Wood Brothers: The long journey toward win 100
Inside the Wood Brothers Racing hauler last month in the Daytona International Speedway garage area, oblivious to the orchestra of noise outside, Eddie Wood is flipping through a NASCAR history book.
On so many of the pages, it is as much a Wood family album as a NASCAR history. This is because Wood Brothers Racing and NASCAR have enjoyed parallel lives and storied peak moments. Eddie Wood participated in many of them, remembers most of the others and has studied the history behind the ones that predate his birth.
Wood Brothers Racing started before NASCAR, helped to create NASCAR’s brand and style, won its biggest race five times and provided a driver’s seat for an honor roll of motorsports’ biggest names.
“There’s Tiny in 1963,” Wood said, pointing to a photo of Tiny Lund on the way to winning the Daytona 500 that year. The same colors – red and white, with the bold number 21 on the side, a number that also would carry Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson and Trevor Bayne to victories in the 500.
“And Pearson driving for us in ’74,” Wood said, “and there’s the big finish in ’76, and Neil Bonnett winning for us at Dover in 1981. So many things to remember. Great drivers, great times.”
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Perhaps most striking in Eddie Wood’s ride through this particular piece of NASCAR history is a photo of his father, Glen, the team’s founder, sitting in the 21 for the start of a NASCAR Convertible Division race in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Glen was a lumberman, a lover of fast cars and a pioneer of motorsports. The team he built with his first fast engine, Ford parts and pieces and shade-tree (literally) mechanical skills drives on today, in search of historic team win No. 100.
The Wood Brothers team began in the front yard of the family’s modest home near Stuart, Virginia. The mountain valley where the Woods – Walter and Ada, their sons Glen, Ray Lee, Clay, Delano and Leonard, and their daughter, Crystal, lived is known as Buffalo Ridge. There, in the yard of the farmhouse, grows a huge American Beech tree, and it was the sturdy lower limb of that tree that held the chain that was used to pull the engine from the brothers’ first race car.
In those early days, the brothers had no workshop. They tinkered with cars under the Virginia blue sky. Eventually, a series of shops were built, even as Glen recorded the team’s first NASCAR wins and it became evident that more money could be made at the racetrack than the family sawmill.
Over the years, the wins came in bunches as the No. 21 hosted a string of successful drivers: Dan Gurney, Marvin Panch, A.J. Foyt, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and, most famously in recent years, a kid named Trevor Bayne.
Bayne stunned everybody, including himself, by winning the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Woods, an upset of epic proportions for a relatively obscure driver who had turned 20 years old only a day before the race. A wild celebration followed, and Glen Wood, then 85 years old, almost missed it.
Richard Petty, a driver and team owner who went fender-to-fender with the Woods across so many years but also treasures their friendship, tells that story best.
“I wound up near the Woods’ pit when the race was over,” Petty remembered. “All of their crowd went to the winner’s circle. Glen was just sitting there. They left him. I said, ‘Glen, do you want to go to the winner’s circle?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Petty escorted Wood to Victory Lane, two old racers on the way to NASCAR holy ground. Petty knew the process. He won the Daytona 500 a record seven times as a driver.
“So that’s how Glen got in there and got to celebrate, too, and it’s why I wound up there,” Petty said.
That circle remains unbroken today. Glen Wood died in 2019 at the age of 93, but his brother, mechanical wizard Leonard, and Glen’s sons, Eddie and Len, remain close with the extended Petty family, a bond that became even tighter in the years (1985-88) Kyle Petty, Richard’s son, drove for the Woods.
“We always respected what Leonard and them were able to do, being up there in the country away from everybody else,” Richard Petty said. “We knew we had to outrun the 21. They knew they had to outrun the 43. We were both family operations, and we knew each other. My wife and kids would be in the infield, and so would theirs. We’d eat with each other. It was a friendly but competitive thing.”
Walk around today’s Cup garage and talk to any number of old-timers long gone from the weekly grind, and there is deep respect for the Woods, their history and their “good guys” posture in the racing community. And, despite the fact that success has been rare in recent years, many fans cling to the aura of the No. 21 with the gold numbers and the golden history.
Even in years when the team did not run the full schedule, choosing to focus on races with bigger payouts, the Woods usually raced at Martinsville Speedway, their “home” track. Clay Campbell, the track’s president, worked to make that happen.
“We always tried to work with them,” Campbell said. “We were the only short track they ran for a long time. We didn’t want to have a Cup race at Martinsville without the Wood brothers, considering all that they meant to NASCAR and to Martinsville. It was a bad look if we didn’t have them. So, we did a deal with them. They realized, too, the significance of running Martinsville. It was a win-win for both of us with them being just up the road in Stuart.
“They’re such an integral part of how this sport got to where it is. Leonard, Glen, Eddie, Len, the entire family — they’ve done so much. When you talk about the history of NASCAR, you’re not going to talk long before you talk about the Wood brothers.”
Dale Jarrett drove for the team in 1990 and ’91, scoring the first of his 32 Cup wins in the No. 21 at Michigan in 1991. He remembers being absorbed quickly into the Wood family, including mandatory visits to the home of Glen and his wife, Bernece, for lunches. The food came from Glen’s garden, one he tended until his final months.
“You felt like when you went to work for them you literally were part of their family,” Jarrett told NBC Sports. “They included you in everything they did. You had to look around and understand how much knowledge was there. They had seen and done a lot of things. There were things they had come up with that had changed the sport, but they also were quick to adapt to things that they saw others doing.
“You really do become part of their family. Still to this day, Eddie and Len are some of the best friends I have in the world. I can always count on them.”
This is echoed by Ryan Blaney, who, like Jarrett, drove the No. 21 to his first career win, this one coming at Pocono Raceway in 2017.
“Those years were a blast, an absolute pleasure,” Blaney told NBC Sports. “Working with Eddie and Len and getting to know Leonard. Just being around those guys and talking about how the sport has evolved and changed – it’s such a pleasure. I always go down to where they are in the garage and see them and find out what’s going on.”
The only negative point to Blaney’s 2017 victory with the Woods is that the No. 21 has not visited Victory Lane in the six years since that win. Through drivers Paul Menard (2018-19), Matt DiBenedetto (2020-21) and Harrison Burton (2022-current), the Woods’ win counter has been locked at 99.
The 100th victory will be cause for major celebration within the family, within the larger Ford motorsports community and, to a large degree, up and down pit road. The chase for that checkered flag isn’t talked about that often (bad luck and all, you know, to do that), and Eddie Wood runs far away from any thought that there might be “Wood Brothers 100th Win” caps or other paraphernalia sitting around waiting for the win.
“You’ll jinx yourself,” he said.
“You just can’t go win a race. Winning a race always has been hard, but it’s really hard now. For everybody. I think you just have to put it all together. It has to be the right day. The right things have to happen. You have to be there at the end.”
Burton, in his second full season of Cup racing after scoring four wins in the Xfinity Series, said win 100 is there for the taking. “For me, it’s week in and week out doing our job,” he said. “If we control what we can control, we’re capable of winning a Cup race. We just have to prove it. Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure to get that. I want it for the Wood brothers. They deserve it.”
When that moment arrives, the history book, and the stuffed memory banks of everyone who has had contact with Wood Brothers Racing across the years, will have another page.
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Wood Brothers: The long journey toward win 100 originally appeared on NBCSports.com