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.

North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.


Josh Williams suspended for one race after Atlanta infraction


NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams has been suspended for one race because of his actions during last Saturday’s Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Williams will be ineligible to participate in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. He would be able to return for the April 1 race at Richmond, Virginia.

Williams was penalized for a “behavioral” infraction, specifically disobeying a NASCAR request.

In a tweet after the suspension was announced, Williams said: “I stand behind what I did and I don’t regret any decisions I made. I stand behind NASCAR for these decisions and will continue and always support them.” He said Alex Labbe will drive the team’s No. 92 car at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

MORE: Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended

NASCAR officials ordered Williams off the track during Saturday’s race after his car was involved in an accident. Debris falling from his car prompted a caution flag, leading NASCAR to order him to park.

Instead of going to the garage area, Williams parked his car at the start-finish line and walked to pit road.

Williams was escorted to the NASCAR hauler office at the track. He waited there until the conclusion of the race and then met with officials for about 20 minutes.

MORE: NBC Power Rankings: Christopher Bell rises to the top

Section 8.8.9.I of the Xfinity Series Rule Book states that with the Damaged Vehicle Policy, NASCAR can order a car off the track: “At the discretion of the Series Managing Director, if a damaged vehicle elects not to enter pit road on the first opportunity or if a damaged vehicle exits pit road before sufficient repairs had been made and thereafter causes or extends a caution (e.g. leaking fluid, debris, etc.), then said vehicle may incur a lap(s) or time penalty or may not be permitted to return to the Race.”

Williams later admitted he had violated a rule but said he was frustrated by the NASCAR decision.

“We all work really hard and to only run ‘X’ amount of laps and then to have something like a piece of Bear Bond and put us out of the race, it’s really frustrating,” Williams said after his meeting with series officials. “Small team. We work really hard. We’ve got to make our sponsors happy, right? It doesn’t do any good sitting in the garage. It is what it is. We’ll learn from it and move on.

“I told them I was a little bit frustrated,” Williams said of NASCAR’s call, “but it was in the rule book.”