Pearson: the man who Wood be King By Marty Smith STUART, Va. (Jan. 18, 2000) For half a century, Wood Brothers Racing has been a bastion of excellence in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition, and during that time they have nurtured some of the...
Pearson: the man who Wood be King By Marty Smith
STUART, Va. (Jan. 18, 2000) For half a century, Wood Brothers Racing has been a bastion of excellence in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition, and during that time they have nurtured some of the finest -- and most colorful -- pilots NASCAR has ever seen, with uncanny success.
Of the 50 individuals listed as the top drivers in NASCAR history, 17 have driven for the Wood Brothers -- including David Pearson, the witty prankster who was voted by his peers as the best driver to ever sit behind the wheel of a race car.
"We were staying at a Holiday Inn once and went to eat, and I came in late," said Len Wood, the team's co-owner. "When I got there, David looked over at me and says, 'The waitress, she can't really hear too good, so you need to speak up.' So, I mouthed off kinda loud, and I looked over there and he's dying laughing in the corner. She wasn't deaf at all."
That was typical David Pearson, and that's why he thrived under the Wood Brothers' tutelage.
"I felt like I always got along with drivers real well," Wood said. "But one thing was clear, you couldn't be serious with (Pearson). You had to pick at him. The more you picked at him, the better he liked you and the better he drove."
Needless to say, during those five decades, the Woods have seen drivers, crews, cars, fads, fashions, tactics and rules of all varieties come and go; and along the way have accrued road-trip stories galore.
Last week, they joined Pearson in sharing several of those stories with the media during the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway, and it was quite a treat for all. From their humble beginnings at a southwest Virginia dirt track to Pearson's amazing victory in the 1976 Daytona 500 to hiring Mike Beam as the first non-Wood to run the show, it was story time in Stuart. For example: j "Len was promoting a race up there one time, so I went up there and run it," Pearson said. "Glenn was winning the race, and I come up there behind him and I picked on him and did everything in the world to get by him and he blocked me every way to be blocked and went on to win the race. He got out and said, 'Well, I didn't really plan it that way, but I'm promoting it and I really didn't have the money to pay you.'"
Winning a race was the last thing the brothers thought would happen when they started their family-operated team in 1950. A chance ride in a streetcar has turned into one of the most successful racing ventures ever. No other race team has withstood the test of time the way Wood Brothers Racing has. In 39 seasons, they've accumulated 96 victories and 317 top-5s with the likes of Pearson, Harry Gant, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty.
And, while that is quite a select group, Pearson was by far the most dominant driver during his stay with the Woods. He won 43 races and 51 poles in just seven seasons in the No. 21 entry, the most memorable of which was the '76 Daytona 500 in which he and Richard Petty got together coming out of Turn 4 and spun, seemingly ending the race for both. However, Pearson's engine was still running "wide open" and he crept across the finish line for arguably the most memorable win in series history.
"At the time when he drove our car, there were only two people that had radios, so myself and David had one and I was on the radio with him when he crashed with Petty," said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the team. "That's my most vivid memory. We get the white flag and David's behind Richard. They go into one, and David hadn't said anything. They go through two, and they're coming off two, and he says, 'I'm gonna try him here.' They get into three and we can't see any of this, so we're watching the crowd, and he says, 'I got him.'
"Well the crowd settled down a little bit and nothing else was said. So we get into three, and he goes up a little and Richard cuts the bottom and gets under him. So they come all the way through three and four, and are exiting four, and David says, 'He's under me.' So, the crowd's up again. That lasted like a second. Then, all of a sudden he says, '(He) hit me.' At this time, he's spinning backwards headed toward the infield and says, 'Where's Richard?' just as calm as he could be. 'Where's Richard.' And I said he's up here, he's stopped.
"And David says, 'Well I'm coming.' He drove right by him, and just as he got to the start/finish line, he popped up on the racetrack. He never had any emotion, so far as being mad. That's why they call him the Silver Fox. He was all level, all the time. I've never experienced anything like that. When I walked in today, that's when the 50-year thing hit me."
Quickly thereafter, Len Wood grabbed the microphone and shared his memory: "I'd just like to say something about that. Somebody comes up to Pearson after the race and says, 'Was you mad?' Pearson said, 'No, but I was getting ready to be if I hadn't won that race.'"
Fifty years. Rick Hendrick and Robert Yates hadn't even reached puberty yet when Glenn Wood cranked his racecar for the first time.
"It was a little track near Martinsville, and a friend of mine Jimmy Wood was running around there practicing one Saturday evening, so I went down there with my street car and for some reason I got out there on the track with him," said Glenn Wood of his first dabble into racing. "And, I was going about as fast as he was in his racecar, and I said, well maybe I can do this.
"And, there was about five of us, and everybody backed out except two of us. So, we went and bought a car for $50. So, that's how it all started, just a weekend fun thing to do. Nobody ever would've thought it would be like this 50 years later."