Eddie and Len Wood, car owner's of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Taurus, will be on hand Saturday night when their father, Glen, is inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. They both talked about that honor, in addition to a number of other...
Eddie and Len Wood, car owner's of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Taurus, will be on hand Saturday night when their father, Glen, is inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. They both talked about that honor, in addition to a number of other topics in the Darlington Raceway infield media center.
LEN WOOD, Co-Owner --21-- Motorcraft Taurus
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GLEN GOING INTO THE HALL OF FAME? "It's pretty special to have dad in the hall of fame. It's special with Bill France and A.J. Foyt and, of course, Dale Earnhardt. That's pretty special to us. You know, daddy made the 50 greatest drivers a couple of years ago and I think that was quite an honor for him and we're quite proud of that, so we're looking forward to tonight."
WHAT'S THE GREATEST LESSSON YOUR FATHER TAUGHT YOU? "Probably to pay your bills on time (laughter). When we had our old shop years ago, he would never add on unless he could pay for it at the time. He didn't want to be in debt to anybody and that's probably the best thing. If you pay your bills and try to stay ahead of the game, instead of behind it."
EDDIE WOOD, Co-Owner --21-- Motorcraft Taurus
WHAT ABOUT YOUR DAD? "I think our dad was really surprised when he got voted into that. He's one of those people, as you'll see tonight, he doesn't say a lot of words. He was asking us, 'Well, what do I need to say?' And we said, 'Whatever you feel.' He was trying to talk us into giving his talk and we said, 'No, you've got to do it. We'll sit beside you.' It is a great honor for him and I'd like to thank everyone for letting him be a part of that. To be inducted with Mr. France and Earnhardt and A.J., that's big company right there so it's a great honor."
WHAT'S THE GREATEST LESSON YOUR FATHER TAUGHT YOU? "Probably my best lesson would probably be just to never give up. We've been at the top of this sport and we've been at the bottom. He always taught us to keep doing what you're doing and it will usually work out -- don't panic or get discouraged and to always keep working. Thankfully now, we won a race at Bristol this year, so maybe we're headed back to where we need to be. That's probably what he instilled in me the most."
WAS THIS SPORT MORE FUN BACK THEN THAN IT IS NOW? "People ask that question like was it more fun back then, we won a lot of races back then, which was fun. They talk about the good old days, but I kind of think we're in the good old days. I don't miss driving across the United States in a truck. I don't miss going to Michigan in a van and turning around after the race and driving all the way home and then going somewhere else. I kind of like the airplanes. It's a lot faster pace now, but I think we're living the good old days. I think there will be people talking about it five or 10 years from now about how it was back in 2001. We were there during all the Pearson days, and that was great, but it was kind of relative to what else was going on in the world and around racing. You worked just as hard back then with what you had and you'd work until you run out of time. You just didn't work until you thought you got your car ready, you worked until you ran out of time, loaded it up and went to the race track. It's changed, but I like it better now."
HOW DOES THE CHALLENGE TODAY COMPARE TO THE PAST? "To me, in the late sixties and seventies the cars you had to beat were Junior's cars (Johnson), the Pettys, Bud Moore, that K&K Dodge -- all the manufacturers were there then -- and it was all relative. You've got more cars you have to beat now. Then, it was eight or 10 cars and now it's 35 or 40 every week that are competitive. That part is a lot tougher, but I feel like if you win one now, you've probably gone through more getting to that point than you did back then."
HAS BEING IN STUART, VA. HURT OR HELPED? "I don't know whether it helps or hurts. That's where we're from. That's where we were raised. We've got a lot of ties to Jack Roush and we talked about should we move to Charlotte or Concord or the Mooresville area. If we ever see that we need to or think that we need to and felt it would make the difference in our race team, we would move. We've talked about that. It would be hard because Stuart, Virginia is where our family is, but we want to get to the top of this sport the best we can. We hope that doesn't happen, but if it does we would make the change. We have thirty-some full-time people and twenty-some part-time people in that area that are good people. We've got most of the people that know how to work on a race car in Stuart, Virginia. We've had people that have come out of Charlotte looking to get away from the fast pace or the musical chair of jobs in Charlotte. There, you can get mad at your boss in the morning and roll your tool box down to another team and in 15 minutes you've got another job down the street. In Stuart, Virginia it doesn't work like that. We go through our ups and downs, but we feel we can get the job done in Stuart."
