In a press conference at JR Motorsports on May 10, 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced the end of an era.
Earnhardt revealed the final 26 Cup races of the season would be his last as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father, Dale Earnhardt.
“It’s time for us to move on and seek other opportunities,” Earnhardt said while sitting next to his sister, Kelley.
Earnhardt was in his seventh full-time season driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI. Up to then he had won 17 races, including the 2004 Daytona 500. He had also been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver four times.
But he’d only won one race each in the last two seasons. In 2007, he’d go winless for the first time.
“It is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and compete for championships now,” Earnhardt said.
The NASCAR world waited a little over a month to find out Earnhardt’s destination. On June 13, it was announced he was signing with Hendrick Motorsports. He’d spend the rest of his Cup career with the powerhouse before retiring after the 2017 season.
Also on this date:
1956: Buck Baker won a Grand National race at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway after running all 200 laps without a pit stop. The result was protested by the Schwam Motor Company team, which owned the car driven by second-place finisher Curtis Turner, who finished one lap down. The team believed Baker’s fuel tank was illegal. NASCAR ruled it was legal.
1969: LeeRoy Yarbrough came back from being a lap down with 30 laps to go, survived a three-car incident with Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough to win at Darlington.
1975: In his 50th Cup Series start, Darrell Waltrip claimed his first career win in a race at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Waltrip triumphed after Cale Yarborough blew an engine on Lap 321 of 420. Waltrip beat Benny Parsons by two laps.
1997: In a caution-free race at Talladega, Mark Martin led 47 of 188 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt for his second and final Cup points win on a superspeedway.
2014:Ryan Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas Speedway. In a race won by Jeff Gordon, Blaney started 21st and finished 27th.
Ray Lee Wood, one of the original members of Wood Brothers Racing, died this week at the age of 92.
The third son of J. Walter and Ada Wood, Ray Lee joined his brothers, Glen, Clay, Delano and Leonard, in forming NASCAR’s longest running race team in the early 1950s. He was part of the efforts that would win the 1963 Daytona 500, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 and the inaugural American 500 at North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham in 1965.
Wood changed the front tires and helped prep the cars that were driven by Glen and other NASCAR legends.
He took his turn behind the wheel as well. In 1958, on the sands of Daytona Beach, Ray Lee hit 142 miles per hour on the measured mile in a hopped-up street car, topping the speed chart for that day.
“Ray Lee could have been a race driver as well as Glen,” Leonard Wood said in a media release.
When the Wood Brothers won the car owner’s championship in 1963, Ray Lee was the listed car owner of record and the championship trophy bears his name.
Ray Lee felt “the calling of the Lord” in 1965 and he left racing behind at the end of the year, but not before Curtis Turner won in Ray Lee’s final race with the team on Oct. 31 at Rockingham.
“Ray never went back to the track after 1965, but he supported us all the way and always followed our races on the radio or TV,” Leonard Wood said. “He was a great brother and a great all-around person.
“I can’t say enough good words about him.”
RIP Ray Lee Wood! So amazing how talented each and every member of the Wood family is and what a legacy they built together. Thoughts and prayers to the whole family! https://t.co/DfDNn84Eqg
Every one of the top-three finishers in the May 6, 1991 Winston 500 at Talladega thought they should be declared the winner.
When the dust settled, Harry Gant would remain the victor of the controversial race.
The events leading to the objections began when Gant pitted on Lap 132 of 188. He would attempt to go the rest of way on a tank of gas. Earnhardt made his pit stop on Lap 168 and teamed with Waltrip for a two-car draft. Meanwhile, Gant ran with his teammate, Rick Mast, who was a lap down in 10th.
Gant’s team had been warned Mast couldn’t push him across the finish line to take the checkered flag. It appeared Mast pushed or drafted closely to Gant as they raced into Turn 3 on the final lap. Mast was again on Gant’s bumper as they neared the tri-oval.
Mast pulled to the left before the finish line to show he wasn’t pushing Gant.
“The motor cut off and I was out of gas,” Gant said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Forty Plus Four.” “Rick gave me a good boot when my car cut off in Turn 3. He gave me another good push and I was able to make it to the finish line.”
The protests quickly began.
“You can’t push the lead car in on the last lap,” Waltrip declared according to “Forty Plus Four.” “If they don’t take the win away from him I’m going to be mad. That’s plainly spelled out in the rule book. It’s not a judgement call.”
The objections from Earnhardt’s camp, via team owner Richard Childress, were about Waltrip’s rear spoiler.
“Waltrip’s spoiler was less than the 30 degrees allowed, we ought to get the win,” Childress said according “Forty Plus Four.”
