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The Woods of Virginia – Part 3: Glen Grabs The Wheel

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 27 2009

Glen Wood circles the track in his 1956 convertable. (File photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

Glen Wood circles the track in his 1956 convertable. (File photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

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. This week’s entry recalls the first major NASCAR win for Eddie’s dad, Glen Wood. It came in a Convertible race at Fayetteville, N.C., on March 10, 1957.

The stories from the day reported about how the “Woodchopper” from Stuart, Va., driving his own Ford, outran the factory backed cars to get the victory.

To really appreciate the meaning of that win, it’s best to show how Wood, then 31, got to that point.

Wood was making a living as a sawmill operator. He’d locate a tract of timber, purchase it, then haul his mill into the woods, saw the logs into lumber and sell the finished product.

He started his saw-milling career at the bottom of the pecking order – shoveling sawdust from under the edger, a machine that saws the edges from wider boards, making narrower boards of uniform dimensions. And he had to tote off the slabs, the unusable portion of the logs that were shaved off to square up the round logs so they could be cut into lumber.

Soon he was the sawyer, the boss, controlling the saw and determining the optimum use for each log placed before him. Wood said he was an accomplished sawmiller, but conversations over coffee at a local restaurant soon led him in an entirely different direction, career-wise.

Wood and four friends, who had been traveling to local race tracks to watch Curtis Turner and others do battle, decided to build their own car.

Soon there were only two partners, Wood and Chris Williams. They took a 1938 Ford coupe that had been wrecked and made it into a race car, which they took to Morris Speedway, a track located between Stuart and Martinsville, Va.

After three rain-outs, it was finally time to race, but the driver didn’t show.

“I decided I’d drive it,” Wood said.

During the race, there was damage to the rear-end housing, so Wood headed for home, with the car in tow. “About 10 miles up the road, the wheel started wobbling. It broke the axle, and it fell down on the highway and the car caught fire.”

Back home, the general feeling was that it was for the best. Maybe Wood would give up this foolish pursuit and go back to work in the woods with his sawmill. “That irritated me somewhat,” he said.

Wood’s reaction to the initial setback illustrates the mettle and desire that has kept him in the racing business all these years. And now at 84, he’s by far the oldest and longest-tenured car owner in the garage.

“Three weeks later we had that car going again and finished third,” he said.

Soon he was making a living with his race car, which was a good thing because good timber was getting scarce in the woods around his home. By 1956 he had factory backing from Ford for his Convertible entry.

The deal was for $600 a month and all the parts he needed for the car. “How could you beat that?” he said.

Soon Wood was making good use of the new-found resources.

In a race at Syracuse, N.Y., he was setting a blistering pace; so fast that the other Ford crew chiefs complained that he was forcing their drivers to push their cars too hard just to keep him in sight.

He decided to be more of a team player.

“After that, a lot of times, I didn’t drive as hard,” he said. “I didn’t win a race, but I ran second and third a lot. I was satisfied with that as long as it was Ford in front of me.”

But at the end of the season, Ford cut back its support, backing only the drivers who had won the year before, a group that did not include Wood. But he wasn’t bitter.

“I could understand that,” he said.

But it did make him hungry to win races, and that was on his mind heading into the third race of the year, at Fayetteville.

His car unloaded fast and qualified on the outside pole, but his engine was blowing water. And as any shade-tree mechanic knows, an engine will only run a short time if it’s losing water. Ironically, it was a shade-tree solution which Wood employed that day.

He simply added a can of Bar’s Leaks to the radiator, and vowed to run his car as hard as he could until it quit.

But the Bar’s Leaks worked. The engine held its water, and never missed a revolution throughout the 150-lap run.

“I went on and won the race,” Wood said. “It never dawned on me that I could finish.”

And he beat his old factory-backed teammates in the process.

“It was kind of a sweet victory,” he said.

Wood backed up his win with a fifth-place finish in the next race at Greensboro, N.C., then posted back-to-back runner-ups at Manassas, Va., and Hillsboro, N.C., which meant that he’d posted an average finish of 3.5 in the first six races of the season, a Jimmie Johnson-like performance made even more impressive by the fact that it was accomplished without factory backing. But that all changed when Ford’s racing boss Pete DePaolo called, offering to put Wood back on the Ford program. Wood received six tires and put them to good use in the next race at Richmond, where he won the race by a lap over second-place Curtis Turner.

“I’ve been with Ford ever since,” Wood said.

Unfortunately for Wood and the other drivers who ran the Convertible circuit, their accomplishments in that series aren’t adequately recognized today, when all the focus is on the Cup circuit. The Convertible races usually featured the best drivers of the day, and they were in top-notch cars.

“They were the same as a Cup race, but there’s not as much credit for them,” said Wood, who had five wins, 43 top-five and 62 top-10 finishes in 89 Convertible starts. “That’s one thing about my career that people don’t get into – the Convertible part of it.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 27 2009