IS IT HARD NOT WINNING AT MARTINSVILLE? "Oh yeah. Martinsville is probably the one track that we go to that is the absolute toughest for us. Every year we go down there and we test. We go through all the stuff you're supposed to do -- different cars, different drivers, different motors, everything -- and at the end of the day it's about the same. I don't know what it is or why it is, but it's a month or so away. I don't know. Someday maybe we'll conquer it. We try to figure it out every year, but it just seems like if it's got 21 on the door of it you're gonna struggle over there no matter who drives it or whose motor or what kind of car it is. That would be a big step for us. I don't think we've finished on the lead lap since the early nineties. I think we did it with Morgan (Shepherd). From that point, I think it was all the way back to Neil Bonnett in '81, that's how long ago it was so it's been a long time over there. We've had some good runs, but we can't ever seem to get to the end of that thing. We'll never quit. We'll never give up. We tell Clay Campbell every year we're gonna come over there and do something and we don't, but if we ever figure it out we'll throw a big party."
CAN YOU TELL THE STORY OF PEARSON AND PETTY IN THE '76 DAYTONA 500? "At that time nobody had radios, just the driver and one person in the pit. Nobody wanted to do it, so they hung it on me. David and I talked about a lot of stuff. He was a pretty colorful character in general and we talked about a lot of stuff. On that last lap, they went out of sight with the white flag. I think I asked him as he went under the thing, 'Can you get him?' And he said something like, 'I think so.' They went off into turn one and he didn't say anything. They came off of two and about three-quarters down the backstretch the crowd is standing up. There's no TV, so we don't really know what's going on we're just going by the crowd and he says, 'I've got him.' I thought, 'Okay, that's cool.' Then the get into the middle of three and off of four and he calls back and he said, 'He's under me.' The crowd is going nuts and we can see all that and about that time he said, 'He hit me.' Then there was complete chaos. We figured we lost the race and it was all over. We couldn't see anything because they weren't even in sight yet. After looking at the tapes -- he called me back on the radio and he said, 'Where's Richard?' I didn't even know what my name was at that point, but I said, 'He's not to the line yet. He's stuck in the grass.' And he said, 'Well, I'm coming.' He kept his car running. I guess he clutched it and kept the thing from dying. Fortunately, he got his going and won the race. But the ironic thing about it is that when he was asking me where Richard was, he was spinning backwards headed for the inside wall. That's when another car hit him and straightened him up and headed him back towards the race track. At that time, the radios didn't have a button on the steering wheel like we have now, it was right here (on his uniform at chest level). So he had to take his hand off the steering wheel to push that button to talk and he was spinning backwards while all this was going on. Plus, he kept the motor running. You people that don't know him, you can't really appreciate what he really did and how he did it, but he was one of the great ones."
IS IT TOUGHER NOW WITH MULTI-CAR TEAMS TO COMPETE? "It probably is tougher now, but there are a lot of multiple car teams that don't work together. All the stuff you write about every week is these people are upset or this crowd is upset, so sometimes a single team may be better because you've just got one single group of people there to keep happy. We have that association with Roush and we have multiple-car team ties, but we still own our own team and we kind of do what we want to do and then tap into their resources, which works really well for us."
HOW MUCH HAS ELLIOTT CHANGED SINCE HIS WIN IN MARCH? "He's gotten engaged (laughter). He's gained quite a bit of confidence. You can see it in his face. He took the first and second year with us when we thought we were gonna be quite a bit better, but we got in several wrecks early in the season and kind of buried ourselves in the points. You could read his face and tell he wasn't pumped up about it. After that race (at Bristol), he looked like he was two inches taller. Hopefully, he gained confidence in that and he knows he can win anywhere -- except maybe Martinsville (joking). He's actually won in a Late Model stock at Martinsville, so that's not out of the question either, but you can just see it in his face that he's more confident now."
