Special Feature October 7, 1999 Going into this weekend's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Ford has 497 all-time wins in what is known today as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. As the race to 500 continues, today's feature...
Special Feature October 7, 1999
Going into this weekend's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Ford has 497 all-time wins in what is known today as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. As the race to 500 continues, today's feature focuses on the Wood Brothers, Glen and Leonard, who have succeeded in making them one of the most endearing teams in NASCAR Winston Cup history. Race to 500 WOOD BROTHERS SET THE STANDARD WITH 96 CAREER NASCAR WINSTON CUP WINS The association between Ford Motor Company and the Wood Brothers has been going strong for nearly 50 years. The accomplishments this team has achieved are unmatched in the sport, but for those looking for proof, the following statistics don't lie.
* 96 career NASCAR Winston Cup victories (ranks 3rd all-time among car owners). * 116 career poles. * The most impressive roster of drivers in the sport, having had 17 named to NASCAR's list of the 50 Greatest Drivers. Those drivers include: Glen Wood, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Junior Johnson, Bob Welborn, Ralph Earnhardt, Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, Marvin Panch, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett. * Won the 1963 NASCAR Winston Cup car owner championship. * Won at least one race per season for 21 straight years (1963-83). * Won the three biggest races in 1976 with David Pearson (Daytona 500, World 600 and Southern 500). * Winner of the Bill France Award of Excellence in 1995. * Winner of the Spirit of Ford Award, the highest honor given by Ford Motor Company, in 1999.
The Wood Brothers have helped some of NASCAR's greatest drivers record their first wins, including current stars Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty. They spoke about their life in racing and the ingredients that have made them one of Ford's most prized and appreciated commodities.
GLEN WOOD, Owner --21-- Citgo Taurus -- WHAT WAS IT THAT GOT YOU ASSOCIATED WITH FORD MOTOR COMPANY? "From the start I always had Ford cars. When I got my first car it was a '39 Ford and I guess we're just Ford people as far as that went. But, actually, after I raced...probably from 1950 up to '56...the convertible circuit started. Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly were on the Ford factory team and they were fixin' to put another team on, so they asked them for suggestions and they recommended me. That sort of got us started with the Ford factory team and that went on through most of '57 and then they pulled out. We just sort of stayed on doing what we were doing and, in the meantime, I won a few convertible races and later on four Winston Cup races. Then they came back and started a little bit in '61 and we did some testing for them then. It just became a little bit obvious that they may be getting back in racing. They were testing high-performance suspension parts and they asked us to help them with the test. The more I thought about it the more I thought I ought to have a new Winston Cup car at that time, if I was gonna be back with them if they got back in. So I bought a new '61...I guess you called them Starliners then...and that's the first time we ever bought a new car and just tore the upholstery all out and the seats and made a race car out of it. Basically, you would hunt one that had been burned a little or wrecked a little and fixed it from there, but this one I just bought a new car and fixed it. In '61 they did furnish a few engines for different ones and a few rear-end gears and things like that, and then in '62 they were back into it and, of course, I was one of them."
