Wood Brothers replicate 1976 Pearson car for Darlington paint scheme
Mention the name David Pearson, and Eddie Wood becomes giddy.
The now 60-something principal of legendary Wood Brothers Racing — the longest running race team in NASCAR — was enamored with Pearson long before he piloted the No. 21 Purolator Mercury.
After all, Pearson had tallied three titles and 60 of his 105-career Grand National wins before joining the Stuart, Va.-based race team in 1972, the same year Wood started working with the team.
The level of success Pearson enjoyed in the No. 21 car over eight seasons earned him the moniker Silver Fox — and endeared the driver to the Wood family forever. Pearson’s performance in 1976 , when he won the Triple Crown — Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 — will go down as one of the most remarkable runs in NASCAR history.
Stepping back into 1976
Wood remembers it well. That’s why replicating the 1976 No. 21 Mercury Montego as Wood Brothers Racing’s tribute ride for Ryan Blaney at the 2016 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was such an easy decision.
“The cool thing is, I’m old, I remember a lot of it. ” Wood said with a laugh. “I saw it. That’s probably why it makes it so special. A lot of the schemes that are out this year that I’ve seen, I remember.
“If it’s not exactly right, I can call ‘em out on it.”
This particular paint scheme was actually the vision of a 14-year-old fan, Skyler Fox from Tennessee. He created a mockup of the throwback design and sent it to the Woods last year. While the original “Purolator” has been replaced by the family’s long-time sponsor Motorcraft, the final product resonated with Wood.
“If you could do anything you wanted to do, I would want to paint our car like David Pearson’s — have the foil numbers on it, paint it red and white — and here it is,” Wood said. “It’s really special for us.
“The real cool thing is Len and I were there. We were (uncle) Leonard’s (crew chief) helpers. I was the catch can guy. We lived through those times. It was a lot of fun racing then — a lot of camaraderie. You drove everywhere — you never flew.
“You were buddies with everyone. We were best friends with the Petty’s and they were our biggest rivals. But when the race started, you weren’t buddies but after the race you were. They were special times.”
Every little detail counts
As soon as Wood returned from Pocono Raceway on Monday night, he put the finishing touches on the white and red metal-flake No. 21 car — complete with sticks of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum taped to the dashboard where Pearson could grab a fresh piece every 100 laps.
NASCAR approved the use of the reflective gold-foil numbers for the “21” — something that has since been banned from cars. Goodyear has gotten into the act by recreating tires with the same vintage design. Although the team ran nickel-plated wheels early on, the sanctioning body would not allow chrome wheels on the cars in the 70s. The Woods used silver tailpipe spray paint over Norris wheels to create a similar sheen.
For Eddie Pearson, David’s youngest son, the unveil at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday rekindled memories from his father’s glory days. It’s unlikely any competitor will ever duplicate David Pearson’s 10 wins, 12 poles, 24 top fives, 30 top 10s and 2,116 laps led at the Track Too Tough to Tame. Both of Pearson’s 1976 Darlington victories were earned from the pole.
“This takes me back to before I was a teenager,” Pearson told motorsport.com. “In 1976, I was 11-years-old at the time. The crew guys were actually teaching me how to glue the lug nuts to the wheels. I just remember this car — sticking out the foremost in my mind — of some of the greatest times from my childhood. When I’d return to school after races on Monday, everyone wanted to talk about it.
“And to this day, Darlington is still his favorite track. He still talks about going to Darlington and having the most fun at that race track. With it being his most successful track, this is going to bring back some incredible memories. It’s going to be a special weekend with special people.”
Returning to the vintage uniforms
Similar to last year, the Woods will wear vintage crew uniforms at Darlington Raceway — this time reflecting the 70’s era. The family, which has competed in NASCAR’s top division since 1953, recently discovered some of the original pieces still in storage.
“We have some of the shirts made that look like that year,” Wood said. “(Brother) Len and I found two pairs of Levi bellbottoms with the blue stripe down the leg that were still in the package. I guess they were our dad’s. They wouldn’t have fit us then, but they fit us now.
“Len found them. You just run onto stuff that you just don’t pay any attention to that’s been laying there forever. Then you realize just what that is. They still have the Levi’s tag on it. That’s really cool.”
Eddie and Len — along with Hall of Famers Leonard and patriarch Glen — will also have four of the original navy blue crew shirts for next month’s race.
Blaney "a huge Pearson fan"
Donning his own retro firesuit, the Wood Brothers current driver Ryan Blaney certainly looked the part, down to black alligator loafers in the spirit of Pearson.
Although Blaney saw renderings of his Darlington ride prior to the unveiling, he admitted on Tuesday, “The renderings don’t do it any justice — especially when you seen the metal flake in the red (paint) and everything.”
“It’s cool to have an actual replica of a car,” Blaney said. “And to do Pearson, I was a huge Pearson fan. He was one of my favorite Wood Brothers drivers and he’s meant so much to this team.
“It’s cool to be able to do this — and NASCAR for allowing us to do everything with the foil numbers. They don’t allow you to run these nowadays and they approved them, which is awesome — and Darlington, too, for letting us do this. It’s one of the coolest races and cool to see all the teams and even fans participating and wearing all there old race stuff. It’s just neat to be a part of.”
Blaney is currently working on a helmet that would carry the same colors as the car, which he hopes to have autographed by Pearson and clear-coated prior to the event.
“Now that would be a collectible,” Blaney said.
In his spare time, Blaney enjoys viewing old footage of races. It provides him the opportunity to catch up on the relive racing’s golden age — in both sprint and stock cars.
“We’ll watch races for hours,” Blaney said. “I like the history of the sport, really, the history of racing. If it’s sprint cars — if I can find and of my grandpa (Lou) or the NASCAR side, I like to watch that stuff. See how it’s changed, what it’s progressed to.
“If I could race in any decade, it would be the 70s, for sure. Everything was so different back then. It was just people racing cars — and the fans loved it. There were no politics about it. It was just if you had race car you could go do it. Just buy yourself a car off the lot and rebuild it to make it a race car. It was just simpler back then, way simpler than it is now. I think that would have been a great era to do race.”
The fourth-generation racer, whose great-grandfather provided race cars for his grandfather Lou, can appreciate the history the Wood Brothers bring to NASCAR.
“I think that’s what connects us so well,” Blaney said. “My family comes from racing. That’s really all I know. Their family comes from racing — and it’s a family deal. I think that’s what’s connected us very well from the start of last year. That’s why we’re so close. That’s what we did growing up. We were always at the race track all the time, that’s what we cared about. That connection has been really good for us.”
Leonard Wood sees greatness in Blaney
Leonard Wood, who was the crew chief for Pearson when he scored six of his 10 wins at Darlington, believes Blaney, 22, has the potential to accomplish great things in racing.
“I can safely say that David Pearson is one of the best drivers to ever sit behind a steering wheel,” Leonard Wood said. “I’d like to point out, I set up a lot of cars for a lot of different drivers — a lot of great drivers — some of the greatest drivers in the world and when Ryan Blaney came into the shop, it was just like talking to one of the veterans.
“Watching Ryan drive over the past year, he is going to well represent David Pearson at Darlington this year.”
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