The first running of the race now known as the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, on Oct. 16, 1960, wound up being a key victory for one of NASCAR’s cornerstone race teams.
The Wood Brothers team, at that time, was a part-time competitor focusing on the short tracks. At the request of fellow Virginian and long-time friend Curtis Turner, the Woods took their 1960 Starliner to Charlotte, which at the time was owned by Turner and current track owner Bruton Smith.
Leonard Wood said that race car was built back from a wrecked street car and painted by Auto Sales and Body Co. in Martinsville. Wood himself built the engine.
The initial plan was for Turner to drive the No. 21 Ford, but Turner was busy with speedway business so the driving duties went to Alfred Bruce “Speedy” Thompson, whose driving career was winding down. Many considered him to be “over the hill” even though he was just 34 at the time.
But after a few laps of practice in the No. 21, team owner Glen Wood and his brother and crew chief Leonard Wood decided otherwise.
“He was running as fast as anybody,” Glen Wood said.
Entering that Charlotte race, Thompson had 18 career victories in NASCAR’s top division, but none since the fall of 1958 at Richmond.
He went on to qualify third for the National 500 and ran with the leaders for the majority of the race.
“He had a great line entering and exiting the corners,” Leonard Wood said. “He’d drive into the corners high, and stay there a lot longer than it seemed like you ought to, then he’d drop down low.”
Although the Wood Brothers were not known at that time for their speedy servicing of race cars, they had a great day on pit road that day.
At that time, teams used a gas can made by welding two five-gallon cans together and fashioning a spout on the top. The fueler had to pour the gas into the tank opening in the center of the rear of the car.
Leonard Wood said that Thompson came down pit road with a lot of speed, but barely came to a stop before gas man Ralph Edwards had fuel flowing into the tank.
Thompson took the lead for good when Fireball Roberts wrecked after leading 197 laps and led the final 35 circuits to get the Woods’ first-ever win on a superspeedway.
At the finish, he was a lap ahead of runner-up Richard Petty and third-place Ned Jarrett.
After Thompson and the Woods won at Charlotte, Paul Sawyer, promoter of the next race at Richmond, called Glen Wood and offered him $2,500 appearance money to bring Thompson and the winning Ford to his track, plus another $1,000 to bring a second car for Joe Weatherly.
Thompson again started third and dominated the race, leading 173 of 200 laps to score what would be his final victory in the division now known as Sprint Cup.
For the Woods, who will run the Charlotte race tonight with rookie Ryan Blaney behind the wheel of their PPG Ford Fusion, the back-to-back victories in the fall of 1960 were the start of a string that has seen them win 98 races to date.
Glen Wood said that if not for the successes of that October, his team’s racing might have ended about that time.
“I had considered giving it up,” Wood said. “We were having a hard time making a go of it, but that win at Charlotte paid almost $13,000 plus a new car, and the money we got from Paul Sawyer was a lot more than the purse money from winning the race, which was $800.
Those two races really got us going.”
Thompson ended his 1960 season with a fourth-place finish at Atlanta in the No. 21 Ford, then ran just seven more races in the Cup series, choosing instead to focus on Late Model racing in the Southeast.
During a Late Model race at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte on Easter Sunday in 1972, Thompson’s car stopped on the track. He was found to be not breathing and died en route to a hospital. He would have turned 46 the next day.
Wood Brothers Racing PR
Speedy Thompson’s Win In Inaugural Bank of America 500 Put The Wood Brothers On The Fast Track To NASCAR Success
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