Harris: Bayne’s Victory Sits At ‘Top Of The Stack’
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
When the once-dominating Wood Brothers team fell on hard times, Leonard Wood, one of the founding siblings of the NASCAR pioneer team refused to hang his head, place the blame or look for a
place to hide.
“You know, we’ve been on top and we’ve had our bad times, too,’’ Leonard said. “The great thing about racing is that you always have another chance, another shot at winning – even if it takes a while.’’
The team which shared dominance of the stock car world in the ‘70s with Petty Enterprises as David Pearson battled Richard Petty head to head, did not win a race between 1993 when Morgan Shepherd grabbed an upset victory at Atlanta, until 2001, when Elliott Sadler took an equally unlikely win at Bristol.
Since then, the team that invented the modern pit stop and whose pantheon of drivers is a who’s who of NASCAR, has gone through a serious upheaval.
In an effort to stay competitive, the team left it’s longtime home in Stuart, Va., for a shop in Charlotte’s racing hub. That didn’t solve the problem of finding sponsorship, though, and the Wood Brothers team finally had to cut back its racing schedule.
But Leonard’s words rang out loud and clear on Sunday as wunderkind Trevor Bayne, one day past his 20th birthday and in only his second Sprint Cup race, pulled off one of the upsets of the
ages with a victory in the Daytona 500.
It took the Wood Brothers back to Victory Circle at Daytona for the first time since Pearson’s signature win in 1976, a race some consider the greatest in NASCAR history.
Because of the recent struggles, this one likely means more to Eddie and Len Wood, the sons of Leonard’s brother Glen and co-owners of the team.
“I’m just so happy for (Trevor),’’ Eddie Wood said. “I’m happy for my dad. So much happened in the last 10 laps in my head. I walked in Victory Lane with Richard Petty and Edsel Ford and my dad. I don’t know how much better that can get.’’
His brother, noting it was also Ford’s 600th victory in NASCAR’s elite Cup series, added, “We’re so tickled to be here. Ford Motor Company stood behind us for 60 years now, 61 to be exact. It’s just unbelievable that we could keep the team.
“Our dad and Leonard have won in seven decades now,’’ Len Wood added. “So proud of that. … This is the greatest feeling that you can have. I was part of the ‘76 win with Pearson. I think Eddie was here with (A.J.) Foyt in ‘72. Trevor did such a great job. What’s (our) biggest win? Well, this is the top of the stack right now.’’
In a crazy race that saw big crashes and front-to-back and back-to-front rushes by the new two-car tandems, it was amazing to see the way the raw rookie, who will race full-time in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing, handled the pressure and the competition on the big Daytona oval.
“I was talking to Richard Petty after the qualifying race and we were talking about how well (Bayne)
did in the qualifiers and how do you do that your first time at doing it,’’ Eddie Wood said. “We decided that he didn’t know how to do it wrong.
“It’s all brand new, so however he did it was correct. He caught on to the way that everyone else was doing it. We were on top of the hauler during the first qualifier. He watched Matt Kenseth pull out to the right. He said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to do that.’ He went right out there and did it.
“He’s got a tremendous awareness in the car,’’ Wood added. “The great ones are like that. I’ve listened to a lot of drivers on the radio. He reminds me of the great ones. … I told somebody the other day that I felt like he just might be the next big deal, and I think he is.’’
Besides the driver and the Wood Brothers crew, which gave the youngsters solid pit stops throughout the race, a lot of the credit for this surprising win goes to Jack Roush, whose team is now a technical partner with the Wood Brothers.
“Well, the last couple years, we’ve been on our own,’’ Eddie Wood explained. “We’ve been doing our own engineering along with Ford Motor Company. You know, we were small. It was just getting to the point that you just couldn’t quite get where you needed to get. No matter how much money you spent, no matter how much work you did, you just couldn’t quite get over the hump to get to the point that you were competitive every week.
“So we talked to Jack. You know, we worked out a plan for us to buy his race cars and line up with all of his engineering. It’s worked out perfectly. I mean, we ran the last three races last year like that and it’s just been flawless. The guys over at Roush Fenway Racing have just really treated us like family. Jack has treated Len and I like two sons. I’m really proud of that. (Crew chief) Donnie (Wingo) was already a part of their world. He came over to be part of ours. It’s really, really, really one Ford, just like the slogan says.
“I think this is the happiest I’ve been. And as I told (people) last week, this is probably the happiest, the calmest that I’ve been in about 10 years. So it’s all good.”
“Man, I’ll tell you what,” Bayne said, “I couldn’t ask to be sitting up here with any better guys than these three up here. Then Glen and Leonard who laid the foundation for these things. They gave me a rocket ship that definitely did me a lot of justice today. Anybody I hooked up with, I mean, it was headed to the front.
Bayne, the center of all the excitement, handled his sudden success as well as he handled the iconic No. 21 Ford with paint scheme made famous by Pearson.
“It’s my first win in NASCAR, period, in any of the top three series, my first Sprint Cup win, our second
ever race,’’ Bayne bubbled. “I mean, that’s setting the standard, I’d say that for sure.’’
“I don’t even know what to say,’’ he added. “I almost feel undeserving because there’s guys like Donnie and all these guys out here that are racing against us that have been trying to do this for so long. But there’s nobody that deserves it more than any of these guys sitting up here. I’m just glad I got to be the guy sitting behind the wheel for these guys to get this win.’’
Making this win even more special – if that’s possible – is the fact that the team failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 just four years ago. It was the first time a 500 had been run without a Wood Brothers entry since the 1950s.
Eddie Wood said that was the true low point for him and his family.
“It’s almost like when you miss a race, especially the Daytona 500, it’s like somebody died. I mean, until you go through it, you can’t put it into words.
“But when you walk through the garage, you run into people that you see every week, they’re afraid to look at you. It’s like they don’t know what to say. Like you walk up to them and say, `Hey, we missed a race, okay.’ It’s tearing you apart inside, but … ‘’
That agony seemed a long time ago after Sunday’s win. But what’s next?
“I think our plan is to still run the full Nationwide deal,’’ Bayne said. “It’s kind of crazy with the only (sponsor) on the car was Ford Racing. They picked up this race because we had nothing on it.
“This (Cup) team only has 17 races. Maybe both (the Cup and Nationwide teams) will get a boost. We can keep doing this deal and that deal. Whatever plays out, that’s what was supposed to happen. We’ll just keep running with it.’’
And now they have something big to build on.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments