History on display at Wood Bros. museum

BY foxsports • April 5, 2011

There are no other race shops that offer a tour through NASCAR’s timeline to the extent that the Wood Brothers Racing Museum does.

And there are no hosts who can offer a first-hand account of that history with more knowledge and passion than Glen and Bernece Wood.

The Wood family held an open house Friday to celebrate Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win.

In attendance were Bayne; crew chief Donnie Wingo; current team principals Eddie Wood, Len Wood and Kim Wood Hall; three of the original Wood brothers, Glen, Leonard, and Ray Lee Wood; and museum curator and family matriarch Bernece Wood.

Wood Brothers Racing would not exist without Glen Wood’s vision. In 1950, Glenn Wood, whose name was shortened to Glen “sometime in the 1960s” because it simplified autographs, sat with a group of young men who decided it was time to move from spectators to participants at the racetrack.

Wood, who was 25 at the time, had his own sawmill, the 00 Frick. It’s where he acquired the nickname “Woodchopper.” When time came to purchase that first car, Wood and a friend, Chris Williams, ponied up the $50 for the 1938 Ford.

“We didn't know what we were going to do with it,” Wood says. “But we fixed it up and took it over to Morris Speedway, a little quarter-mile track in Horsepasture, near Martinsville. When we finally got to run the race, we got into a little wreck and bent the rear-end housing.

“We were towing it back home behind our car and of course the wheel was wobbling, the axle broke and pulled the neck out of the fenders. Sparks flew and the car caught fire. It was destroyed from the windshield forward, but we fixed it, and a few weeks later we returned.”

Wood recalls riding down the road to the track with Williams and his brother Ray Lee, when Williams blurted out: “We got the car. What we need now is some fame.” Wood’s return to Morris Speedway resulted in a third-place finish — and it was on.

For every photo and trophy in the museum, Wood has a story. There’s the famous beech tree that sits on the family homestead, where Wood acknowledges his family members were true shade-tree mechanics, throwing a chain over a tree limb to remove engines.

And Wood’s memories of racing on the beach at Daytona are as vivid as if it were yesterday.

“NASCAR started racing one year before we did,” Wood says. “We started in 1950 and have been to Daytona every since. We watched them on the beach, then ran the last one in ’58."

Wood then points to a photo of him driving around the north turn of the beach course.

"That’s Banjo (Matthews) and Jimmy Thompson, behind me," he says. "He was Speedy’s brother. I really liked racing on the beach, but you had to run next to the water. That’s where the best racing was.”

Wood turns through a display and points to Red Vogt, Ray Fox, Smokey Yunick and 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bud Moore.

“What’s sad is when you look at this, just about everyone is dead," he says. "So many are gone.”

He views a picture of Ralph Earnhardt — who drove a Sportsman race for WBR — and speaks to how tough he was behind the wheel, “probably more so than Dale.” He notices a picture of Louise Smith; next to the portrait is a picture of her mangled car. “She did this quite a bit,” Wood remarked about the carnage. “She was proud of it, proud that she survived it. She was a nice old lady.”

The photo wall is full of pictures and racing history: one of the car NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. shared with Curtis Turner on a road rally through Mexico; Dan Gurney winning Riverside (“He was good there from the get-go”); Wood standing with Pete Rose (“I think they should still let him in the Hall of Fame. There are worse things to happen. Look at [Barry] Bonds”); Sarah Palin, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Carter, when he was still governor of Georgia.

“Carter promised us when he got to the White House he would have us all over for dinner,” Wood says. “Us, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, all had our cars on the White House lawn. When we got to the White House, Willie was there, but President Carter was away at the summit meeting at Camp David with Anwar Sadat and couldn’t make the dinner.”

Eddie Wood chimed in that David Pearson drove up on the White House lawn, climbed from the car and hugged Rosalynn Carter.

Another president for whom Wood had great admiration was Bill France Sr. The family’s friendship goes back three generations.

