It’ll be a big homecoming this weekend at Martinsville Speedway for Wood Brothers Racing.
The Wood Brothers began their legendary NASCAR racing career in Stuart, Virginia, about 30 miles from the Speedway.
Driver Ryan Blaney grew up in High Point, North Carolina, which is about 45 miles from Martinsville. And crew chief Jeremy Bullins grew up in Walnut Cove, N.C., about 40 miles from Martinsville.
That’s why Blaney, Bullins and the Wood Brothers are primed for what they hope will be a strong showing for the No. 21 Ford team in Sunday’s STP 500.
“This is kind of a home track for me,” Blaney said of the .528-mile paperclip-shaped oval. “I have a lot of friends and family that come back and watch this race.
“I’ve been coming here ever since I can remember. This is probably the race I came to most as a kid just because it was so close to our house where I grew up and my dad was racing, so I do consider it a home race as well just because I grew up down the road, so that’s pretty neat.”
Since it was formed in the early 1950s, Wood Brothers Racing has competed in 111 Cup races at Martinsville, earning two wins, 28 top-fives and 42 top-10s.
Not coincidentally, Martinsville Speedway will celebrate its 70th anniversary this weekend, having opened in 1947 and has been the oldest operating track in NASCAR.
And the Wood Brothers have been there for virtually every race since, either racing on-track or watching as spectators.
“Glen and I were standing on the backstretch over here at the very first race ever run here 70 years ago, so I think it would be really cool for us — 70 years later — for us to be sitting right here Sunday evening after the race and put that Ford Fusion and Motorcraft Ford in front,” team co-owner Leonard Wood said.
That’s why this weekend has such great significance and importance to the No. 21 team. Blaney sits seventh in the Cup point standings, will make his 60th career start in NASCAR’s premier series and would love to earn his first career Cup win at a track that means so much both to him and the Wood Brothers.
“It would be really big,” Blaney said. “Historically, this hasn’t been my best race track, but it means a lot. For the Wood Brothers, it’s a home race for them and it’s my crew chief’s favorite race track, so that’s given a lot of extra incentive.
“I thought we’ve gotten a lot better here over the last couple of years. I know what we need and we’ll try to run up further toward the front, so it’s just all about putting 500 laps together, saving the car and just trying to stay out of trouble the whole race. It would mean a lot (to win), for sure, and it would be a really good feeling to try to make that happen.”
Blaney has two career Cup starts at Martinsville. Both came last season and both ended in 19th place finishes.
Meanwhile, the Wood Brothers – Eddie and Leonard – would love to earn their first win at Martinsville since NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson visited victory lane there 44 years ago in spring 1973.
“It’s a big race for us,” Eddie Wood said. “We live 25 miles from here. We’ve known Clay Campbell’s (Martinsville president) family all my life.
“We used to hang out with his grandfather (track founder H. Clay Earles). He was always out promoting the race and he would come to our shop in Stuart and we’d have lunch and play cards and do all kinds of things. It’s just great to be racing back here.
“Probably the most special thing for us is to be back racing here. This is home. It’s a hard race to do well in. Like Ryan said, you have to put together 500 laps and stay out of all the calamity that happens and not try to create any of your own, so I’m looking forward to it.
“Like he said, our crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, loves this place and so do we. Ryan’s got two races under his belt, plus Truck races, so I think he’s underestimating his track time here. I think he’ll be just fine.”
The 23-year-old Blaney has matured and improved as a driver since making his first Cup start in 2014. He’d love to add a win at Martinsville to his best Cup finish to date: runner-up in this year’s Daytona 500.
But to do that, Blaney knows he’ll have to maintain his composure at a place where it’s very difficult when you constantly bang fenders with nearly 40 other drivers for 500 laps.
“That’s one of the biggest things you fight here is staying calm and patient,” Blaney said. “All drivers at some point in the race will get frustrated and whether they act upon it or not is up to them.
“We try to stay as emotionless as possible. I think that’s the best thing to do and try and keep a cool head. Granted, that really hasn’t been the case before. I haven’t really gotten emotional here before. It takes you a while to calm back down, but you can never really calm back down when you get like that, hot in the head.”
As Eddie Wood says, what better way to come to Martinsville for a homecoming, and to leave with a victory celebration.
“It’s been a great experience coming over here, close to home and we always want to win here more than anywhere because it was your hometown,” Wood said. “We’re looking forward to coming over here and watching Ryan win this next race. I just think 70 years later would be a really good time to win.”