YOU WON FOUR NASCAR WINSTON CUP RACES, BUT YOUR FIRST THREE CAME IN 1960 AND THEY WERE ALL AT BOWMAN GRAY STADIUM IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. WHAT KIND OF CAR WAS THAT AND WAS IT YOUR FAVORITE? "The one I won those with was a '58 Ford. It just happened to suit the little quarter-mile track there as good as any car I ever had. Actually, that year the first race might have been a convertible race. The second race was a sweepstakes race in which they ran the convertibles and the Winston Cup together, which were called hard tops, and I ran that as a convertible both times. The last one was a Winston Cup race and we put a top on it. Back in those days you could bolt the top on and take it off, you didn't have to have windows in 'em or all the templates and things they do today. So I won all three of those in that same car. I'd have to say that was my favorite car in the Late Models. "I had kind of a favorite that I ran the modified races over at the stadium with in '60 and '61 also. I won the championship with that and it was a '37 Ford. We had a 352 engine in it with three carburetors on it, and we moved the engine back in it about two feet. That made me have to drive it from the back seat, which is kind of a novelty, in a sense, but after I got used to it, it worked really well over there. I won a lot of races with it and the championship."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF? "I guess the thing I'm most proud of is that it was done mostly as a family here. All of my brothers at one time participated with us and, of course, Leonard was with me from the start and in later years my sons and daughter have been in it also. But back in the earlier days all of the brothers and, of course, myself driving at the time. At least four of us brothers worked most of the time. There were five of us and one quit a little early and then another one came back in, so at first it was me and Leonard, Delano and Ray Lee that did most of the pit work. Later, Ray Lee quit because of personal and church-related duties. He didn't want to do it on Sunday, so my older brother Clay came in then and there were still four of us. A cousin of my wife's, Ralph Edwards, and another one too, Kenny Martin, was the gasman. It was just sort of a family affair and it still is today.
YOUR TEAM HAS HAD SO MANY OUTSTANDING DRIVERS. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SUCH AN IMPRESSIVE ROSTER? "We have had some of the best drivers in the world in our cars. I think there are at least 16 who were on NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers list last year. Then it blew my mind when I saw that I was chosen as one of those."
WHY WOULD IT BLOW YOUR MIND? "Well, there are so many out there that I considered better than me. Of course, somebody else saw it differently, I guess. It was just one of the greatest honors you could get in racing, I guess, to be involved with it as long as we have. I ran a span of about 15 years and ran in all divisions -- Sportsman, Modified, Convertibles and Winston Cup. Maybe I might have won a few more Winston Cup races, if I would have run that in place of the convertibles, but I ran convertibles a lot more than I did the hardtops."
ANY PARTICULAR REASON WHY YOU RAN CONVERTIBLES MORE THAN HARD TOPS? "Well, it was just that I got started in it and it was a circuit that you didn't have to travel quite as far for a lot of 'em. Then, if I wanted to run in a hard top race, you could always put a top on it or use another car and do that. But you look back and see all of those drivers that are in the Hall of Fame and so many of 'em drove our cars. I think there are 16 who have won at least one or more races for us. Some just drove a little bit and didn't win a race and some just relief drove. Joe Weatherly drove one or two times and didn't win one, but they were in the car and it's quite an honor. We've got some plaques up here in our little museum at the race shop for people to look at and see all of the drivers that have won and have driven for us."
LEONARD WOOD, Car Owner --21-- Citgo Taurus -- DID YOU HAVE A CERTAIN PHILOSOPHY WITH YOUR DRIVERS THAT SEEMED TO WORK? "When I would set the car up for anybody, if I made a change I would tell them what to look for and let them know how it was supposed to feel and what it should do. For instance, if you did something to the car and you say, 'Go out and see what that does.' Well, he'll go out and come back and say, 'I didn't really feel a difference.' But if you tell him what to look for and what it's supposed to do, he'll concentrate and he'll say, 'Yeah, that did help just a little bit.' I did stuff like that."
KYLE PETTY SAID HE LEARNED MORE FROM HIS TIME WITH YOUR TEAM THAN ANY OTHER? "I appreciate Kyle saying that. I always tried to explain to Kyle what the car was supposed to do with the change I made and how it was supposed to react. If you had strong springs in the rear and you went in the corner, naturally it wouldn't settle so it would have a tendency to slide worse than soft springs. I'd ask him if it felt comfortable getting in the corner and he'd say, 'It just don't feel like it's getting down in the race track,' which means the car wasn't settling or sinking in the rear. Anyway, he always had that saying. When he left us and went with another team, they were helping set the car up and Kyle said, 'It just don't feel like it's getting down in the race track.' They didn't know what that meant. Kyle was a great guy. One thing he did know was that if you got the car right for him, he knew when it was right for him. A lot of drivers don't know that. They don't know what's best for them, but he did and when you got that for him he ran good."
HOW DID YOU LEARN WHAT THAT FEEL WAS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE? WHAT WAS YOUR TRAINING GROUND? "I started when I was 15 years old and I concentrated on it heavily. I studied it to a great extent...what I could do to help the car. I took it very seriously as all of us did. Glen drove and I was his chief mechanic."
HAS YOUR FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN FORD ORIENTED? "Personally, I've always been a Ford man myself. We've always had good relations with Ford and we stuck with 'em. We had a lot of offers to go to the other brand several times, but we never did."
IF THERE'S ONE THING THE WOOD BROTHERS HAVE DONE TO CHANGE THIS SPORT, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I'm thinking along the lines of being dedicated to NASCAR and sticking with 'em through all these years and trying to be as competitive as we could. When you're competitive, naturally, it's gonna shine."
THESE DAYS YOU CAN VIDEOTAPE PIT STOPS DURING THE RACE. YOUR TEAM KIND OF REVOLUTIONIZED THAT ASPECT OF THE SPORT AND WERE REGARDED AS THE BEST ON PIT ROAD. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? "Well, you know, a certain amount of people are quick and some are not quick. I always felt that we were very quick at reacting and so on, but then you've got to practice that to where it becomes a habit...like changing your tire and reaching for your gun and all that sort of thing. You do it enough and it just becomes a habit to reach and get your gun, you don't have time to think to go get your gun and switch it and all that. I think the bottom line is how much you're interested and how much you've got your heart in it. If you really want to do something bad enough and you try hard enough, eventually, you'll succeed."
HOW SATISFYING HAS IT BEEN TO HAVE ACHIEVED THIS WITHIN THE FAMILY? "It's very gratifying to see your brother win the race or your other relatives do well. That's just blood kin. It's just natural to feel better doing it all in the family than it is with a lot of crew members who aren't, but it's getting so big that it takes more than just a family anymore."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE DRIVERS YOU'VE HAD THROUGH THE YEARS? "It's the greatest feeling in the world to have driver that you know, when it comes down to the last lap, that your driver is just as competitive as the next one. We've had so many number one drivers that it's really a great feeling for us and we're very thankful to have that opportunity to work with so many great drivers. I'd like to single some out, but we've just had so many good ones. Pearson, he won about 44 or 45 races for us so that kind of speaks for itself on that end of it. There are just so many that I can't name 'em all."
Kyle Petty drove four seasons for the Wood Brothers (1985-88) and posted two victories during that span, including the first win of his NASCAR Winston Cup career. The date was Feb. 23, 1986 when Petty found himself in the right place at the right time to win the Miller High Life 400 at Richmond International Raceway. He spoke about driving for the Wood Brothers and what it meant for his career.
KYLE PETTY --44-- Hot Wheels Grand Prix -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS? "I'll say this. I've been fortunate because I drove with Petty Enterprises and worked with Dale Inman and all that crowd and all the people that used to work at Petty Enterprises. And then going to drive for the Wood Brothers, for me, as I look back and I've been doing this 20 years now, as I look back it's probably one of the best times that I've had. I think Leonard Wood is the smartest man in the garage area bar none. I've said it before and I'll say it again and I'll go to my grave saying that he's the smartest man I've ever met who knows cars and motors and front-end settings and chassis and tires and race tracks -- the total package. I learned more in the three or four years that I was there than I've learned everywhere else. I probably should have stayed there and let him teach me a lot more. I'm not much of a student, but driving up there and being able to win a race and winning my first race with them at Richmond, that was huge because my family had so much success at Richmond. It was in Virginia and that was big for the Wood Brothers, so that was big for all of us. But then to win at Charlotte with Leonard and that crowd too, that was pretty big because they've got tons of victories there and they're steeped in history at that race track."
WHAT SPECIFICS DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THE FIRST WIN AT RICHMOND? "We had run really good. We had a top five car and we were there all day long. Obviously, Earnhardt and Darrell wreck each other at the end of the race and then everybody gets in the wreck. We were just far enough back to where they were the third and fourth place guys were like four or five car lengths in front of us. They got in the wreck and we dodged it, but we put ourselves in position. Eddie (Wood) and those guys and Leonard and Len and everybody in the pits put us in position all day long. We'd come in running fourth or fifth and go out running second or third. I'd lose a couple of positions because of inexperience on the race track, but they kept jamming me up there and putting me in position to win and then when trouble broke loose we were in the right place at the right time."
Dale Jarrett drove the final 24 races of 1990 and all of the 1991 season for the Wood Brothers and posted his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory in dramatic fashion on Aug. 18, 1991 at Michigan Speedway in the Champion 400. Jarrett also recalled that special moment.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- "We definitely surprised most everybody. It was a weekend where we qualified relatively well and ran good all day long. It was kind of strange how it ended up - me beating Davey (Allison) by six or eight inches. "We made a call on our last pit stop not to change tires because the ones we had seemed to be our best set, so we inherited the lead that way. But we had 10 laps to try and hold on to it. The last two laps were probably some of the most exciting racing that I have ever been associated with. Racing Davey side-by-side and then to beat him by that small margin, it was just a terrific day because the Wood Brothers had not been in victory lane in a long time and, of course, I had never been to victory lane in Winston Cup. "Davey had won the first race at Michigan and he had pretty much dominated this one, but we won it. I think the only downside of the celebration was that I couldn't do it with the Woods a day after the race. I couldn't go to Stuart, Va., to be with them and they couldn't come to Hickory to be with me. It would have been great if we could have all been in the same place. "The Woods were really special to work with. I was very fortunate to have been able to work with them and my family and I have maintained a great friendship with them throughout the years."
Cale Yarborough ranks fifth on the all-time NASCAR Winston Cup victory list with 83 career wins. His legendary career took off after joining the Wood Brothers for the final five races of 1966, and, in the ensuing four seasons, they teamed up to win 13 times. Yarborough recalled those years recently and how important they were to his development.
CALE YARBOROUGH, Car Owner --98-- Universal Studios Taurus -- HOW WERE YOUR DAYS DRIVING FOR FORD AND THE WOOD BROTHERS? "Well, they were good ol' days. Joining up with the Wood Brothers at that time, and, probably of all time, was the best thing that ever happened to me. They're good people with good equipment and we won some races together. That really got my career started up big-time and I'm very thankful for that."
ANY PARTICULAR MOMENTS THAT STAND OUT? "As I say, it really jump-started my career to be able to work with people like Leonard Wood. He helped me grind off all the rough edges and smooth me out. Whether anybody else could have done it, I don't know, but Leonard and Glen did it. The biggest memory I've got is winning the 1968 Southern 500. That was on the old Darlington race track. That was before they remodeled. That was the toughest race track that's ever been built in the entire world and I won the last race they had on the old race track. I wouldn't take that win for any of 'em. That was the highlight of my career as far as I'm concerned."
YOU WON 83 CAREER NASCAR WINSTON CUP RACES AND ONE AS A CAR OWNER WITH JOHN ANDRETTI IN 1997. IS IT MORE EXCITING IN VICTORY LANE AS A DRIVER OR OWNER? "It was a great feeling to win my first race as a car owner and it was just like being a driver. I was just as happy to do that, I just wanna have some more of it. That's the reason I'm here. If I didn't think I could be a winning car owner I'd do something else."
NASCAR WINSTON CUP ALL-TIME WINNING CAR OWNERS 1. Petty Enterprises 271 2. Junior Johnson 139 3. Wood Brothers 96 4. Rick Hendrick 92 5. Richard Childress 66 6. Bud Moore 63 7. Robert Yates 42 8. Jack Roush 41 9. Roger Penske 36 10. Harry Melling 34
Bold denotes owners who have a majority of their wins with Ford