The Woods Of Virginia – Part 9; Tiny A Giant Hero
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 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 1963 Daytona 500.
The Woods’ first win in NASCAR’s biggest race was also one of the all-time feel-good stories in auto racing.
The story began 10 days before the running of the 500 when the Woods’ driver, Marvin Panch, who had already qualified the No. 21 for the Daytona 500 was testing a Maserati sports car at Daytona International Speedway.
“It had those narrow, hard tires like they ran at Indy,” said Glen Wood, the race team’s founder and Eddie’s father. “They didn’t have much grip.”
Panch lost control of the car and it turned over. The doors of the Maserati, which wrapped up over the top of the car, had him pinned inside as fire broke out in the car.
Wood, NASCAR official Johnny Bruner, driver Tiny Lund and two others saw the crash, jumped in the station wagon Bruner was driving and sped to the crash scene. Others scaled a fence and came to Panch’s aid as well.
“We were the first ones there, and we all got the car turned over,” Wood said. “It was hot. Some of the guys got their hands burned real bad.”
Lund, being the biggest and strongest of the rescue party, used his brute strength, and that was key to freeing Panch, Wood said.
For his efforts, Lund later received the Carnegie Medal of Honor.
Once Panch was dispatched to the hospital to be treated for his burns, the Woods were left to find a replacement driver for the 500. With qualifying already complete, many of the best drivers were spoken for. They considered their options. Johnny Allen was a leading candidate, as was Lund. USAC drivers were possibilities.
When Glen Wood and his brother Leonard came down to making their final decision, the question they asked themselves was: “If it’s the last lap and you’re leading the race, which driver would you rather not see on your back bumper?”
That made the decision an easy one.
“Tiny was a pretty aggressive driver despite his weight, which was about 280 pounds at that time,” Wood said. So Lund, the hero from the rescue of Panch, got the ride in the No. 21. Some reports say Panch made the decision, but Wood said that wasn’t the case.
The race started under caution for a wet track and when the green flag was finally displayed, a total of 36 laps were run before the first caution flag flew. The Woods pitted, checking the tires and filling the car with fuel. Then they ran another 40 laps and pitted, again taking only fuel.
The next two stops they stretched the fuel for 42 laps, leaving just one 40-lap run to the finish. And throughout, they never changed tires.
“Tiny got a little behind on the track, but we made up the time in the pits because we weren’t changing tires,” Wood said.
As the laps wound down, and other contenders began making late-race stops for fuel, the Woods were confident they could run 40 laps. After all they’d run 42 on two occasions already.
But not everyone was so sure. First Fred Lorenzen gave up the lead to stop for fuel with 10 laps to go. Then Ned Jarrett led briefly, but stopped with eight laps to go, leaving Lund out front.
“The announcers kept asking us when we were going to come in,” Wood said. “We said we weren’t planning on it.”
But the reporters were persistent. Kenny Martin, the Woods’ gas man, assured the rest of the crew that he’d gotten the tank full, but the worries in the pit area continued to build.
“They kept asking us, and we began to wonder ourselves,” Wood said. “But we did make it.”
Lund told reporters at the track that he ran dry on the final lap, but Wood said that in Lund’s excitement over his first win in the division now known as Sprint Cup, he was mistaken about the fuel.
“He drove it all the way around the track and back to the pits, and we loaded the car without putting any more fuel in it,” Wood said.
Wood said he shared some of the prize money with Panch, a gesture that got him a nice letter from Ford’s racing boss, Pete DePaolo. And Lund kept on driving the No. 21 until Panch returned in mid-season.
Often overlooked is the success Lund had after the 500. He was fifth at Atlanta, qualified on the outside pole at Bristol and led the race before blowing an engine, then was second at Martinsville, third at North Wilkesboro and fourth at Darlington.
“Tiny was a good race driver,” Wood said, pointing out that many of his wins came in divisions other than Sprint Cup. “He dabbled in a lot of different things.”
And even though the Woods won three more Daytona 500s and a total of 14 NASCAR races at Daytona, the ’63 win remains one of the most cherished of all.
“It was one of our greatest wins and the most suspenseful,” Wood said. “Especially after everyone thought we’d run out of gas.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment