CUP: Fifty Years Later, A New Galaxie

Published January 31, 2013

| Speed

Ophus Agnew cried when he saw it.

EBay produced its wheels and tires in the middle of the night.

Duct tape was its most elusive part.

Next week, Leonard Wood will stand proudly in front of it as he enters the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The car is a 1963 Ford Galaxie. It never raced a lap, was never even at a race track. But it will soon become one of the most impressive vehicles in a long line of fine cars at the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

The restored car is a tribute to the Wood Brothers team’s victory in the 1963 Daytona 500. Fifty years ago, that race produced one of the biggest storybook tales in NASCAR history.

Marvin Panch was scheduled to drive the red and white No. 21 in the 500. Those plans were derailed 10 days before the race when Panch, test-driving a Maserati for another team at Daytona International Speedway, crashed hard in the third turn. The car flipped, landed on its roof and burst into flames.

Tiny Lund, a sometimes driver who didn’t have a ride for the race, was emerging from the track’s infield tunnel along with several other men as the wreck happened. Seeing the fire, they ran to the crash site.

Panch was trapped in the car. After failing to extinguish the fire, Lund, a linebacker of a man at 270 pounds, helped lift the car off the ground, allowing Panch to slide his feet through the opening. Lund pulled Panch the rest of the way out of the car.

Lund and several other men involved in the rescue later were awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism.

Back in the garage, the Wood Brothers were happy that the injured Panch had escaped an accident that could have cost him his life, but they had a new problem – no driver for their car.

Attention immediately turned to Lund, who had no Cup Series victories but had a reputation as a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners driver. The Woods offered him the ride, he accepted, and, completing the Hollywood-type script, he won the 500.

That race was held Feb. 24, 1963, exactly 50 years before this year’s scheduled date for the 500.

It’s appropriate, then, of the many vehicles that might have been chosen as the focal point of Leonard Wood’s Hall of Fame display, Lund’s 1963 ride is one of the standouts.

The story of getting the car from its home in Roanoke, Va. to the Hall is a complicated one.

The Woods lost contact many years ago with the original car raced in the 500. It was used in other races after that February day but eventually fell out of the Woods’ race inventory.

Len and Eddie Wood, Leonard Wood’s nephews and now the team’s co-owners, bought a street 1963 Galaxie from Roanoke resident Sonny Kingery, a former Wood team member. Kingery occasionally buys and restores older cars, but this one was “in need” when the brothers delivered it to their race shop in Harrisburg, N.C.

Leonard Wood, a master mechanic and tinkerer who can build practically anything from virtually nothing, started restoration work on the car with help from team member Butch Moricle and, along the way, practically every member of the Wood Brothers team.

“Len and Eddie wanted to make it exactly like the real thing,” Leonard said. “They have really gone the extra mile. I would never have asked them to do as much as they’ve done for me getting ready to go in the Hall of Fame.

“The hardest part was cleaning the rust and fixing all of the bad spots. It took all of last year. It’s not just a ‘show’ car. It has all the high-performance equipment in it. You can drive it right out of here. It’s made exactly like how we would have raced it.”

The Wood team has a lot of collective memory from six decades in racing, but that wasn’t enough for the restoration of such an important vehicle. The Woods used dozens of photos of the original car as guides so that the paint scheme, decals, dashboard, trim – even the angle of taping on the roll bars – would be as close to the original as possible.

But what about the underside of the car? Fortunately (or unfortunately, at the time), driver Fred Lorenzen rolled the No. 21 at Riverside International Raceway a month before the Daytona race. Photos from that accident provided a good look underneath the car.

Tires? Fifty-year-old Firestone racing tires can’t be found just anywhere.

“One of our friends in Oklahoma called Eddie one night and told him there was a set of tires on eBay,” Len said. “This was 10 at night, and the auction ended at 3:20 a.m. He had me go online and bid. It was the same tires, the same wheels, everything. He said we have to have them.

“Got them for $2,425. Now I wouldn’t sell them for $25,000. They make the car.”

Surprisingly, the tires were owned by a man in Gastonia, N.C, a short drive from the Woods’ shop.

What about the paint job? Photos shot the day after Lund’s dramatic win appear to show the car with red and bright white colors, but Len Wood said the photos have been retouched over the years. The car actually was painted Corinthian white (a “creamy” white) and Rangoon red, he said.

Those colors were confirmed recently when the Woods hauled the car to their home base in Stuart, Va. for a video shoot. Ophus Agnew, a 90-year-old retired employee of the now defunct Ford dealership in Stuart, painted the original car and came out to the video shoot to see the restored Galaxie.

“He cried when I saw it and said it was right,” Len said. “He worked at the dealership in Stuart as a painter. They got the paint off the shelf. Daddy (team founder Glen Wood) didn’t have a paint booth at the shop, so they took the cars to the dealership for painting.”

One of the unique aspects of the car involves the driver change from Panch to Lund. The race car had been lettered prior to Panch’s accident, so his name had been painted on the door on each side of the car.

To put Lund’s name on the racer, Leonard Wood simply put a three-inch strip of gray duct tape over Panch’s name and asked a garage-area painter to letter Lund’s name on the tape.

“We just wanted some quick,” he said. “You didn’t look at it like you do now. You wouldn’t dare do something like that this day and time. Back then, it was OK.”

The Woods wanted that part of the car to be identical to the original, also. “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find three-inch duct tape,” Eddie Wood said.

The tape eventually was placed over Panch’s name on the driver-side door, and the Woods asked Buz McKim, the historian at the Hall of Fame, to do the car’s lettering, including Lund’s name on the duct tape. McKim once had a sign-painting business in Daytona Beach and often did lettering work for teams in the Daytona garage area.

“We made sure everything was exactly like it was on the race car,” McKim said. “We had tons of photos, so it was easy to follow. They wanted the positioning of the lettering, the height of the letters, all that to be the same.”

The only difference is on the car’s passenger-side door. The Woods decided to leave Panch’s name there.

“He’s part of the story, too,” Len said. “We left that as a tribute to him.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2013/01/31/cup-fifty-years-later-new-galaxie/