The Wood Brothers of Virginia
(Manager’s note: Based on the excitement of seeing the Wood Brothers in victory lane again at the Daytona 500 we thought you might want to see what our resident NASCAR historian, Melissa Bleier had to say about the Wood Brothers back in April of 2010 – Bob)
This weekend, NASCAR stops at one of the few short tracks on our circuit. Richmond International Raceway is a ¾ mile track set on top of what used to be a half mile dirt track at the Virginia State Fairgrounds. Rather than delve into the history of the track today, I thought that we would stop over and visit one of the most famous families in racing who are from just down the road in Stuart, Virginia.
The Wood Brothers still field the number 21 Ford, driven by Awesome Bill from Dawsonville Elliot (one of my personal favorite drivers and a gentleman who always smiles if I holler “Hey Awesome Bill!” when I see him in the garages.). Glen and Leonard Wood changed the way stock car races were run and more importantly how they were won. The modern pit stop is the direct result of the Wood Brothers teams. Pit stops, while never leisurely, drivers often would turn their cars off and take a stretch. It was a smoke em if you got em kind of break, while the pit crew screwed off and on the gas caps; raised and lowered the car with hand pump jacks and attended to whatever adjustments needed to take place. We all know how distressing it is when our driver is stuck in the pits for more than fifteen seconds. Can you imagine if he climbed out for a smoke break!? It was the racing smarts of Glen and Leonard Wood that made pit road what it is today.
The Wood Brothers have been involved in stock car racing since 1950. Glen Wood entered into his first NASCAR Grand National race in 1953. He took home the burned up shell of his car, he never even made it through the first heat. But from that small step, Glen Wood became one of the most well known drivers in NASCAR. Glen finished 3rd in his second race and things got better from there. He even took home the Most Popular Driver award in 1959. His younger brother, Leonard, was always in the pits when Glen was racing. When Glen retired after fifteen years of racing, the Wood Brothers team was a well respected and admired racing team. The list of drivers who stepped into their Fords is awesome, a collection of legends in NASCAR that no other team can boast. Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Banjo Matthews, AJ Foyt, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Bill Elliot to name only a few. The Wood Brothers have always raced Fords, by the way. The Wood Brothers maintain an admirable manufacturers’ loyalty that few do any longer.
The Wood brothers took the time to notice that it mattered how long a driver took on pit road and began to work at reducing the total amount of time that their driver spent there. Glen credits Leonard’s engineering skills as the foundation for the innovation and design for improving the equipment used by the team. He worked with Ingersoll-Rand to develop the pneumatic air-guns which even today wrench the lug nuts off the cars like lightening. He also developed the pneumatic jack which reduced the ten to fifteen pumps on a store bought jack to one or two. With Leonard’s upgrades to the equipment used in the pit and a precisely developed choreography to the actual pit stop, the Wood brothers brought the total time for a pit stop to a sharp 20 seconds. Their methods even impressed the high-tone open wheel crowd. They were hired to run the pit for Jimmy Clark in 1965 for the Indianapolis 500. He won simply because he was in and out of the pits faster than anyone else in the race.
Glen was nominated to, but will not be inducted with the first class of the NASCAR Hall Of Fame. I think that he belongs there, but don’t get me started on who I would have voted for! There will be lots of years to get to all the folks who belong. However, the Wood Brothers have been recognized elsewhere. They are listed in the Motorsports Hall of Fame and Glen is listed as one of the 50 Greatest Drivers among other accolades. The Wood Brother’s Fords have been to victory lane at the Daytona 500 four separate times. They have won 96 races as a team and have been on the pole 116 times. In 1976, the Wood Brothers took home the triple crown of NASCAR, winning the Daytona 500, the World 600 and the Southern 500 with David Pearson behind the wheel.
If you are in Virginia, you absolutely must stop by the Wood Brothers Museum. The museum is in Stuart, not far from the North Carolina state line. Not only is the drive breathtaking, the shop is so full of amazing things, it will knock your socks off. I am not kidding. It has got to be the best racing museum out there. Not only that, but everyone is as nice as you would expect a family who has been in racing for 60 years to be.