IRL: Ford Racing Wood Brothers Remember Trip to Indy

The Wood Brothers have been a fixture in NASCAR Winston Cup racing for 50 years, but they also own a place in the Indianapolis 500 history book. The year was 1965 and the Wood Brothers, often credited with being the first to...

The Wood Brothers have been a fixture in NASCAR Winston Cup racing for 50 years, but they also own a place in the Indianapolis 500 history book. The year was 1965 and the Wood Brothers, often credited with being the first to design the lightning quick pit stops on the Winston Cup circuit, were asked by Ford Motor Company to lend a helping hand to Lotus-Ford driver Jimmy Clark for the Indianapolis 500. It made for an interesting mix of a British Indy car team and driver with a Virginia stock car team pit crew. And, even though they had never pitted an Indy car before, the Wood Brothers team proved to be at their best, helping Clark win the race, Ford's first Indianapolis 500 victory. With the Coca-Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500 both scheduled to take place this weekend, Leonard and Glen Wood recalled that Brickyard experience 35 years ago.

LEONARD WOOD, Car Owner -21- Citgo Taurus -- "Ford wanted us to go up there. They approached us because they had some problems in the past and they wanted us to go up and pit the car, so we went up a week early. We prepared the car and got familiar with it and practiced everything. We worked on connecting the hoses and just got ready for race day. On race day, I guess you could say we hit a home run. We got the most publicity for doing less work than we ever had during a race, but everything went like clock work. We made only two pit stops and didn't have to change tires. We checked them, but never had to make a change and we won the race." HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT? "Pitting is one thing, but practicing is another. For instance, when we went on pit road to practice, we couldn't get the wheels off. Well, you don't wait until race day to find out you can't get the wheels off. The dial pins were so tight that the wheel would stick, so you had to free those up to get the wheel off. You don't wait until you get over there to find out you've got a problem. You need to get all of that worked out beforehand. It really wasn't a big deal for us. It was just pitting the car." ARE THERE ANY INTERESTING STORIES YOU RECALL FROM THAT EXPERIENCE? "I just remember when we made the first pit stop it was quicker than most people thought possible. The announcers were saying that we didn't get the car full of gas and, with a new crew, they figured we had a problem. They were saying we would be back in to pit when so many laps came around, but when we never came in they were wondering what happened. They thought that we were maybe running a mixture, which meant you would only put in half of the fuel, but when they came down and asked us what was going on, we told them he was out there running on pure alcohol. That kind of caught them by surprise." HOW SPECIAL IS THAT HIGHLIGHT? "It's one of the greatest thrills you can have -- to win the Indy 500 being the pit crew. We got recognition all over the world and I've got a stack of clippings probably and inch-and-a-half high of that whole day." HAD YOU EVER BEEN TO THE INDY 500 BEFORE THAT DAY? "The year before, we were up there in the grandstands and watched the race, but we had never been to that type of race before. It's amazing when you've got 300,000 people and all of them swarmed right around you in the pits. It was so crowded behind you that you couldn't run if you wanted to. It was kind of ironic that when we went up there with the Winston Cup cars, I think we pitted in the same spot that we did with Jimmy Clark. It just ended up that way." WHAT WAS YOUR JOB DURING THE RACE? "I fueled the tank on the right side of the car. They had two hoses, and I was operating the hose on the far side next to the grandstand."

GLEN WOOD, Car Owner -21- Citgo Taurus -- WHAT'S THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF THAT INDIANAPOLIS EXPERIENCE? "It was a great experience for us. We had never done anything like that before. I was at Darlington for the Rebel 300, I guess, and John Cowley (special events manager at the time) of Ford Motor Company just casually asked me, 'How would you like to go to Indianapolis?' I said, 'What for?' and he said, 'To pit Jimmy Clark.' I said, 'Are you serious?' And he said, 'As a matter of fact, I am serious.' So it just went from there and, of course, we went up there and the rest is history." WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF RACE DAY? "It was very tense, naturally. We wondered if we would do well or if we might make some mistakes. We had practiced a lot there and were fairly confident that we could pull it off without a hitch and, luckily, we did it without changing a set of tires. That's not normal at any race track anymore, and we only made two stops in a total of less than 50 seconds for the whole thing. I think that still stands as a record for the least time spent in the pits there." WHAT WAS JIMMY CLARK'S REACTION TO HAVING YOU COME IN AND PIT HIS CAR? "What happened was that Jimmy had been up there once or twice before and he had been out in front before and had trouble in the pits. At that time, Ford Motor Company was partially backing that team with Colin Chapman and they just suggested to him that we were good down here and had won a lot of pit racing contests with our style, and even though what was being suggested was totally different, they agreed to do it. What they did was allow us to just completely concentrate on taking care of the car once it was on the race track. As he would come in off the track from his practice, we would stop like it was a real pit stop and hook up the hoses and then undo them. We got everything working real well and, as it turned out, we didn't stop but twice during the race." WHAT WAS THE FEELING LIKE GOING TO INDIANAPOLIS TO DO SOMETHING YOU HADN'T DONE BEFORE? "Naturally, we were a little worried about it, but everybody was nice up there. A lot of them knew who we were. They hadn't met us, but they knew who we were. We did know A.J. Foyt from previous experience. He drove for us a few times before we went up there, so we knew him and some of the others like Dan Gurney. We weren't in there as complete strangers, it was just a different type of pit stop." WAS IT HARDER OR EASIER THAN PITTING A WINSTON CUP CAR? "It was just different. Either one of them you try to do it as best you can and as quick as you can without any mistakes. There's the same tenseness." WHAT WAS YOUR JOB THAT DAY? "The hoses were heavy. They were about a three-inch hose full of fuel and it took two to properly hold them so they didn't sag in the middle and you got better flow, so part of what I did was hold that in line." DID YOU GET ANY MILK IN VICTORY LANE? "No, I didn't, but Jimmy did. It was just very gratifying to have gone up there and won one of the biggest races in the world, especially since we had never done that before. Jimmy Clark was real easy to work with. One of the things we told him was that he'd have to stop at a specific spot because the hoses weren't very long. We told him he couldn't overshoot it or be short, and he said, 'You tell me where to stop and I'll stop there.' And he was right on the money each time." WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE PUBLICITY YOU GOT? LEONARD SAID YOU GOT MORE PUBLICITY FOR DOING LESS WORK. "Yes, I was and that's a fact. We did get more publicity for doing that than anything we had ever done, I guess. In a sense, it seemed like we didn't do anything, but, then, on the other hand, we did and it was just very gratifying for all of us."

