Throwbacks Galore at North Wilkesboro [virtual] Speedway

Jon Wood has 208 starts as a driver across NASCAR’s top three series, but hasn’t competed since 2008. He hasn’t done a lot of iRacing in the years since, but Saturday afternoon he’ll be wheeling the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang at the virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway in the final race of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

Wood, now 38, will be driving for Wood Brothers Racing, where he’s now Senior Vice President and Co-owner. He’s taking the place of the team’s regular driver, Matt DiBenedetto, who is missing the Invitational finale because of a prior family commitment. Steve Myers, iRacing’s Executive Vice President and Executive Producer, invited Wood to join the line-up since DiBenedetto was unavailable.

The prospect of returning to competition against the top talent in NASCAR is a bit unnerving for Wood, a two-time winner in the truck series.

“I can’t believe how nervous the thought of being in this race has made me,” he said. “I don’t remember being this wound up for any of my real-world races.”

In addition to getting reacquainted with his iRacing rig, Wood has been busy designing a throw-back paint scheme for Saturday’s race at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway. His Mustang will be Candy Apple Red, just like the Ford that the late Marvin Panch drove to two wins at North Wilkesboro, in 1963 and 1964. The paint scheme is also a way of honoring the late Ray Lee Wood, who died May 5. Wood, one of the original members of the Wood Brothers racing team, was a tire changer from the time he and his brothers started racing until the end of the 1965 season. Ray Lee Wood changed front tires for both of Panch’s wins at North Wilkesboro.

 “We’ve had some very popular throwback schemes that have already been used so it’s getting tricky to stay original,” Wood said. “My dad [Eddie Wood] chose to honor Marvin Panch’s 1963/64 season and North Wilkesboro win.”

“I’m thrilled and honored but also humbled to be able to pay tribute to both Marvin and Ray Lee. It feels so appropriate given their history at this place.”

As fate would have it, Wood will make his Pro Invitational Series debut at a track where he actually has turned laps, unlike nearly every other entry in Saturday’s race.

After the 2004 season, Wood, driving for Roush Racing at the time, was moving up from the truck series to the circuit now known as the Xfinity Series. Roush set up a tryout at North Wilkesboro to pick a driver to take over the trucks being vacated by Wood and Carl Edwards.

Wood was the first one to drive on the track, which had sat idle since its final Cup race in the Fall of 1996.

“There was so much dust on the track that the truck was slinging rooster tails going down the straightaway,” Wood said, adding that the facility had a surreal feel, having sat basically untouched for nearly 10 years. “There were trees growing up in the grandstands, but there was still toilet paper on the rollers in the bathrooms.”

Even with his brief experience at North Wilkesboro, Wood isn’t setting his sights too high for Saturday.

“I consider myself a part-time part-timer as far as iRacing is concerned,” he said. “I love it, but I don’t have a ton of experience.”

 Saturday’s North Wilkesboro 160 is set to get the green flag at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, with TV coverage on FOX and FOX Sports 1.