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And now the Daytona 500: Jack Roush men vs the Richard Childress gang? And consider newcomer Trevor Bayne...

  Trevor Bayne, the new man at the wheel for the Woods. And he's already stamped with the Jeff Gordon seal-of-approval (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Coming to Daytona each February is like opening a good history book……
   Brings back good memories.  
   Used to play chess with Len and Eddie, on one of those electronic-computerized chessboard. At the track, while Leonard and Glen attended to business, with David Pearson.

   The Woods, and ageless David Pearson; 21 Forever. Some consider Pearson the best driver ever in NASCAR. Savvy and smooth. The hotter the weather, the better he liked it. Remember when, in 1979, he was an unexpected substitute driver for then-rookie Dale Earnhardt, whose savage crash at Pocono literally ripped his heart loose in his chest and sidelined him for a few weeks. And Pearson up and won the Southern 500 for Earnhardt.
   At the chessboard Eddie usually whipped me…think I usually took the better of Len.
   Of course that was back in the days when there was time at the track to while away…'the Beanie-Weenie era,' because Glen's truck was always loaded with the stuff as lunchtime staples.
   In those days before the big haulers; when the Woods carried their lone race car to each track on that vintage cream-color rollback. That truck was so well known it ought to be in the Hall of Fame. Of course so should Glen and Leonard…
    Known the Woods a long, long time. Remember all those days driving up through the mountains to Stuart, past that big ol' statue of Jeb Stuart….lunch at Glen and Bernice's, then on over to their shop on the banks of the Mayo, which in the spring was wont to flood, and not just once washed a bunch of racing equipment on down south. Oooh, that would be a mess….
   Sometimes arch-rival Junior Johnson or Richard Petty, back when this was the Big Three, would arm me with a tidbit or two, just to rile things up.
   All in good fun, all in good fun.
   Glen Wood, the patriarch of the clan, has been bringing the legendary racing family to Daytona Beach each spring for 65 straight years now.
   But the past few years haven't been all that good for the Woods.
   Time marches on, fortunes wax and wane.
   The Woods moved their shop down to Charlotte, just behind the speedway, because quaint as Stuart is, with less than a 1,000 in town, it's hard to round up a big enough posse to chase the sport's big guns. And when Winston-Salem, over the hills and through the woods, is the hottest nearby Saturday night spot, well, you get the picture.
   Last year may have been one of the hardest. Times are tough all over, and the Woods were back to a limited schedule, with old buddy Bill Elliott helping out again, but things didn't really go all that well.
   Until Trevor Bayne.


    Eddie Wood (L) and new driver Trevor Bayne, eyeing Daytona 500 practice (Photo: Autostock)

   Which leads into the point of all this:  
   Trevor Bayne.
   Keep an eye on this kid this season. Beginning with Sunday afternoon's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
   And, oh, happy birthday! Bayne turns 20 Saturday.
   Bayne, a little-known racer from Knoxville, Tenn., has the nod from Ford this season, and he's Edsel Ford's pick for the Woods, who are getting renewed support from the car maker they've stuck with through thick and thin forever and ever.
   Bayne, though he's only made one Sprint Cup tour event, that at Texas last fall, got a surprise here Thursday when four-time champion Jeff Gordon picked him as wingman for their 150. And Bayne was quite impressive, hanging right with Gordon, even up to the point on that last lap when Gordon, leading on the outside of a three-wide off turn four, slapped the wall.
    The Woods and crew chief Donnie Wingo -- old school Donnie Wingo, from the Bud Moore wing of the family, one of the few to have earned spurs wrangling for irascible Jimmy Spencer – have managed to repair Bayne's car for the Sunday Daytona 500, without going to a backup.

    Len Wood (R) and Trevor Bayne (Photo: Autostock)

   Still, Bayne is stuck back in 32nd for the start of the season-opener, for his first Daytona 500.
   "We looked to see if there was any frame damage…did we bend the front clip," Leo Wood said. "We didn't hit anything with the wheels, so nothing appears to be wrong.
   "But there was grass everywhere.  Sometimes cars almost fold the front-end under when they go through the grass.  You can bend a front clip really easy
like that.
    "What you've got down here is what you've got.  It's not like we're going to pick up another quarter-of-a-second by trying this or that. It's going to be a lot about who your partner is Sunday."
    Raw rookie's like Bayne usually get ignored by veterans, as likely too squirrelly and too inexperienced at the finesse of the draft.
    So Gordon's decision to pick Bayne, and Bayne's remarkable performance as the pusher in that two-car pack, was cool. If there's an art to this two-car thing, Bayne has picked up on right darned quick.
    And the Jeff Gordon Seal of Approval. A vote of confidence, really, in a kid nobody really knows.


     Eddie Wood (L) and Richard Petty. Back in '76 at Daytona things weren't quite so buddy-buddy, but now they're both on the same team (Photo: Autostock)

   Len Wood himself is impressed with Bayne so far. And after so many years in this sport – remember 1976 here – it's not easy to impress him.
   After all, the Woods have been to every Daytona 500, and most of those old Beach Course races too, before Big Bill France filled in this swamp land.
   "I don't think anybody wanted to draft with a rookie Wednesday," Wood said of practice. "It was a little bit frustrating….
    "But then late in practice Kyle Busch said he would run with us.  They ran about six laps and did the swap, and Kyle told him what to do on the exchange and how to drag the brake. 
    "But Trevor only had about six laps of two-car drafting before that 150. In December here we ran 400 miles of drafting practice in that tire test, but none of it was touching anybody.  Nobody did that until we came back for the January test. And at that test we were doing single-car runs trying to get speed in the car.
    "So we'll see what Trevor's got on Sunday."

