Wood Brothers Racing Looking Forward to MIS with Memories of Past Success Harrisburg, NC (August 14, 2008)-Michigan International Speedway has been one of Wood Brothers Racing's most successful tracks with 11 wins. The 21 team is still at the...
Wood Brothers Racing Looking Forward to MIS with Memories of Past Success
Harrisburg, NC (August 14, 2008)-Michigan International Speedway has been one of Wood Brothers Racing's most successful tracks with 11 wins. The 21 team is still at the top of the Speedway's list for the team with the most victories. Even though most of the wins were captured by David Pearson in the "Golden Years" of Wood Brothers Racing in the 1970's, they would come back in 1991 with driver Dale Jarrett to take the young driver to victory lane for the first time. All of this history seemed fitting for the Wood Brothers at Michigan since it was Ford's back yard and most of the team's support came from the Dearborn based car manufacturer for many years.
The no. 21 first hit the Michigan track in the inaugural race in June of 1969 with Cale Yarborough as the driver of the 60 Minute Cleaners Mercury. Yarborough started fourth and finished the race after a battle for most of the 150 lap event with Lee Roy Yarbrough. On the last lap, the two racers bumped and beat each other in turn 1 and as they headed down the backstretch of the two mile oval, Yarbrough spun and the Wood Brothers no. 21 won the race. Since that initial victory, the team had one more with Yarborough in 1970 and eight wins with David Pearson.
Leonard Wood, who was Pearson's chief mechanic at the time, remembers a winning experience with the "Silver Fox" at MIS in 1972. He fondly recalled, "We had great success at Michigan with Pearson. We went up there and went out to practice. The car didn't run as good as we wanted. As I watched the car come by on the track, it looked high- didn't look right, so he [Pearson] pulled in and we're sitting on some tires discussing it. David said to me, 'It looks like to me, that it's awful high'. Oh gosh, the thought hit me! You know, you always raise the car up to transport it. You always raise it 10 rounds to load it and unload it." As he described with a chuckle, "So we got to lowering the thing back down and gosh! When we lowered the thing down, it ran so good. Man, I thought, that helped it so good that I'm going to lower it three more rounds. So, I lowered it three more rounds and somehow we got through inspection." Pearson would go on to win the race. Leonard continued with a laugh, "When he came in, it was so low, you couldn't roll a soda can under it. That was a good day- that was a fun day."
After the successful '70's at Michigan, the team would go into a streak without winning at the track during the 1980's however, they would still have outstanding stats with four top 5's and seven top 10 finishes amongst drivers Neil Bonnett and Kyle Petty throughout the decade. The team was hungry to get back into Victory Lane and they would get the opportunity when a young driver Dale Jarrett joined the team in 1990. Jarrett still considers joining Wood Brothers was his career's "biggest break in 1991, a photo finish in the Champion Spark Plug 400 for the no. 21 Citgo Ford would become another most memorable race at Michigan International Speedway for the Wood Brothers due to a late strategy call by Eddie Wood to stop for fuel only.
Dale Jarrett started the race in the 11th position. There had never been a race winner at Michigan who started outside of the top 10 before Jarrett did in the no. 21 that day. With five laps to go, Jarrett was battling Davey Allison in a nose to tail contest. As they beat and traded paint on the last lap, Jarrett would block the no. 28 in the last turn, but Allison would catch up on the backstretch heading for the checkered flag, Jarrett pulled ahead by a nose to take the flag and get his first win. Eddie Wood recalled the win, "That was big, it was probably my first real call that I made that was right and we won the race." Wood went on to explain that at the time, radial tires were still used and a process called staggering was as important as air pressures are now. "Staggering is the difference between the size of the left rear tire and the right rear tire and the left front tire and the right front tire. You could vary them around and change the air pressure and make them any size that you want. But that particular set was really going to make things good."He and his brother Len had already made the decision to only come in for gas and not change tires and with Dale's go ahead, they went with the call.
Len recalled the restart, "There was a restart with nine or 10 laps to go, it was the best set of tires all day, I think Davey Allison got tied up on the restart. Then here comes Davey he caught up to us and could stay with us, but couldn't pass. So we beat him by about a foot. We hadn't won since like 1987 with Kyle Petty. It gave Dale Jarrett his first win and it was right in front of Ford, it was a big day."
The win came at a time when Dale had just announced that he would be leaving the Wood Brothers to go to Joe Gibbs Racing. Eddie said of Dale's move to Joe Gibbs, "it got too far down the road but, we almost got it put back together. In the end, Dale was one of our best friends then and still is right now, to this day. You have those things throughout your career every now and then when things just click with everybody involved and that was just one of those times."
Wood Brothers Racing will head to Michigan International Speedway this weekend with a new driver Marcos Ambrose with his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at the speedway. The team is coming off of its best performance of the season- a third place finish at Watkins Glen. Eddie Wood commented on looking forward to the 3M Performance 400 on Sunday, August 17th. "Last week was last week and that was a really good week for us. Hopefully this week will be as equally good.J It will be our first time with the newly designed car that we have; a chassis that we haven't run in the past at a track this size and with this banking. First thing we have to do is make the show, and once we do that, then we can dial in the car for a good race. Hopefully it will be just fine. We're on the verge of getting our program straightened out. Hopefully this week will be a big step toward that, things don't have to be great, just go forward"