It took three hours for NASCAR uphold Gant’s win, ruling his No. 33 car was “tapped” by Mast’s car and “not assisted.”
As for Waltrip’s spoiler, official Dick Beaty said it wasn’t checked until after cars had gone to the garage.
“Anybody could have adjusted that spoiler in the garage area,” he said according to “Forty Plus Four.” “We’ll do things differently in Daytona.”
Regardless of what did or didn’t happen, it did solidify my standing with Skoal. 🤣🤣🤣
1961: After a fender-banging battle, Fred Lorenzen passed Curtis Turner with two laps to go and won by six car lengths at Darlington. “If I could have caught him before he got to the checkered flag, I guarantee you he never would have finished the race,” Turner said afterward according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”
1962: Joe Weatherly won at Hickory (N.C) Speedway in a 200-lap race plagued by track conditions so poor that Ned Jarrett made one lap and withdrew from the event, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Weatherly survived the last 50 laps with a jammed accelerator. To navigate the turns, Weatherly would turn the car off before re-engaging the ignition on the straightaways.
2000: Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed his father for the lead with 31 laps to go and went on to win at Richmond over Terry Labonte. Dale Jr. was the first repeat winner of the season after earning his first Cup win in April at Texas.
April 30 in NASCAR: Mark Martin passes Dale Earnhardt to get Talladega win
If Dale Earnhardt was “Mr. Restrictor Plate,” Mark Martin was “Mr. Good Almost Everywhere Else.”
When their respective Cup Series careers were over, Earnhardt had 76 points wins at 17 different tracks with 10 coming at Talladega.
Martin had 40 points wins across 20 tracks, with Talladega the site of his only two superspeedway wins.
The first occurred April 30, 1995.
The race saw Martin dominate, leading 86 of the race’s first 173 laps. Meanwhile, Earnhardt only led three of the first 183 laps. But Earnhardt was there at the end, assuming the lead from Rusty Wallace with five laps to go after Wallace ran out of gas exiting Turn 2.
Martin was hot on Earnhardt’s rear bumper as they crossed the finish line with four laps to go.
The duo ran by themselves until they were caught on the backstretch with two laps to go by Jeff Gordon and Morgan Shepherd, pulled along in the draft by the lapped car of Sterling Marlin.
As they raced through the tri-oval toward the white flag, Martin faked going high before going to Earnhardt’s inside. Martin led at the line while Earnhardt was hung out to dry. Exiting Turn 2, Shepherd got loose and tagged Earnhardt’s left rear, sending him into a spin before he made light contact with the wall. He’d finish 21st.
From there it was a race between Martin and Gordon, who would earn 12 restrictor-plate points wins in his career, with six at Talladega.
But Gordon would have to wait until 1996 for his first. Martin took the checkered flag for his first of four wins in 1995.
“I can’t believe it,” Martin told ESPN. “With two to go I’d thought we’d lost for sure. … When (Gordon) caught us, we caught (Earnhardt) at just the right time to get a big shove and Dale was putting a block on us but we were coming. We were going one way or the other. … I see how they do it now. Fast cars.”
Also on this date:
1966: In the midst of a boycott by Ford, Richard Petty dominated to win a lightly attended race at Darlington. Petty led 271 of 291 laps from the pole to score his third win of the season. About 12,000 people attended the race with 5,000 being Boy Scouts who were admitted for free, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.” Curtis Turner quit as a Ford driver and competed in the race in Smokey Yunick’s Chevrolet.
1967: Richard Petty dominated at Darlington again, leading 266 of 291 laps and beating David Pearson by one lap. The win was Petty’s 55th, which moved him by his father, Lee Petty, on the all-time wins list.
1994: Hermie Sadler led 85 laps and beat Dennis Setzer to win the Xfinity Series race at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. It was the last of Sadler’s two career wins, both coming at that track. it was the last of 27 Xfinity races at the .375-mile track.
2005: Ted Musgrave led all but two laps, survived a restart with two laps to go and beat Dennis Setzer in a Truck Series race at Gateway International Speedway. It was Musgrave’s only win in his championship campaign.
Leonard Wood has been to a lot of race tracks and seen a lot of things.
Sixty years ago this weekend, he stood near the guardrail at Bowman Gray Stadium and watched his brother, Glen Wood, beat a handful of fellow future NASCAR Hall of Famers to earn Wood Brothers Racing’s first Cup Series win.
In a sign of the times, Glen led all 200 laps around the short track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nicknamed “The Madhouse.”
“I watched (Glen) run and enjoyed how he was in and out of traffic, working traffic and leading every lap of it. So fun to watch your brother go out and beat everybody like that,” Leonard told NBC Sports. “You could just come right to the guardrail and watch them come in. I learned more about handling at Bowman Gray than any other one race track because you’d stand at that guardrail and watch the car come in the corner, you’d watch it drive through the middle and then you’d watch it drive off.