MOSE NOWLAND, engine engineer, Ford Racing Technology -- NOTE: Nowland, a long-time engineer in Ford's racing program, was an experimental mechanic for Ford in the early 1960s and witnessed the Wood Brothers' experience.

HOW WAS THE DECISION MADE TO GET THE WOOD BROTHERS INVOLVED? "When we went to Indianapolis in 1963 we were the brand new kids on the block, even though Ford had been there before in the late twenties. We thought we had a dynamite car, but we didn't know a thing about pitting the car. Dave Evans (Ford's program manager for Indianapolis at the time) said, 'We've got to get the NASCAR flavor of a pit stop.' And, of course, who was king of the pit stops back then but the Wood Brothers. So they cut a deal to bring them to Indianapolis to pit the car. They came up one weekend and looked things over and made a few suggestions and that was the beginning of it right there." HOW DID THE WOOD BROTHERS APPROACH THIS JOB? "As I recall, they looked over everything during the practice sessions from the pit box to the equipment on-site, and they felt there was a lot of room for improvement. At that time they were very methodical in progressing in Winston Cup, which was then known as Grand National, but they knew the race could be won from the pits in certain situations. They looked at the setup on the car and the way the car came into the pit, the jack situation and the placement of the tools. That's where they were very strong, in making suggestions just for prepping the pit area to make a decent pit stop regardless of what the situation might be. When they showed up for the race, they had chosen their people for all four corners of the car and for the handling of the fuel." HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO FORD MOTOR COMPANY FOR THIS TO WORK? DID SOMETHING HAPPEN IN PREVIOUS YEARS FOR THIS SITUATION TO OCCUR? "We were doing the powertrain and had allied ourselves with Colin Chapman, but it didn't look like the European method of getting the car in and out of the pits was crucial to the team. I think it was Dave Evans who realized that the NASCAR and USAC method was the better way to go. He wanted to bring that benefit to the whole race operation. He felt if we could gain a couple seconds here or there, those were positions on the track. The Chapman people were the best as far as putting together a chassis, but they were not King Kong when it came to powertrain and making pit stops, so Dave Evans politely and easily changed that." WHAT MADE THE WOOD BROTHERS SO GOOD? "It was alleged, and I know for a fact, that for their lunch time entertainment the Wood Brothers would go out behind the shop and practice every day. Leonard, especially, he was so focused on trimming every move that a guy had to make, whether he started with the right foot or the left foot. He was an expert at shortening the pitting efforts. They had clearly become pit stop strategists and were outshining everybody in NASCAR at that time. Nobody else was focusing on it back then. You notice now that just about every team videotapes each pit stop and studies it throughout the week to see what they can do to improve."

AS IT TURNED OUT THEY ONLY HAD TO CHANGE FUEL TWICE, BUT I IMAGINE THE REACTION AFTERWARD WAS VERY POSITIVE, RIGHT? "Yeah, it was. It was very jubilant and as it turned out the Wood Brothers job was very simple. Of course, we didn't know that until we were in the race, but the tires were awfully good to us. It wasn't a deal where you had to come in and change rubber every 50-75 laps. As a result, their job got very easy. All they had to do was fuel the car and make sure it was as safe as it was the time before."

NOTES: Clark, driving a Lotus powered by Ford, started second and led 190 of the 200 laps...Pole-sitter A.J. Foyt led the other 10 circuits...Five cars finished on the lead lap that afternoon...Following Clark was Parnelli Jones (2nd), Mario Andretti (3rd), Al (Krulac) Miller (4th) and Gordon Johncock (5th).

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About this article
Series IndyCar , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Parnelli Jones , Gordon Johncock , Dave Evans , A.J. Foyt , Colin Chapman