So many races, so many laps, so many drivers. And great ones.
The Wood Brothers Racing team, a foundational enterprise in the history of NASCAR, will mark its 1,400th Sprint Cup start Sunday when Trevor Bayne rolls off 29th in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It has been a long road. Team founder Glen Wood ran the first mile of it in 1953 in a Lincoln at Martinsville Speedway after running in non-Cup events beginning in 1950. Start 1,400 will come in a 600-mile race at a track where the team has won six times.
“It’s more than a number,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood, Glen’s son. “I’ve been trying to figure out how many I have been to, and I think I’ve been to over 1,100 because I’m ancient myself. But the two things I’m most proud about is the fact that we’ve raced Ford Motor Company products throughout our entire career, and just being able to stay here that long has been the hard part.
“It’s hard to stay here year after year now, much less through the ups and downs of the last 63 years. I wasn’t here doing this 63 years ago, but I’ve been here full-time and at every race since ’72, so we’ve had some ups and downs through that, too.”
The Woods haven’t run a full-time Sprint Cup schedule since 2006, when financial realities forced the team to drop to part-time. The thinking has been that the team would rather have a good car at selected races than a mediocre car at every race. The plus side of that strategy will not be illustrated any better than it was in the 2011 Daytona 500, when Bayne surprised the motorsports world by winning the Daytona 500.
Bayne carried a powerful ancestry to victory lane that day. The seat in the No. 21 car has been filled by, among others, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Marvin Panch, Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott and – most impressively – David Pearson.
“I remember in 1998 when NASCAR was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and they had a list of what they called the 50 greatest drivers, and 20 of those drivers had been in our car,” said Len Wood, Eddie’s younger brother. “So you look back at guys like David Pearson and Cale Yarborough and A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, Marvin Panch, Neil Bonnett – all of those guys were superstars.”
Eddie Wood said the team has survived by continuing the hard work started by Glen and his brother, Leonard, 63 years ago. Both Glen and Leonard are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I guess it’s because that’s what you want to do, and that’s really what you have to do,” he said. “You don’t really have a choice. I’m too old to change routes in life so far as doing something different because I don’t really know a lot about anything other than racing. You learn a lot in here about people and life in general, which will help you in any other field.
“It’s always been said in here that if people worked in another field or another type of work as hard as people work on race cars, everyone would be a millionaire in here because the amount of work never stops. It’s just one of those deals where you work until it’s time to load it on the truck and then you go racing. If you’ve got two weeks to get it ready, it takes two weeks to get ready. If you race every week, it takes one week to get it ready. You work until you run out of time.
“We’ve always tried to be straight-up with everything we’ve done and not try to hide anything. We went through some pretty bad times in ’08, and it is what it is. We didn’t hide it because it was there, but with help from Ford Motor Company we obviously got it turned around and we’re still here. But I will say this, without Ford Motor Company we would not have been here for 63 years. That’s what really has been the difference are the relationships we’ve had over the years with sponsors and with Ford Motor Company as our manufacturer. That’s what has made it work.”
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.