The Woods Of Virginia – Part 5; Jolly Good At Indy
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 this week’s entry recalls the Woods’ role in Jim Clark’s victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Eddie Wood was a seventh-grader at that time, and May 31, Memorial Day, race day, found him sitting in his desk in Miss Rangley’s classroom.
While his father and uncles were putting their innovative abilities to work at the Brickyard, young Eddie also had a few tricks up his sleeve – literally.
Wood’s uncle Ray Lee had given him one of the small, Petty-blue transistor radios that were popular at that time. Young Wood put the radio in his pants and ran a wire up his sleeve to a plug in his ear. It was risky for sure. Miss Rangley was a stern disciplinarian, the kind who didn’t hesitate to put a switch or paddle to use.
“If she had caught me she would have worn me out,” Wood said.
But, with a little help from a fellow classmate – one he kept abreast of racing developments via an occasional note passed across the aisle – he heard every lap of the 500.
It was a day that brought the Woods not just national recognition such as a write-up in Sports Illustrated, but international acclaim.
Eddie’s dad, Glen, said it all started one day at Darlington Raceway when a Ford racing official approached the Woods about taking their pit road skills to Indy to help out with the Lotus-Ford effort.
Glen Wood said his initial reaction was: “Are you kidding?” To which the Ford boss replied: “As a matter of fact, I’m not.”
So the Woods, always loyal to Ford, were off to Indy.
Like any other winning racing effort, the key to success in the 500 was in the pre-race preparation. For the Woods, that meant figuring out how to quickly and efficiently refuel the car and change four tires.
The first challenge was overcoming the accent barrier. “Those Englishmen were hard for us to understand, and I’m sure we were the same way for them,” Glen Wood said.
But soon they were working well together. The first task was figuring out how to save time fueling the car.
It was the first year at Indy that the fuel would be put in the cars through a gravity-fed system. The Woods, especially brother Leonard, began tweaking the hardware to shave seconds off the pit-stop time.
“Leonard would file on the latches to free them up so they’d work smoothly and quickly,” Wood said.
The Woods and Clark also practiced pit stops, but they did so in two segments so their competitors wouldn’t realize what they were doing. They’d secretly time each segment, which gave them an idea of what the overall time would be.
“Between the two times, we knew we would do pretty good,” Wood said.
Part of the preparation was working with Clark to be sure he stopped at just the precise spot, so the heavy fuel hoses could be quickly attached to the tank.
“Leonard told Jimmy that he had to be close to the right spot every time or the hose wouldn’t reach,” Wood said. “Jimmy said, ‘You tell me where to stop and I’ll stop.’
“He went out that lap in practice, and when he came in I thought he was going to drive plumb through the pit, but he squatted it down on the exact spot, and he did it every time.
“He was a great driver.”
The Woods also made preparations for changing tires, sanding the hubs to make sure that the wheels would go on and off with ease, but that never came into play.
During the race, the team made just two pit stops, and both were for fuel only. Just like their win in the Daytona 500 two years before, the Woods went to Victory Lane with a car that ran 500 miles on the same set of tires.
“This was BS,” Wood said. “Before Slicks. Ray Lee had a depth gauge to measure the tread wear. Back then, when some of the tread wore off the performance was actually better, kind of like having slick tires today.”
On the first stop of the 500, the Woods pitted the car in about 19 seconds, service that many predicted would take a minute or more. The second was a little slower, about 24 seconds, largely because of reduced fuel pressure due to less volume in the overhead tank. Both times, Ray Lee checked the tires and found them acceptable to go back on the track.
The quick stops confounded the Indy veterans. Wood said one commentator speculated that the “crew was from down South and probably didn’t fill the car up.”
But the car kept right on running.
“He had to eat those words,” Wood said.
Even team owner Colin Chapman had questions during the race about the fuel supply. In his British accent, he asked the Woods: “I say, did you fill it up?”
Leonard Wood reassured him, and he replied: “Jolly good.”
Almost overlooked that day was the fact that the Woods were pulling double duty. Besides servicing Clark’s car, they pitted for Bobby Johns, who finished seventh.
Wood said it’s somewhat ironic that he and his brothers got so much attention for what amounted to about 45 seconds worth of work on pit road.
“It was a lot of publicity for as little as we did,” he said.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments