Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Sure, you remember the historic 1979 Daytona snowstorm...but what about the Great Blizzard of Atlanta in 1993?

 Legendary David Pearson (L), with his long-time crew chief Leonard Wood (C), and one of Ford's newest stars, Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  By Mike Mulhern


   Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
   The Blizzard of '11?
   Down in Daytona they're hoping for a lot more of the white stuff around the country, because if things play out right, snow could be a boon for NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500.

   Everyone remembers 1979.
   Hey, but remember 1993, and the Great Blizzard of Atlanta?
   Sure, you do. But who won the race?
   Hint: he was driving for the Woods.
    The Wood brothers, two generations now, have had a ragged run of it lately on the tour. It's been a while since they had top contenders.
    But last fall's run with newcomer Trevor Bayne may have been a turning point. Now the Woods, who ran a limited schedule last season, are looking toward a much more aggressive 2011, and Edsel Ford II has been taking a personal interest in this comeback.
    After all, the team, for so many years running out of Stuart, Va., does have an illustrious history, first with Glen himself, and Leonard as star crew chief and engine man, with legends like David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Marvin Panch, A. J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Donnie Allison, Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett.
    Edsel Ford – who likes to talk about Ford being "the only car maker in the world that can say it has won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Baja 1,000 and the Bathhurst 1,000 in Australia" -- as been giving his teams a pep talk the past few weeks, looking at getting his family's company the first NASCAR championship since Kurt Busch pulled it off for Jack Roush in 2004.
    And after that slow start to 2010, these Ford teams certainly hope to get off to a quicker start this season.
    How the Woods fit into the big picture isn't clear yet. But Ford points out their legacy – this will be the Woods' 61st consecutive season in NASCAR, and 61st consecutive season running nothing but Fords and Mercurys.

    Trevor Bayne: The Woods' newest driver (Photo: Autostock)

    But back to the Atlanta Blizzard 500:
   After wacky 1992, and Alan Kulwicki's improbable come-from-behind charge to the Winston Cup championship, 1993 opened wild too – Jeff Gordon, then virtually unknown, and just a rookie, led the first lap of the season-opener, after winning his Daytona qualifier…Rusty Wallace survived a frightening crash….and down the stretch it looked like Dale Earnhardt would finally win the sport's biggest race.
   Ah, but Jarrett upset Earnhardt at the finish line.  
   The tour moved on to Richmond and Rockingham and then Atlanta, where a late March blizzard pounded the South.
   Len Wood remembers well: "All of us got stuck down there. We all stayed in our hotels for another two days before we could get home."
   A week later the teams returned. Wallace, Earnhardt, Mark Martin battled it out….but at the end it was the Wood brothers with Morgan Shepherd – ageless Morgan Shepherd, the Hickory, N.C., legend who got a late career start on the Cup tour but who has kept at this thing and who is expected to be at Daytona next week trying to make the Nationwide field, at 69.


Morgan Shepherd (Photo: Autostock)


   Morgan Shepherd is one of those characters who used to fill the NASCAR garage, before the sport turned so vanilla.
    "All they talked about was how fast Mark was," Shepherd says now. "But we really had the fastest car after about halfway, though it was like nobody knew we were that fast because I was coming from so far back.
    "When Mark blew up, I was running second."
    And closing.
    But then a flat tire late…and an unscheduled pit stop.
   "After I took off, Eddie (Wood) said 'Morgan, if there's any way you can save gas, we need to stretch it eight laps'," Shepherd says.
   "Our car was so fast I drafted other cars and really didn't use much throttle. We went 110 miles…drove it into the winner's circle, and still didn't run out of gas.
     "I don't know that anybody had ever gone 110 miles at Atlanta before, but we did."
    Ironically, Kulwicki offered the Woods some key advice. He'd crashed out and was in the Woods' pits. "He started talking to us about when we were planning on stopping," Len Wood recalled. "We told we were planning on not stopping. And he said 'Well, you can't make it.'"
    And Kulwicki, remember, had just played the Atlanta gas mileage game to perfect a few months earlier, in winning the championship.
    "A little later he came running over, in almost a panic," Wood recalled, "and said 'Hey, you can make it -- you need to start backing him off right now.'
    "So we started backing Morgan off, and we ended up making it on fuel."
     Shepherd was 51 that day, one of the oldest men in NASCAR ever to win a Cup event.
     Two weeks later Kulwicki was tragically killed in a plane crash flying to Bristol.


      Glen Wood (L), the man who started the family empire, and Edsel Ford II, renewing his own family's support of the famous Wood brothers (Photo: Autostock)

1993 Atlanta 500

More trivia about that 1993 Atlanta 500 -

It was the Woods' first Atlanta 500 win since Pearson spent 225 laps getting back a lap in the 1976 Atlanta 500 (Neil Bonnett had won the Dixie 500 twice since then).

Rusty Wallace won the pole and finished third after leading 71 laps; he thus closed to 27 points behind Earnhardt (who started second but never got the handle and finished 11th) after wrecking at Daytona.

Good piece, Mike. The part

Good piece, Mike. The part about Kulwicki was great to learn. I was a freshman in college when his plane crashed. I still wonder what the landscape would have looked like through the late 90's with him involved in the sport. I also think he would have been a GREAT car owner after he quit driving.
As for the Woods, them running a partial schedule was their norm back in the day. They have never won a Championship, mostly because they choose not to run the full schedule in Pearson's heyday. I still wouldn't trade all of those wins for one championship.

A brilliant piece

Great to hear about the Brothers Wood. So little attention is paid to them today. I'm hoping someone, somewhere creates a "Petty Blue" DVD for Wood Brothers Racing, with so many wins using a cornucopia of drivers as you well point out it would be a fascinating project both to create and view. As a fan of the team whomever their drivers might be I must stand behind the choice of Mr. Bayne even if I do have my reservations. I was hoping that their next driver might be someone more closely tied to the Blue Oval.

my buds! the very first

my buds!
the very first NASCAR story i wrote for the winston-salem journal was on leonard wood, back when david pearson was kicking ass. i know stuart, va., like the back of my hand. and i was up there several times when the dan river blew out their shop, which was right on the banks.....i've got good vibes about this season!


Remember the 1976 Purolator 500?

Mike, remember the '76 Purolator 500? What looked like the Woods' 8th win of the season turned into a huge upset as Pearson's right rear blew with two to go and Petty took the win; adding insult to injury the Woods' transporter cut a tire heading home from that race.

The 1975 Pocono win by The

The 1975 Pocono win by The Silver Fox -- 21 Forever, as biographer Jim Hunter once dubbed him -- was pretty dramatic too -- remember that oil smoke from Pearson's car? Petty kept complaining to nascar that it needed to blackflag him...and nascar finally did, with only two laps to go -- which, back then, ensured the win, because there was a four-lap grace period when they threw the black flag. and, ah, i seem to remember that race was also sponsored by that famous filter company.....maybe the woods needed a can or two of stp....but they still got the trophy....

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com