods were fastest on pit road, which meant that each time leader Pearson left, he had a bigger advantage over his rivals.

Buddy Baker, then driving for Hyde and the K&K team, was Pearson’s only rival. In fact the entire race was a tussle between the two, with Baker leading 10 times for 119 laps and Pearson seven times for 67 laps.

Baker ran Pearson down on two occasions following green-flag pit stops. Throughout the race, it appeared that no matter how much advantage Pearson gained after pit stops, Baker was able to overcome it.

On the last stop with 22 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, Pearson dashed into the pits for 7.3 seconds. Baker followed and spent 10.5 seconds on pit road.

The question was, did Baker have enough time to get past Pearson and thus win the race?

He did not. While Baker closed steadily, he ran out of time and finished 1.1-seconds behind Pearson.

“Buddy was running real well,” Pearson said. “I knew he was coming up on me at the end. It would have been only a few more laps before he would have caught me.”

Pearson and Baker were the only two drivers to complete all 200 laps and they finished one circuit ahead of Richard Petty.

The victory was Pearson’s seventh in 10 starts to that point of the season.

There was more to come in 1973.

And for the team founded by Glen Wood, there was even more, much more, to come in the years ahead.

 

The Glory The Woods Held At Darlington, Until …

Darlington Raceway’s lore is filled with men, machines, races, controversy and even the fantastic and unbelievable.

The have been great failures, unusual winners, accidents seemingly triggered by a spectral hand, pit stops gone askew for reasons no one could fathom, and much more.

Much of this has been attributed to the speedway itself and its unique 1.366-mile layout, in which no two sets of turns are alike, and, for years, with its cheese grader-like racing surface – the one filled with crushed oyster shells – that tore up tires so quickly a car raced only a precious handful of laps before it was junk. The question became how to get the piece of junk down the straight and through the tough turns as fast as possible.

Not all the junks could do it and sometimes, they couldn’t get out of their own way or escape a faster car and mayhem ensued.

The teams that won were nearly always those whose cars always produced speed, but at the same time learned much about tire management. Simply put, their cars were faster at the start and were faster than others when tire wear began to kick in.

Petty Enterprises, DiGard Racing Co., Junjor Johnson and Associates, Harry Ranier Enterprires and Wood Brothers Racing were a few of the teams who understood the complexities of racing at Dalrington, and, as such won most of the races through the 1970s.

At that time, easily the most successful of the aforementioned teams was the Woods and their driver David Pearson.

Pearson hand already won two Grand National championships by the time he joined the Woods in 1972. He earned his first in 1966 with Cotton Owens swept the ’68 and ’69 titles with Holman-Moody.

The fact that the Woods were not going to pursue a championship, and thus not compete in as many as 50 races per season, appealed to Pearson – himself tired of the grind.

In 1972, the Woods entered only 17 races. But, with Pearson, they won six of them.

1973 was a remarkable season. The Woods entered just 18 races but – get this – with Pearson, they won 13 of them – an unheard of and since unmatched 72% winning percentage.

In 1974 The Woods and Pearson won seven of nineteen, in ’75 it dropped to three of 21, but it ’76 it rose to 10 of 22, then to 2 of 22 and four of 22 in ’78.

In 1979, Pearson was again united with the Woods and again expectations were high. But ironically, it would all come to an end during an unexpected incident on pit road – where the Woods usually excel.

Things began to unravel when Pearson entered pit road on lap 302. He’s thinking was that the Woods were going to put on two right-sides only. So when that was complete, Pearson shot toward the exit of pit road at high speed with the lug nuts dangling on the left-side tires.

Horrified over the situation, crew chief Leonard Wood hollered into the radio: “Whoa!” “Whoa!”

Pearson thought he had hollered, “Go!” “Go!” And so he did. He got to the end of pit road, where the left side tires on his Mercury flopped to the ground.

Pearson wound up 12th in the race, won by Darrell Waltrip over Richard Petty.

Later in the week, Wood Patriarch Glen Wood announced that Pearson was no longer part of the team. He admitted that the Darlington pit-road incident had something to do with it. It was the climax of several little things.

Leonard, however, denied the miscue at Darlington was to be blamed. He added that certain matters hadn’t been worked out. He cryptically added that with 12 different teams capable of winning, new strategies had to be planned out.

Hard to figure what strategies a team, which had won 29 supespeedway races since 1972, could adapt.

In the years ahead, for the Woods, there weren’t that many glorious years. Oh, there were victories, but they never again came in the abundance they did before Darlington in 1979.

 

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