Wood Brothers Turn Pit Stop Into Modern Day NASCAR Art Form
Wood Brothers Racing has been in existence for 61 years and throughout their long and storied history they have won 98 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, an owner’s championship, five Daytona 500 victories and a roster of hall of fame drivers that is the envy of the sport.
But for all of those impressive accomplishments, the Wood Brothers are best known for revolutionizing and impacting a part of the sport that is now viewed as one of the most crucial aspects of any race – the pit stop.
“How it really started was at Martinsville when Glen started running the Grand National Series,” recalled Delano Wood, one of four Wood Brothers who worked on the original crew. “We didn’t know exactly what each one was gonna do, but Leonard said he was gonna change the front tires. My brother Ray Lee said he was gonna change the rear tires, and now there’s this big, heavy jack sitting there. Well, nobody could use it but me, so I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”
In today’s NASCAR, it’s not uncommon to see four-tire pit stops completed in under 14 seconds, but that’s not the way it used to be.
“In the older days they could be more than a minute. You would see some teams pouring gas out of a bucket into a funnel. That didn’t make sense to me, but some of them did that during the fifties,” said Glen Wood. “Gradually, it got to the gas cans like we have today, but there was no dry break on them. They just had a rubber hose and you just sort of lifted that over the gas neck that came out of the car and it worked pretty good. It would go in as fast as it does today, but if you got it full and didn’t let it down good before you pulled it off, you were subject to spill a lot of gas. That led to the dry break. People back then couldn’t understand what a dry break was gonna do and couldn’t believe that would work, but I guess it worked re-fueling airplanes in the sky, so if it worked that way, you figured it would work in cars.”
Led by Leonard Wood, the brothers devised a method to try and cut down the time their car spent standing idle on pit road.
“I think all of us Wood Brothers had quick reflexes and that’s what it takes to make a pit stop. You can have strong people, but you’ve got to have quick reflexes. I don’t care how strong you are, so that was a big plus,” said Leonard. “We were working at it and we found in 1960 that there was a way of gaining time, so we started working at it and nobody was really concentrating on it. They weren’t thinking about that, so, right away, we came out a half-lap ahead of everybody. As time went on, the guys began to realize they were getting beat bad in the pits, so they went to work.”
But Leonard was still ahead of his time because he dissected the weak points of the stop and set about to make them stronger. The two main components he focused on was the jack and fuel can.
Most of the teams bought their jacks from a regular store, but it could sometimes take as many as 15 pumps to get the car off the ground with enough clearance to change tires. Likewise, the flow of fuel out of the can was viewed as something that could be improved. Leonard invented a jack that is similar to the ones used today and while it cut down the amount of times it took to get the car off the ground, the team was aided by the man behind the handle.
“There was a third brother, Delano Wood, who was the jack man and good God he could get a car in the air,” marveled Charlotte Observer Hall and Hall of Fame sportswriter Tom Higgins. “I mean, he was pumping that thing and in three pumps it was up.”
Delano said that he had a lot of things working in his favor, but the technique he developed allowed the team to shave many seconds off each stop.
“One of the things was my height. I don’t look like a muscle man, but I was strong. In other words, when I put the jack under the car, the moment it got to the point where it was supposed to be, I’d put my foot against the jack and come down with it,” said Delano Wood. “We had this old heavy jack, but Leonard made me an aluminum one, similar to what they have now. He made that thing 10-15 years before the latest version came out and it worked for me.”
Leonard said he concentrated on every aspect of the pit stop and when he finished improving one area, he moved to another.
“Any weak point we worked on it. We worked on getting the car up and the tires on, so now we were waiting on the gas to go in, so you streamline the system so the gas flows in better,” related Leonard. “You’ve got to have it all before you can have a good pit stop.”
The Wood Brothers eventually had it all and ended up winning many races in NASCAR and even used their advanced choreography to help Jimmy Clark with the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
“At that particular time it was four brothers and we didn’t try to outdo the other,” said Delano. “We wanted to get the job done and get the car in and out. That was all we wanted to do, so we kept working at it and all I can say is I just had a ball doing it.”