Wood Brothers Seeking Success with Hyder
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
If race fans think it’s good for the Wood Brothers Racing team to still be a viable entity after 59 years in the sport, one of the first people to thank is the Woods’ current crew chief, David Hyder.
Hyder, who drove his own short track cars before injuries at Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Martinsville, Va., sidelined him in 1998, is credited with getting the team’s cars back in the ballpark speed-wise after some serious struggles in recent seasons.
He’s also one of the main reasons Bill Elliott, a former series champion and 44-Sprint Cup-race winner, agreed to drive the No. 21 Ford this season.
Last fall at Homestead, the first race in which Elliott drove a Hyder-designed car, he qualified 15th and finished 12th.
Hyder is an old-school, hands-on kind of crew chief. Most days find him in the shop in Harrisburg, N.C., wearing jeans and a t-shirt, wrenches or tape measure in hand, leading the preparation of the cars that Elliott will drive this season.
“We took a smaller group of guys that are real racers and put it back together like it was when they were running with David Pearson,” he said, adding that most of his crew members are versatile mechanics who also can go over the wall on race day. “We’ve got a lot of racers in here… It’s incredible the workmanship we’re getting.”
Their Daytona 500 car drew rave reviews for its workmanship, with compliments coming from fellow mechanics and even TV analysts. It was fast too, topping the speed charts in both pre-qualifying practice sessions and qualifying fifth fastest for the Daytona 500, the best of any Ford and tops among the teams not assured of starting spots.
Having a fast car at Daytona was especially satisfying for Hyder, because it was at Speedweeks two years before when he took the blame for an illegal fuel additive found in the intake manifold of the Michael Waltrip car he was crew chiefing at that time.
Hyder, who was suspended indefinitely at the time, won’t discuss the specifics of the incident, citing legal papers he signed afterwards, but he did say it took a toll on him.
“It was really hard to go through something that dramatic,” he said. “At one time I thought I might not make it back to NASCAR.”
That made it all the more meaningful to dominate the headlines for a day and be strong in qualifying for the sport’s biggest race.
“It made me stop and thing about what I’d gone through,” he said.
A couple weeks ago, Hyder and his crew, were putting a similarly determined effort into the car Elliott will drive this week at Texas Motor Speedway. The car, built especially for Texas, has been in the wind tunnel and on Ford’s shaker and seven-post rigs.
“We’re putting everything we know in that car,” he said.
Like many of his peers, Hyder finds the changing tire compounds from Goodyear to be a challenge to adapt to. It’s more difficult for him because his team is only set to run 12 races this year, and there’s the NASCAR testing ban that forces him to rely more than most on simulations and notes from earlier races.
“We don’t shoot from the hip unless we have to,” he said. “We do have a lot of technical support.”
It helps too that he has in Elliott a driver who at age 53 remains physically fit and sharp behind the wheel.
“It’s amazing how smooth he is and how good a feel he has for a car,” Hyder said. “He’s worked on cars himself so he understands them better than a lot of drivers.
“It’s just a shame we didn’t get hooked up 20 years ago.”3 Comments