    So Trevor Bayne is the newest chapter, maybe the comeback chapter, in the long, long Wood brothers' history book….
    And quite a book it is.

The best crew chief in NASCAR history? It may be a toss-up between Leonard Wood (here) and Dale Inman (Photo: Autostock)


    Leonard always did the engines back when, and Glen was the boss, an outspoken man, in that classic mountain mold, a man spoke his peace and held his ground regardless of what Big Bill or Billy Jr. or anyone else might be saying or doing.
   Glen and wife Bernice, old-school NASCAR, when this was a much smaller family, not this 3,000-man circus flying from town to town.
    "I came here for the first time with Bernice's dad and brother in 1947, in a little '44 Ford," Glen recalls. 
    Wow! That '44 Ford coupe was a thing of beauty.
   "We started going to races after the war, and I asked them about going down to Florida, and they agreed," Glen went on.  "And we decided to go back the next year…and I've done it every year since then. 
    "I'm lucky that I've felt good and haven't been sick."
    To anyone at the track this week, who wasn't around here back when, U.S. 92 – International Speedway Blvd. – is chock-marked with miles of shopping centers and big-box store in a long urban sprawl right next to the airport.
    But it wasn't always like this.   
    "I remember when there wasn't a track here, and you'd come by and see stumps rooted up out of the ground, because it was just wilderness," Glen said.
    "Swamps, palm trees and water. 


    Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner, on Daytona's old Beach Course, before uban sprawl doomed the Ponce Inlet track (Photo: Autostock)


"I'm sure Big Bill noticed it was getting built up on the beach, with houses right along where the track was (over near Ponce Inlet)," Wood said.
     "There got to be several houses in that last two miles down to the lighthouse, and it got so they would have to tell them 'You can't go out (because the race is on).  If you've got to go anywhere, get out of here now and don't come back until tonight.'"
    Glen Wood raced the Beach Course, that wild race where cars would barrel down the narrow highway for about two miles, cut through the sand dunes to the hard-packed beach sand itself, roar north again right next to the water's edge for about two miles, and then cut back through the dunes on to the asphalt.
    "You would start down by the lighthouse…and I can remember the first year I ran it there were more than 100 cars in the race," Glen says, in amazement.
    "Can you imagine that many starting….and then realizing we've all got to slow down and make that turn at the North Turn?"
    Not everyone, of course, made the turn successfully.
    "One of the guys asked me 'How do you keep from running over the bank?'
    "Well, first thing - when you would come over the last rise you could see the turn, so I would pump my brakes a bit to see if I've got some. 
     "Back then it was common to have a vibration break a brake line. That was the worst thing, going down in there without any brakes. 
    "Curtis Turner was the best that ever was on the beach. I'd say he would throw it sideways for at least 100 feet…and it was the prettiest drift you ever saw coming into the North Turn. He never did go wobbling out like a lot of them.  He went out of there just as pretty every time. 
    "He was just the one you had to watch.  He enjoyed doing that on every dirt or half-mile track."
    Curtis Turner – yes, he really did land his plane in the middle of town once, to pick up some groceries. Another stock car legend who deserves a prized spot in the Hall of Fame.
    Rockingham, 1965, the American 500. First race at that famous Sandhills North Carolina track. Curtis Turner winning, in a Wood brothers Ford.
    The list of men who have made their mark in this sport at the wheel of cars built and prepared by the Woods is a long one.
    A. J. Foyt, Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Dale Jarrett, Morgan Shepherd, Ricky Rudd, Tiny Lund, Fred Lorenzen, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Joe Weatherly,  Banjo Matthews, Speedy Thompson, Marvin Panch, Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, all had a hand at the wheel.
    Can Trevor Bayne add his name to the list? Stay tuned.

  Some big shoes to fill for Trevor Bayne. But then maybe he's got the touch to help revive one of NASCAR's most revered stock car teams (Photo: Autostock)


Great "look back" Mike. I

Great "look back" Mike. I remember eating at the house back then, playing with the tv at the shop so the kids could watch something on tv and taking out the radio controlled cars to play with.

One thing you forgot to

One thing you forgot to mention, the Woods didn't have a great season last year until Roush sent them some Roush cars when Bayne came in on the one race at Texas. You forgot to mention how good Bill did at Homestead in the Roush car and not the Wood Brothers left overs he has been driving for 4 years trying finish races in, trying to keep them in business. If you're going to tell the story, tell the whole story. Not just the one Roush wants you to tell. I don't mind at all them selling out to Roush to be the training ground for their little golden boy Bayne, but tell the rest of the story of Ford and Bill Elliott, after he was Ford on the racetrack for 20 years. I have never pulled for a Chevrolet in my 40 years of watching NASCAR, but I will be this year, Go Bill Elliott. By the way, by Ford dropping Bill, Hendrick got the big prize, Chase Elliott. Why don't you write about that!!

Actually it was Bill Farley

Actually it was Bill Farley from Ford who helped revive the Woods brothers racing. Len being the business side of things decided to buy cars and engines from Roush and Yates.
Claiming Elliott and Roush did everything is nonsense. Donnie Wingo has lead many racers to victory lane. Trevor is another and Trevor is right. Give God all the Glory! :)

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