(EDITOR’S NOTE:It’s just 21 days until the Daytona 500 on FOX, which makes it a perfect time to revisit the history of the No. 21 in NASCAR.)
Almost never in NASCAR has one car number belonged in perpetuity to just a single team, but the No. 21 is about as close as it gets. While NASCAR officially owns each and every car number, the No. 21 will always truly belong to Wood Brothers Racing, one of NASCAR’s founding families.
Yes, a dozen different drivers drove the No. 21 for a race or two from 1949-52, in the early days of NASCAR, but once Glen Wood first raced the No. 21 at Martinsville Speedway on May 17, 1953, a dynasty was born.
And it took a while to take off. The first year the team was victorious in the NASCAR Premier Series was 1960, when Glen Wood won three times and Speedy Thompson twice more.
From there, the team used some of the best drivers in NASCAR history, including NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson, Dale Jarrett, Curtis Turner, Fred Lorenzen and Bill Elliott. Brothers Glen and Leonard Wood are NASCAR Hall of Fame members, too.
Other famous drivers who piloted the Wood Brothers No. 21 included Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones.
At one time, the Wood Brothers team was one of the top two outfits in NASCAR, along with Petty Enterprises.
Five times the Wood Brothers won the Daytona 500, the most famous coming in 1976, when Pearson and Richard Petty crashed together on the last lap. Pearson was able to coax his wounded No. 21 Mercury home to victory, while Petty’s Dodge stalled in the infield and wouldn’t re-fire.
One of the biggest upsets in sports history — in all sports, not just NASCAR — occurred in the 2011 Daytona 500 when rookie Trevor Bayne won the sport’s biggest event in only his second career Sprint Cup start, one day after his 20th birthday. It was a remarkable and remarkably emotional triumph.
Late in the 2015 season, brothers Eddie and Len Wood announced that in 2016, the team would return to full-time competition for the first time since 2008. It was good news for the Woods, good news for talented young driver Ryan Blaney and good news for Ford Motor Co., the only manufacturer the team has ever been affiliated with.
"To get them back on the track full time is the way it should be," said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance, during last month’s Wood Brothers announcement. "They have been our most loyal team for 65 years and they deserve the right to come out every weekend and prove what they can do. I think more than even deserved, they have earned it. They have been very strong this year and as a result of that we are committed to getting them on the track full time."