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Wood Brothers Cautious Approach Paying Off

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 13 2009
Eddie Wood, Len Wood and their driver, Bill Elliott. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images )

Eddie Wood, Len Wood and their driver, Bill Elliott. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images )

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

During the annual NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C., last January, officials from the Wood Brothers Racing team and Ford Racing took to a dais and explained how they were returning to the past in order to improve the future.

Reaction from reporters gathered in the hotel ballroom varied.

Body language, in the form of rolled eyes, indicated that some people were not buying into the improved future part of the explanation to cut the famous No. 21 2009 schedule back to just a few select races.

Others in the room just looked plain sad that one of the great teams in all of racing would be pushed to the point of having to retrench.

But the Wood Brothers and Ford folks all assured those in the room the move was a good one.

Now, over a half season later, it appears they might have been right. The decision to compete in just a handful of races this season while concentrating on making the team’s cars better is showing results.

“It’s really helped us,” Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood said this week.

This weekend, the Wood Brothers and their driver, Bill Elliott, are entered in a Sprint Cup for the eighth time this year.

They have qualified for all seven of the other races they have entered with three of those qualifying efforts landing them top-10 starting positions.

Once the races have started, the team has continued to perform well. They have two top-16 finishes and the only time Elliott has not finished in the top 30 was when he was wrecked in Atlanta.

The numbers the Woods and Elliott have posted are not Chase-like, but that has not been the goal.

Elliott’s average finish, even with the DNF, is 24th. If the team were to have run like that for an entire schedule, it would have easily been in the group which does not have to qualify on time to get into race fields.

“I think every week that we show up to the race track,” Wood said, “we’ve been fast off the truck, and they seemed to be getting better and better.”

The roots of plan to step back were planted in the usual place – economics.

“We first decided to cut back, which that was due largely to sponsorship, and you start looking for money, you look for money all year long,” Wood said. “As August, September, October got closer, we thought, ‘Man, we’re not going to get enough to run the whole deal, so what are we going to do quit?’

“We went and had a conversation with Edsel Ford and Jim Farley at Ford Racing and thought, why don’t we just run, we’ve got some Motorcraft money, some Ford money, lets just run a few races with that money and do it properly with that money.”

So the team began spending more time and money in the race shop.

“The amount of work and preparation that goes in every week, it’s the same as racing every week, we just don’t load the car and go somewhere,” Wood said. “We spend a lot of time with the wind tunnel, the shaker rigs and pull-down rigs that Ford Racing provides, and all of that stuff being said, it just works better. The schedule fits what we are good at, what Bill’s good at, and so far it’s really working.”

This weekend, the team and driver will be at a place they know very well, and a place where they have run very well.

Elliott has 58 starts at Michigan International Speedway, and seven victories. That victory total is best among active drivers.

His 29 top-10 finishes ties Mark Martin for most by any driver.

Even though Elliott is 53 years old, Eddie Wood knows the team’s problems are not with the driver.

“The car that we’re bringing back is the car we ran earlier there in the summer,” Wood said of the No. 21 Ford which qualified 15th and finished 16th in June. “I think it’s going to be really competitive. The biggest problem we’ve had in the last two races, we can’t get off pit road. We’ve been having problems on pit road and with the pits, and we’re working on that everyday.

“Its something that’s really aggravating me because we finally got the car where it’s competitive, and Bill’s doing a great job, and the thing we’re supposed to be the best with we’re struggling with. We’re working on that, and if we can get in and out of the pits and stay out of trouble, I think we can run top 10 with it.”

The question many of the team’s fans have about the Wood Brothers’ future is, will they ever run again full time?

Good question, Wood said.

“It’s economy driven, and it’s hitting every business, every person in the country,” he said. “Racing is suffering from it as well, at the tracks, with teams. For the time being, that’s where we’re going in with it. If tomorrow morning we run into a little bit of money, then we’ll run some more races this year than we planned.

“We’re not going to get into that situation where you do that start and park stuff like some of those guys are doing, those so called business men that are doing that, that’s not racing, that’s not us and that’s really not what NASCAR was built on. We’re just going to do what we can afford to do, and do it properly.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 13 2009


  • Patrick says:

    Any news on next year? Would like to see them running the new ford motor at the begining of the year so that if any drivers in the chase wanted to they could have to option to use, but in typical ford racing fashion they drag there feet on the new motor. Start of the year it was going to be used a couple of months in, then afte the half way point, now they are saying during the chase. My question is this year or next? Wake up, if you have a better engine you run it instead of getting your asses handed to you every week. I’m a loyal ford race fan and I can’t even watch races most of the time sunday because there is no hope of winning a race, I had tickets to the race Sunday but sold them online, not going to drive 16 hours to watch every other manufacture run to the front and see the ford’s barely crack the top 10.

    • Jim Pedley says:

      I talked to Brian Wolfe of Ford Racing at Indy. He said the engine at that time, three weeks ago now, was ready, that it was OK’d by NASCAR. He said it would be available to teams before the Chase. He said the engine is not a major step up in power but in terms of cooling, valve train and reliability. Wolfe said he would leave it up to teams on whether to use it or not, especially Chase-bound teams who might not want to be tinkering with a new engine at such a crucial time. The complete interview with Wolfe can be found on this website.

  • Doobie says:

    Great article!

    Conventional wisdom was that teams had to run every race so that they wouldn’t fall behind. It’s amazing that the Wood Brothers remain competitive without having to do that.

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