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The Woods Of Virginia – Part 1: Petty Theft

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 11 2009
It was Kyle Petty who drove a Wood Brother Racing car to victory lane at Richmond Fairgrounds in 1986. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brother Racing)

It was Kyle Petty who drove a Wood Brother Racing car to victory lane at Richmond International Raceway in 1986. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brother Racing)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The Wood Brothers Racing Team has been one of the backbones of NASCAR since the sport was founded. The Woods, from Stuart, Va., have been racing continuously in the division now known as Sprint Cup since 1953 and have 96 wins to their credit.

In a RacinToday exclusive series, Eddie Wood, one of the second-generation members of the team, will discuss what he considers the top 10 wins in Wood Brothers history.

The wins aren’t ranked in any particular order, but Wood began with Kyle Petty’s win in the Miller High Life 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Feb. 23, 1986.

From Eddie Wood’s vantage point in the pits, as the laps wound down on a cold winter day at the Richmond Fairgrounds, it looked as if Petty was destined for a top-five finish. But with three laps to go, things changed for the better and in a hurry.

“Kyle went out of sight running fifth,” Wood said. What he couldn’t see was Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip wrecking at the front of the field, taking out the top four cars as Petty steered through the melee to take the lead for good.

Earnhardt got the blame for the crash and was fined $5,000 and placed on probation. The fine later was reduced to $3,000 and the probation dropped.

But the Woods had another Cup victory, their first in three years, and Kyle Petty had his first.

The win also proved wrong the naysayers who said there was no way that the Pettys and Woods, who had battled each other for decades, could be successful together.

“People said we would never get along, but some of my best times in racing and in my life came when we raced with Kyle Petty,” Wood said. “We ran really well with Kyle, and we all got along fine.”

The win also was significant because it came in the first year that the Woods ran the full Cup schedule, and it was the first year they’d had major backing from non-automotive sponsors. It also was the first time the team’s cars had carried the No. 7, for sponsor 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain. The car also carried the colors of Citgo and Ford.

“It was really the first big sponsorship deal we’d had with corporate America,” Wood said.

The winning car, Wood said, actually was one purchased from Petty Enterprises, which had always had fast short track cars.

“It was a Hutcherson-Pagan car,” Wood said. “It wound up being our Bristol car. It lasted a long, long time.”

In fact, in it’s last run, at Bristol, Dale Jarrett was poised to win when a wheel broke, leading to a car-killing crash.

“It was a good race car,” Wood said.

Eddie Wood doesn’t remember much about the post-Richmond celebration. The main thing he recalled was the rush to get ready for the next race, at Rockingham.

But he did remember a pact that didn’t exactly work out.

When the Woods first hooked up with Petty, Eddie and Len Wood and Kyle Petty all three wore moustaches. The agreement was that they’d all shave them off when the won their first race.

Eddie shaved his off, as did Len, but Kyle didn’t follow through. “I don’t think (wife) Pattie would let him,” Wood laughed. “He never did until this day.”

The friendship between the Woods and Kyle Petty also continues to this day, even though the racing arrangement didn’t last.

“It’s a shame it ended,” Wood said. “But for whatever reason, a lot of great things in racing have to stop. But we had something really good.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 11 2009
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