Repairing family car

Auto racing: Few names in NASCAR racing are as old or respected as the Wood Brothers, but technology, location and plain bad luck have dogged the family recently.

April 18, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

STUART, Va. -- New Winston Cup fans may not be aware of Glen and Leonard Wood, whose roots are deep in NASCAR history. But for longtime followers, the Wood Brothers are every bit as well-known as the Petty clan, Junior Johnson and the Allisons -- Bobby, Donnie and Davey.

Glen and Leonard Wood are the soft-spoken Virginians whose family business turned out to be owning race cars. They are celebrating 50 years in the sport this season, having compiled records that still stand: 80 superspeedway victories, 53 500-mile wins, 87 superspeedway poles and 26 superspeedway races won from the pole.

For 21 consecutive seasons, from 1963 to 1983, their No. 21 Ford won at least once every year.

But last weekend, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the Wood Brothers' car failed to qualify. For only the second time in its long, proud history, the family went home before the main event.

"The car just wouldn't get up to speed," said Glen's son, Eddie, 48. He and his brother, Len, 43, are now the ones in charge as the family team strives for a rebirth.

"I wish I knew why. It could be hundreds of things keeping it from running," said Eddie, focusing on adjustments related to the required restrictor plate.

(In 1987, after Bobby Allison's car flew into the catch fence at Talladega, scaring everyone, NASCAR invented restrictor plates to reduce the air flow to the engine and therefore cut speeds that had reached well over 200 mph.)

"We'll go home and work on it, hard, like we always have," Eddie said. "The restrictor problem has plagued us for three years. We'll continue to work on a fix and hope to be ready for the race in July at Daytona."

It's a long road back, but the Wood Brothers have never shirked work in any generation. And with Elliott Sadler, their youthful second-year driver at the wheel of their Citgo Ford, they think they have begun taking the right steps. Sadler, 24, ran second to the amazing Tony Stewart in the Rookie of the Year race last season.

But luck has not been on the family's side recently. Over the first seven races of this season, it had strong cars, only to see its efforts wiped out by being caught in someone else's accident. Then, early this month in Texas, Sadler suffered a separated shoulder that limited his performance the following weekend in Martinsville, Va.

At that point, Sadler said, "Our bad luck has to run out sometime."

When the turnaround didn't occur at Talladega, he said, "I'm glad we've got a week off coming up. We need to sit back and see what we need to do to get going in the right direction for Daytona [July 1]. That's really going to be right around the corner.

"We think we'll be good on the intermediate tracks and the short tracks," said Sadler, who is 35th in the Winston Cup points standings. "We've just got to get better on this speedway stuff."

As a boy, Sadler used to root for the Wood Brothers car.

The team's history began in 1950, when Glen, now 74, drove and Leonard, 65, worked in the pits.

Eventually, Glen quit driving and joined Leonard on the sideline doing what they do best, making race cars run fast for others.

It didn't seem to matter who drove their cars, "though we always had some of the best," Glen said.

No one can argue that. Seventeen of the men who drove for the Woods are on the list of NASCAR's top 50 greatest drivers. Everyone from Curtis Turner to A.J. Foyt to Cale Yarborough to the current Winston Cup champion, Dale Jarrett, has competed in a Wood Brothers' car.

But if there is one driver most closely associated with the team, it is David Pearson. The Silver Fox drove its car from 1972 through 1979 and, in that time, Pearson accumulated 42 of his 105 career victories.

"I can honestly say, in the seven years I drove for them, I never went anywhere I didn't feel capable of winning," said Pearson, as he talked over old times. "They gave me a good car. That's about as good as I can say it."

"When David raced for us," Glen recalled, "I think there were four people on the payroll. Now, there are 33. We had a lot of fun. Today, they don't have a lot of time for fun. The boys are in charge and everything is specialized."

Pit row prowess

Even though Leonard has never owned any percentage of the team, it was as much his as Glen's. Glen was the one who conceived the idea to go racing and found the money to get started. Leonard was the one with the creative mind who kept the team in the fast lane, inventing the first organized pit stop.

By 1965, the Woods were so well-recognized for their pit road ingenuity, the Ford Motor Co. asked them to be the pit crew for Jimmy Clark at the Indianapolis 500.

"We got there and found out it would take five minutes to change a wheel, the way they were doing it at the time," said Leonard, who set to work to improve on that. "It took a while to streamline everything to make the hoses fit real nice. -- Our first pit stop, we took 18 or 19 seconds. We caught them all by surprise because we had experience."

Clark, of course, won the race.

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