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The Woods of Virginia – Part 2: DJ Gets 1st Win

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 18 2009
Dale Jarrett and the Wood Brothers at Michigan in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

Dale Jarrett and the Wood Brothers at Michigan in 1991. It was Jarrett's first Cup victory. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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 this week’s entry recalls Dale Jarrett’s victory in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 18, 1991.

Michigan was the 19th race of the season in 1991 but it was one of the first races that year in which the Woods were on equal footing engine-wise with Robert Yates’ Ford and the rest of the competition.

“For most of that season we had been down on power,” Eddie Wood said. “But we’d just gotten the new Ford cylinder heads, and all of a sudden we had really, really good power.”

That power was evident the week before when Jarrett finished a strong fifth at Watkins Glen.

When it came down to the closing laps at Michigan that day, the race boiled down to a contest between Jarrett, who’d never before won a Cup race, and Davey Allison, who was in Yates’s powerful No. 28 Ford.

While Yates had years of experience in making strategy decisions in situations like that, Eddie and his brother Len were virtual greenhorns.

“We’d been racing a long time, but that was really the first year that Len and I were calling the shots,” Eddie said.

A caution flag late in the race offered the contenders a chance to head to the pits and give it their best shot.

Allison took four new tires. The Woods went with gas only on the final stop, and they decided to take their chances with the used rubber that was on their car from the previous stop. This was in the days when Cup cars still ran bias-ply tires.

“We had a set of tires on the car that we’d run earlier in the race,” Wood said. “They were really, really good, so we just put them back on.”

The Woods also had taken a different approach in the effort to gain downforce, back in the day when teams weren’t as limited in what they could do to the cars. The Woods chose to use a wider rear deck lid and spoiler, whereas other teams, including Yates, simply tried to get the rear of the car as high in the air as reasonably possible.

“There were two different theories, and neither one was against the rules,” Wood said. “But as things went forward the trend was to build cars with the back end up high.”

But on this day, the Woods had just enough downforce, and a winning game plan to boot.

As Jarrett battled Allison, Eddie Wood’s voice was the one he heard over the radio.

Knowing a driver in a door-to-door battle doesn’t need the distractions of lengthy chatter, Wood kept his advice simple: “Remember Richard and Cale at Daytona.”

What Wood was referring to was a battle in the not-too-distant past in which Richard Petty used a side-draft-like move to overcome Cale Yarborough and get his 200th win, in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. It was a move that Jarrett and Wood had discussed more than once up to that point.

Sure enough, on the final lap, Jarrett caught Allison just right and got the boost he needed to score a win by a razor-thin margin. The record book lists it at 10 inches. The tire mark on the door of the No. 21 Ford showed that Jarrett indeed had perfected the Petty move.

“It was Dale’s first win, and [father Ned Jarrett] was calling the race on ESPN, so it was a really special deal,” Wood said.

But there also was the element of ironic that often accompanies a memorable moment. By that point, the Woods were already aware that Jarrett was leaving at the end of the season to drive for a start-up team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

Wood said that if the cylinder heads and the added speed had come along a little sooner, things might have been different with them and Jarrett.

“Unfortunately for us, we got fast about 30 days too late,” Wood said. “But Dale had already made his decision to go to Joe Gibbs. We tried to save it, but things had gone too far down the road. But it was the right decision for Dale.”

Wood said that the whole matter was handled as diplomatically as it could have been.

“We got a nice letter from Joe thanking us for being OK with it,” he said.

Even with the changes looming, the Woods and Jarrett ran strong the rest of the season. In fact they almost won the very next week.

“We were going to win at Bristol, but we ended up breaking a wheel,” Wood said. “And we were close to winning a couple of other times.”

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 18 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • David Irby says:

    The Wood Brothers may not be winning anymore and that is only because they are getting out-priced now. It has nothing to do with them not knowing how to build winning race cars. They are still the most “classiest” race team on the circuit.