“I had a lot of respect for Bill,” Wood says. “He was hard in some ways, but he was always fair. I think he envisioned how big this sport would be one day. He always wanted us to run away from here (the South). He wanted us to race across the country. That’s what led us to becoming a national sport.”

Wood’s exploits at Bowman-Gray Stadium were famous. His four Grand National (now Sprint Cup) wins were earned there. However, had Wood known his five convertible wins would not count among his Cup victories, he would have concentrated on Grand National races.

At Bowman-Gray, Wood was constantly battling against the Pettys and the Myers brothers.

“Lee (Petty) was rough,” Wood says. “He would root you around if he needed to. I remember one time we were bumping all the way down the frontstretch to the finish line. I knew if he got to me, it was over. So I got ahead of him and held him off.

“He came over afterward acting like he was mad, but he was joking. I said, ‘I wouldn’t have done anything to you that you wouldn’t do to me.' ”

Before Bernece Wood excuses herself to make dinner for son Len, she acknowledges there has been a steady stream of fans coming by since Bayne won the 500.

“We sold as many T-shirts in that first week than we had in 11 years,” Bernece Wood says.

The congratulatory messages in the foyer come from a wide audience.

“Look what Lesa (France Kennedy, president of International Speedway Corp.) just sent the boys,” Glen Wood says. “I just hanged it up.”

The inscription is simple: “Eddie and Len, Great memories! Lesa.”

There’s the ad that ran in newpapers across the country from Ford Motor Co., which won its 400th and 600th races with the Wood brothers. Surrounding the photo and a caption reading “THIS IS WHY WE RACE” were well-wishes from Ford principals including Edsel Ford’s “Len and Eddie, you and your family so richly deserved this victory. Congratulations, Edsel” and president and CEO Alan Mulally, who wrote: The Wood Brothers (surrounded in a heart) + Ford Rock! Congratulations and Thank You, Alan Mulally.”

Not far away is a portrait of the Woods and Mulally in his office in Dearborn, Mich.

“He insisted I sit in his seat,” Wood says.

As we walk back toward the shop, Wood points to a poster of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, who were assembled for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1998. Wood points out 19 of the drivers who drove for the family. Wood is too humble to include himself, even though he was on the list, but adds, “Kyle Busch will be on the next one.”

Through the hallway is also a signed poster from Dale Earnhardt to Wood in 1994 with the inscription: “Happy Birthday, Dale Earnhardt.”

The family gathered behind the scenes to prepare for Friday's festivities. Len, Eddie, wives Carol and Nancy and sister Kim worked feverishly in the shop. An area was cordoned off where Bayne, Wingo and the brothers were to sit and sign autograph cards. A video display, along with the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 winner’s trophy, was at the end of the line.

But what really sparks Glen Wood is the gift from brother Leonard — a brand-new lawnmower his brother fabricated himself.

“It has four-wheel drive and independent suspension front and rear,” Wood says.

The plaque, placed next to the steering wheel, is inscribed: “Designed and built by Leonard Wood especially for Glen Wood,” and another decal inscribed, “Glen Wood, the Wood Chopper.”

In stark contrast is the go-kart Leonard built as a teenager that was brought out for the open house.

“He was 13 when he built this with an old washing-machine motor,” Eddie Wood says. “This was long before go-karts were invented.”

Wood ends the tour with a replica of the 1937 Ford “backseater” with which he won the 1960 track championship at Bowman-Gray. He describes the sensation of motoring the car on two wheels at the quarter-mile bullring.

“I could carry it halfway down the straightaway,” Glen Wood says with two arms up as if he were still driving the car. “I had a seat belt. Some people say they used a rope, but I wouldn’t be that stupid.”

Son Len talks about having tested Bayne at Little Rock, the small track at Rockingham Speedway, to prepare for Martinsville Speedway this past weekend.

“He’s never been to Martinsville?” the elder Wood asks.

“I doubt if he’s ever seen it,” Len Wood answers. “We’ll have to get Eddie to break him in with the hot dogs.”

Just another in a long line of traditions for the Wood family.

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