HAVE YOU EVER REGRETTED KEEPING THE TEAM GOING? "No. The only other job I ever had from a kid to now is I washed dishes after school at the hospital across the road from us and that wasn't very pretty. There were about three or four of us guys that went to high school together and we were dishwashers and terrorized the hospital. I worked at the shop at night and there was never any question we were gonna do that. There was never any encouragement to drive, which would have been hard at that time. When we were the age to drive race cars, you had to do it yourself. You couldn't just go get it like you can now and go do it. There was only Len, myself, my dad and Leonard that was full-time at the shop during the seventies, so there wasn't any time (to drive). Somebody had to keep running it and it wound up being us. That's what we do. It wasn't a big deal."
HAVE TIMES CHANGED TO WHERE DRIVERS ARE BEING HIRED YOUNGER NOW LIKE JON WOOD AND KYLE BUSCH? "It seems like it's that way. I think Tiger Woods kind of started that by starting to play golf at five years old or whatever he did. Jeff Gordon started racing so young and he's so successful that it gets back to the fact that kids can learn things quicker. The younger you are the better learner you are, I think, like with my kid (Jon). He started racing at 10 or 11 years old in go-karts, and it just seems that the level of competitiveness with those guys is greater when they're 20 years old than what it used to be and I don't really know the real reason for it. The young guys, as in any other sport, it seems like the young guys are moving in quicker than they used to. There were days that when I was a kid, I can remember they used to talk about these drivers being old and they were 35. A lot of drivers quit racing like (Fred) Lorenzen. He quit when he was young and just retired. He thought it was time to retire. Now you've got drivers over 50 that are just as good as they ever were. I think there's a place for everybody in our sport."
"It's just like the pit stops and such. Guys were like 40 years old and then you get a guy out there that's like 20, and he'd beat you by three seconds. It's not just driving. The whole sport is changing like that too."
WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN KYLE PETTY CAME TO DRIVE FOR YOU AND HAS IT SURPRISED YOU HOW MANY PEOPLE COME TO YOUR MUSEUM IN STUART? "I'll answer the second question first about the people that come to our shop. We probably have 30 to 50 people a day, which is not really a lot but if you realize where we are, you've got to be coming to Stuart. You're not gonna accidentally wind up there. You get off the Blue Ridge Parkway and we're 15 minutes from there, but a lot of people don't know that. My mom told me not too long ago that we've had people from every state and lots of different countries. We had some Japanese guys in there that couldn't even speak English, but they saw us when we raced at Motegi. We told them that they should come by the shop sometime if they were ever in America. Well, six months later they showed up. I don't know how they got there and I don't know if they ever got home. They couldn't speak any English and didn't have anybody with them that could help them, so I don't know how they did it. That would be the hard part about moving, but, like Len said, a lot of the people we've got working in our shop live in Winston-Salem and some of them live closer to Charlotte. Now, people want to work on race cars so badly that they don't care if they have to drive a little extra or something. It works pretty good for us. As for the other question about Kyle. When Kyle came to our deal, we had just been running like 20 races a year and that was a big step. That's really when Len and I started running the team more so than we were. We were either gonna have to get in racing or get out. We were gonna have to start running all the races, hire more people and get more cars and things. I forget how it all started, but it started just over a conversation with Kyle and about a month later we put it all together. They were struggling at Petty Enterprises and Kyle had a sponsor and that worked out for us because the sponsor we had at the time wasn't ready to step up with enough money to do all the races. Kyle was looking for a deal and it was a perfect match. We got along beautifully. It was probably one of the happiest times of my career because we were all growing together. People said it wouldn't work because they thought it was like the Hatfields and the McCoys and it would never work, but it did. We're very good friends now. A lot of times when drivers and teams go their separate ways, things happen and things are said but it's not that way with the Pettys. What probably made it work even better at the time, we grew up Ford versus Chevrolet so the Chevrolet was the bad deal. When we had problems, we pulled for the Pettys. I can remember, if we wrecked or blew up or had trouble, I would walk down to the Petty pits and stand there with Dale Inman. At that time, I guess it was a Purolater uniform standing in the STP pit -- right beside him -- and they were kind of the same way with us. It was a good match. We had a lot of things in common. Our kids were the same age and it just worked."