“The changes you’d make, (you’d see) right in front of your eyes. You could see the suspension and how it worked. Great place to learn as a young kind trying to figure it all out.”
The brothers from Stuart, Virginia, had been visiting the track since the early 50s, competing in modifieds, convertibles and NASCAR’s top division.
Leonard detailed his brother’s driving style that helped him lead every lap that day and in two more Grand National races at Bowman Gray that year, on June 25 and Aug. 23, for a total of 600 laps led.
“(Glen) had just a technique of how he passed on the outside,” Leonard said. “What he would do (is get his) left-front fender up to the outside of (the other car’s) right-rear fender and he’d hold it tight against the guy.
“(Glen) wouldn’t be like a foot or two away from him. He’d hold it tight against him to even touching him. When he’d come off the corner, he’d inch up another foot. Then the next lap he’d inch up another foot and then once he got up beside of him, he’d just blend out and away he went. Just give a guy all the room he needs, but to hold it tight against him, it kind of messes him up too, it slows him down.”
Using that method in the April 18 race, Glen beat Rex White, Jimmy Massey, Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett. In June, he beat Lee Petty and White. In August, he topped Lee Petty and Junior Johnson as he lapped the field.
By the time Glen retired from racing a few years later, he had 29 wins at Bowman Gray in modifieds, convertibles and the Cup Series.
Another level to Glen’s dominance at “The Madhouse” in 1960 is what the Woods were competing against.
Their blue Ford Fairlane, which had the No. 16 on it, had a bolt-on hard top which could be removed to transform it into the convertible it spent most of its time as.
While they were racing a 1958 Ford, every other driver in the top five of the April race was piloting a 1959 or 1960 model car.
To emphasize how well that No. 16 performed, Leonard recalled a visit with it to Martinsville Speedway.
Glen was pulling out of the pits when Marvin Panch drove by in a 1959 Ford. Panch passed him going down the backstretch. With Glen still on his warm-up lap and Panch exiting Turn 2, Glen caught him and passed him on the backstretch.
There were two keys to the car’s power. One was its lightness, a product of the Woods tending to build their cars from the remains of vehicles that had been in fires, which burned the heavy soundproofing materials located in the door panels.
Second, it was a low rider.
“Nobody really seemed to think about how low you could get your car,” Leonard said. “We had it just as low as you could get it suspension-wise. There was no limit, you know with the height rule. … I always liked it as low as we could get it.”
Sixty years and 98 Cup wins later, the Wood Brothers are synonymous with with the No. 21 on the side of their Ford cars. But they wouldn’t take that numeral to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series until six months later when Speedy Thompson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway for their first speedway win.
Leonard explained how the No. 21 became their permanent number (aside from using the No. 7 in 1986 as part of a 7-11 sponsorship).
The first race car they ever had was labeled with the No. 50. But after being involved in a wreck that burned the car, they rebuilt it and placed the No. 16 on it, the number Glen won with in 1960.
“When we started running convertibles, we was running 22,” Leonard said. “Fireball Roberts had the hard top running the 22. When they’re running (convertibles and hard tops) together, the convertible had to change the number. The hardtops had priority. So we put 21 on it and left it.”
While there was no sentiment behind the decision that led to the No. 21 becoming one of NASCAR’s most iconic numbers, Leonard got a little sentimental when asked if it felt like six decades had passed since the Wood Brothers’ first Cup win.
“In some ways it does, in some it don’t,” he said. “It feels like it’s been a long time. I get to looking at things, looking at the (team) museum (in Stuart, Virginia), the history of the Wood Brothers and just think everyday about Glen and I, how much fun we had and what all we did starting out. You didn’t have a lot of money and you just had to make your parts … just how far we’ve come since we started.”
There’s no racing going on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not keeping Leonard from staying active at home.
“I design remote control cars,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’m catching up on a lot of that right now.”
Like the cars he tinkered with in his days at Bowman Gray Stadium, they have quite a bit of power. His 1/10th scale cars “run like 70 mph … Like full 2.5 horsepower. That’s a lot of horsepower for a little car.”
With COVID-19 being particularly harmful to people in his age range, the 85-year-old former crew chief “don’t want to take no chances on that.”
Whenever he goes out, Leonard wears a double-canistered mask, “like you use at a paint booth.
“If I have to go out to get groceries, post office or bank or anything, I put a double-canistered mask on. Whenever I take it off, I spray it with Lysol.
“Another thought is, if you go somewhere and you’re a little worried about where you been, spray the inside of your car with Lysol and close the doors when you park it.”