Wood Brothers Racing mainstays share David Pearson memories from Darlington

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Behind the wheel of a Wood Brothers Racing Ford at Darlington Raceway, David Pearson often was unbeatable in the 1970s.

“The Silver Fox” enjoyed letting his NASCAR rivals know it, too  — such as during the 1976 Rebel 500 at the track.

“We were about halfway through, and David says, ‘Check this out,’ ” Leonard Wood, who was Pearson’s crew chief, said with a laugh. “He blew by Buddy Baker right at the start-finish line and lit a cigarette as he went by. He would do things like that to frustrate you a little bit, even if he was driving his heart out.

“He’d make it look like it was easy.”

It was most evident at the track many consider the most difficult in stock-car racing

In Sunday’s Southern 500, the venerable No. 21 will be driven by Ryan Blaney and sponsored by Snap-on Tools with a mosaic paint scheme comprised of 2,000 photos tracing its history to the team’s inception in 1950 – the same year the “Track Too Tough To Tame” opened with its first Southern 500 on Labor Day.

As Wood Brothers Racing grew into a NASCAR powerhouse over the next two decades, the team’s rise inextricably was intertwined with Darlington’s emergence as a Southern holiday tradition and cultural staple on par with sweet tea.

“It was a ton of people at that race,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “If the garage opened at 7 a.m., you’d need to be there by 5:30 just to get in and not get caught in traffic. Because everybody went.

“That was where I first really noticed people camping who were there all week. Sleeping on their cars, in them, on top of them, under them, in the truck. It was so makeshift. You’d go in the infield and park and get lost. You weren’t really sure how to get back out.”

Of Wood Brothers Racing’s 98 victories in NASCAR’s premier series, eight came at Darlington, including six of Pearson’s record 10 wins at the 1.366-mile oval.

Pearson won back-to-back Southern 500s with the team in 1976-77. The performances were quintessentially Pearson, who was known as “The Silver Fox” in part for famously disguising his car’s strength until it absolutely mattered.

In ’76, he started on the pole position and paced the first 11 laps but wouldn’t lead again until there were 100 to go. In ’77, he led only 60 of 367 laps and didn’t move into first until the 170th lap.

They were the high-water marks of a career renaissance starting with Pearson winning from the pole in his Wood Brothers Racing debut at Darlington in April 1972. It was the first of 42 wins with the team that helped cement the legend of the Spartanburg, S.C., native whose 105 wins ranks second to Richard Petty.

In interviews with NASCAR Talk, Leonard Wood and his nephews Eddie and Len (who run the team) shared their favorite memories of Pearson, who was inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s second class in 2011:

Eddie Wood: “With David, you knew if you didn’t break, you had a shot to win the race. Darlington was just his place. There’s a lot of people who could get around there really well, but not like him. He was the best ever at Darlington.”

Len Wood: “His style was taking care of the car. He’d lead the first lap, ease up and let someone else take over. In the last 100 miles, here he would come and start picking his way back up. He’d let someone else go wear their stuff out. I’ve seen him at Rockingham lead all but one lap. But at Darlington, he wouldn’t abuse the equipment. He would save his stuff. I think it comes from years of seasoning.”

Leonard Wood: “David would get a good run off the corner, back off and let it float in the corner and then pick the throttle up. He’d have so much speed and blow by them at the finish line. He was so good at it. I can remember it just like yesterday. I’d be sitting on pit wall, and when he really got lined up, the car would be coming straight off the corner, and it would leap twice. I can remember lots of times he’d say if he was going to catch a car as he went in the corner, he would back off so he’d catch him off the corner. Because if he had to let off right in the middle of the corner, now he’s all bogged down and lost his momentum. So that’s how he’d work traffic.”

Eddie Wood: “There’s a certain groove he ran, and you could glance up, and you knew it was him. He had a different way of going through there. He’d dive into (turn) 3 and go up, drop down and get it set to drive straight off 4.

Len Wood: “In the early ‘70s, he just started driving for us, and at Michigan, there was a dirt road on the back way out called Victory Road. He had a red Torino, and he was going to take us back to the motel. He was running 100 mph on this dirt road going up and down, up and down, and he’s got one hand on the wheel like he’s riding down the interstate. We’re all hanging on, and then you realize, ‘Wait a minute. He’s in control of this thing. There’s no reason to get worried. Just enjoy the ride.’ I think he ran the race car the same way.”

Eddie Wood: “He and Leonard had a great relationship. They almost knew what each other was thinking. You knew he’d go when it came time. He always did.”

Len Wood: “There’d be times he’d be getting ready to qualify, and we’d be pushing the car along, and Leonard would be looking for Pearson, stretching his neck. Pearson would be out of sight but could see Leonard watching. He was messing with him. He would wait until Leonard would get antsy and say, ‘Go find him!’ We’d be looking off to the side, and there he’d be just watching. He would have never missed a qualifying lap, but he always would make you think he would.

Leonard Wood: “We had a good thing going. I picked at him as much as he picked at me.”

Len Wood: “Everyone said, ‘Pearson is washed up.’ We talked about it and said, ‘He’s a tough competitor. He’s not done.’ We ended up hiring him. We won 43 races.

Leonard Wood: “We were just thinking we’re going to have him as our driver if it ever comes possible. That time came along, and we put him in there, and he was just unbeatable.

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”