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The Woods Of Virginia – Part 8; A.J.’s Revenge

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
A.J. Foyt, driving for the Wood Brothers, accepts winning trophy at Daytona. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

A.J. Foyt, driving for the Wood Brothers, accepts winning trophy at Daytona in 1972. (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 choose 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 team’s triumph in 1972 Daytona 500.

This race was a case of the Woods and their driver A.J. Foyt taking care of some unfinished business from the ’71 Daytona 500.

In the ’71 race, Foyt, driving the Wood’s No. 21, a Mercury Cyclone fastback car, led six times for 36 laps. But just as he was about to make his next-to-last pit stop, with 40 laps to go, the speedy Mercury sputtered just as it went down the front straightaway.

“It was too late for A.J. to wheel it onto pit road,” Glen Wood recalled. “He had to coast all the way around the track. It seemed like it took him forever.”

But he did make it back, and the Woods gassed him up and sent him on his way.

“He passed the leader and got back in the same lap, and we knew that if there was a caution, he could make up the distance and have a chance to race for the win,” Wood said.

The Woods thought they were getting the break they needed when Dave Marcis blew an engine on the backstretch with 17 laps to go, but for some reason, the caution never flew.

Wood said he heard later that there was disagreement in the control booth between the Bill Frances – Junior and Senior.

Still, Foyt finished third behind Richard Petty and his teammate Buddy Baker, and when he pulled into the garage, the press was there wanting to know how he felt about the Woods, known for the their mastery of all things involving pit stops, letting him run out of fuel.

“A.J. told them that was between him and the crew and that he had no problem,” Wood said. “Naturally he was hurt and upset, but he took it very well. He’s a racer and he understood.”

Wood pointed out that it could have been much worse if they’d stopped a lap earlier then run out on the final lap of the race.

For the 1972 race, the Woods switched to a 1971 Mercury Montego, a body style that proved to be much more stable than the fastback ’69, and more maneuverable in the draft.

Eddie Wood was a student at Danville Community College that February, and for reasons he can’t recall, he was driving the Country Squire station wagon that served as the team’s crew transport vehicle.

He left Danville for Stuart to pick up the crew and encountered an especially heavy snowstorm.

“I didn’t have enough sense to put on tire chains, so I was several hours late getting there,” he said. “But I picked up the guys at the shop and we got to Daytona early Thursday morning.”

Young Eddie’s delayed trip from Danville to Stuart turned out to be the team’s only hiccup of Speedweeks.

Foyt battled the Wood’s greatest Daytona challenger, Richard Petty, for the first 80 laps, swapping the lead 11 times before Petty dropped out with engine problems. Foyt led from Lap 81 all the way to 200 and set a then-record race pace of 161.550 miles per hour. In a race known for its close finishes, it was a runaway, as second-place Charlie Glotzbach was almost two laps down at the finish.

The win was significant for many reasons. It gave Foyt a Daytona 500 win to go alongside his three Indy 500s at that point as well as his triumph in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

And it was the Woods’ third Daytona 500 victory, the first two coming with Tiny Lund in 1963 and Cale Yarborough in 1968.

The winning car went on to deliver numerous other victories for the Woods, some with Foyt behind the wheel and even more with David Pearson. That same car, in its original state, was brought out of the Darlington museum two years ago, tuned up by Leonard Wood and driven by David Pearson during an exhibition at Darlington Raceway. It now is headed to a new home – the soon-to-open NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

Glen Wood said his team’s days with Foyt were some of its best.

Although some in the sport told them beforehand that Foyt was difficult to deal with, that wasn’t the case for them.

“People said we’d never get along with him,” Wood said. “But we had absolutely no problem with him.

“Of course we had a good car and good crew and were running good and winning races.”

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
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