Hard-working men spent countless hours building their own cars and then driving or towing them to the track to race them. Everyday men who already had been carving out a niche in another area — in Glen Wood’s case, it was a sawmill — turned their interest to the sport and found a way to make a living at it.
The hours were long, the labor relentless, the risk high. Families were needed to support the effort, and volunteers filled in the gaps of getting the cars ready and to and through a race.
They raced fast and as often as they could, these men who built NASCAR, and perhaps never dreamed that what some viewed as a hobby and none saw as glamorous would someday be a national passion in which drivers were heroes and thousands made their living.
They did it for the love, for the pure joys and challenges racing presented.
Glen Wood epitomizes all that NASCAR was and is. In his 62nd year as a team owner in the sport, his role has shifted and changed with the times and he has added family members in his shop. Yet, he is NASCAR. Humble and well-spoken, demure about his own credentials, Wood is a classy, gracious competitor who has seen the sport build to its current level of glory. And he still knows how to pull off the big victory.
Such words as "legacy" and "legend" are tossed about when his name and his team are broached.
A former driver, a man who helped alter the pit stops in the sport and an owner who remains a single-car entity in a multicar world, Wood is the longest standing independent team owner in the sport.
He and his family are true icons in NASCAR. They have won 98 NASCAR Cup races, winning in seven different decades. They have stood the test of time, survived when others they started racing against folded their teams and walked away. On Friday, many members of the Wood family will be on hand to watch as founder and father Glen Wood walks across the stage and joins the Hall of Fame as a member of its third induction class.
When his name was announced as an inductee, Wood looked genuinely surprised. He later sheepishly admitted that he didn’t even have himself among his list of five to enter the Hall this year. Instead, as he has been his whole career, he was willing to wait patiently for recognition.
Wood and his brothers formed their team in 1950. They had high hopes and plans — and went all out to make those come true.
It began when Jay Walter Wood and his sons Glen and Leonard, brought home the first car to Stuart, Va.
“They told Grandfather they were going to race,” said Eddie Wood, Glen’s son. “The first thing he said was, ‘Don’t unload that mess here.’ But they did, anyway, of course.
“There was a beech tree. Now it’s like a 150-year-old beech tree. The engine they pulled out of that car, they just threw a chain over the lowest limb, and that was what they pulled it out with. Our racing really started under a beech tree. The beech tree, by the way, is still there.”
As he looks over his career, Glen Wood remembers that things didn’t always go exactly as planned. Somehow, though, they always worked out in the end.
“We started out with a little ‘38 Ford, and, ironically, before we got home with it, towing it back, we’d been in a little crash and it caught fire and burned up,” Wood said. “Somebody said, ‘Well maybe he’ll quit this foolishness now.’ Well that sort of lit a torch, and we fixed it up and got back in racing the next week or two.”
And they never stopped. Although the Wood Brothers have often run a partial schedule in the series, they built a legacy of success.
That started with Glen Wood himself. In 1960, he drove only nine races but he won three of those and took the pole position in four of them. He earned seven top-10 finishes that year. Wood soon turned the driving role over, though. He and his brother, Leonard — the mechanical genius of the operation — opted to build cars for other people.
“I drove in the early days. There were short tracks, and there’s hardly any of them was over half a mile,” he said. “When it got to the bigger tracks, it was just a different driving style than I was used to. It got to where you just had to have too much help to do it and I couldn’t do much if I was driving, so we just decided to let . . . I believe the first one that drove regular for us was Marvin Panch. And it just went from there to it seemed like I needed to quit and concentrate on working on the cars with Leonard and doing the other things that had to be done.”
“We always did things together,” Leonard Wood said. “I was the mechanical end of it and he was the business end of it and, of course, he worked on the cars, too. We made a great combination.”
Wood put some of the top drivers in the sport behind the wheel of his car. Hall of Famers David Pearson and Cale Yarborough each found a lot of success with the team.
Yarborough is quick to credit Wood with a key role in a career that went on to include three consecutive championships with team owner Junior Johnson.
“They were just the greatest people in the world to work for,” Yarborough said. “. . . I am just so pleased to be coming into the Hall of Fame along with Glen Wood. If it hadn’t been for Glen Wood, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Pearson, meanwhile, brought the team a new level of success. Of the organization’s 98 wins, 43 came with Pearson behind the wheel between 1972 and ’78.
And while some might have traveled to races a little more often, it’s hard to argue with Wood’s plan. His team has won the Daytona 500 five times. First they took the checkered flag there in 1963 with Tiny Lund, who was subbing for an injured Panch. They matched that success again 2011, winning the sport’s premier race on a much larger stage thanks to shifts and growth in the popularity of the sport.
Once more, they were the little team taking on the big guys. And once again, Wood walked to Victory Lane, this time with a rookie driver named Trevor Bayne after upsetting a field loaded with Sprint Cup champions.
As he looks back over his career, Wood marvels at how the team has managed to keep pace all these years.
“Somehow, we’ve struggled through the hard times and, with the help of Ford Motor Co., we’ve been able to do this and do it our way,” he said. “We haven’t run for championships many years, but I ran a lot in the convertible circuit, which nobody hardly knows about that. I ran a lot of modifieds, sportsman races at short tracks and all. To be here today is unbelievable.”
He quickly credits those around him.
Wood points out that he didn’t make it this long, and this well, on his own.
He’s quick to credit his family, both Leonard who continues to work with him day to day and his children, Len, Eddie and Kim. These days, Glen Wood and his children are equal owners in the organization and the 86-year-old patriarch spends a little less time at the shop and on the day-to-day operation of the team. Yet, the ethics and attitude he brought to the team continue.
“You kind of let the cars actions speak for itself and (be) not boastful, but most appreciative and proud of the accomplishments,” said his daughter and team co-owner Kim Wood Hall. “Then, Daddy, he’ll be the first to say that he didn’t do it all on his own — he had Leonard by his side the entire time.”
He says it often. When he was announced as a Hall inductee, it was one of the first comments he made about the stellar accomplishment.
“I didn’t come here alone,” Wood said. “I had a lot of help. There’s five of us brothers, and all of those have helped at one time or another and Leonard has been there all along, for the whole 60-something years or whatever. Of course, we’ve had so many good drivers, too. All of that led to where we are.”