The Wood Brothers of Stuart, Va., head to Daytona Beach, Fla., this week with their No.21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, a new driver in Ryan Blaney, new crew chief in Jeremy Bullins and a new alliance with Team Penske.
But despite everything that’s new, the Woods are in many ways simply carrying on an old family tradition. It started 69 years ago when team founder and family patriarch Glen Wood first traveled to Daytona Beach for Speedweeks. The first few trips were simply to watch his hero and fellow Virginian Curtis Turner churn through the sand on the old beach-road course.
Soon Glen was driving himself, quickly becoming one of the all-time masters of the historic race course with three Sportsman division victories. When Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, replacing the beach-road course, Wood made the transition as well, and soon the Woods became as successful on the superspeedway as they had been on the old course.
Wood himself did the driving the first year, but superspeedway racing didn’t appeal to him as much as the close-quarters competition on the short tracks, so he turned the driving duties over to others.
Heading into this year’s Daytona 500, the Wood Brothers have made 120 starts in points-paying Sprint Cup races at Daytona. They’ve won the Daytona 500 five times and had 20 different drivers run the Great American Race in one of their cars. Five of those 20 – Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott – already are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Others are legendary names in the world of motorsports - drivers like Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Curtis Turner. Also among the 20 is Swede Savage, the sports car driver who got a chance in the Wood Brothers No. 41 in 1969 after being discovered by Gurney and thereby coming to the attention of executives from Ford Motor Company.
“Swede was in position to be the next Fred Lorenzen after Lorenzen retired,” said Eddie Wood, one of the current co-owners of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.
Savage died from injuries suffered in a crash in the 1973 Indianapolis 500.
Although the Wood Brothers team is known primarily as a one-car campaigner, it has fielded multiple entries over the years, including three times in the Daytona 500. Marvin Panch and Gurney both raced in the 1964 500, with Panch in the familiar No. 21 and Gurney in a No. 12 Ford.
Panch was joined in 1966 by Curtis Turner, who drove a No. 41, and Savage ran the 1969 race as a teammate to Cale Yarborough.
Eddie Wood made his first appearance as a crew member at Daytona in 1972, the year A.J. Foyt delivered the Woods the third of their five Daytona 500 trophies. Before then, Wood’s memories of trips to the beach were from stories told by his father and uncles.
“The thing that stands out from that time is I remember getting up to go to school the day after my dad got home from Daytona,” Wood said. “There would be bags of oranges and grapefruits on the table – and usually a trophy or two.”
Jeremy Bullins, the new crew chief of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, has heard some of the old Daytona stories too – some from Glen Wood and some from Leonard Wood, whose performance as the team’s crew chief earned him multiple honors including an induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bullins said holding the same position Leonard Wood once held is a humbling experience.
“He’s the first guy you think of when you talk about that job title,” Bullins said. “Those are some big shoes to fill.”
Although the technology in the sport has changed greatly from the time Wood was calling the shots on pit road, Bullins said the fundamental approach to the Daytona 500 – and the rest of the races on the schedule – is basically the same as it was Wood’s era.
“You still have to work hard, do the best job you can preparing the car, try to be as competitive as you can be and try to keep improving,” he said.
As the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team tries to make Blaney the 21st driver to run the 500 for the Woods, there is no assurance that he’ll be in the starting field. There are two opportunities to earn a starting spot – in qualifying on Sunday and in Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races.
Still, that uncertainty causes people like Eddie Wood to be a bit on edge despite the excitement of Speedweeks and the enjoyment of returning to Daytona in February, as his father Glen Wood has done for 69 straight years.
“You try to keep it out of your mind, but it’s always there,” he said. “As soon as one Daytona 500 is over, you’re already thinking about it for the next year.”
“That’s just the way it is. The Daytona 500 is that important.”
Wood Brothers Racing PR