For all the success Wood Brothers Racing has enjoyed in NASCAR, including five Daytona 500 victories and triumphs elsewhere, the family run team would enjoy perhaps its greatest win in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The reasons are many:
* It would be the 100th career Cup win for the team, which began racing in NASCAR in 1950, making Wood Brothers Racing the longest-active team in the sport.
* It would be the organization’s ninth victory at Darlington.
* But perhaps most importantly, and as part of Darlington’s annual throwback weekend, driver Paul Menard will be piloting the No. 21 Ford with a retro paint scheme that will honor team founder and NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood, who passed away in January at the age of 93.
The scheme Menard’s car will carry will reflect the same look that graced Glen Wood’s Ford in the one and only time he raced as a driver at Darlington in 1957.
“It just seemed fitting,” Glen’s oldest son and team co-owner Eddie Wood told NBC Sports. “We were looking for a car to honor him and it just seemed like the right one. It was an important time for him and that makes it important for us to be able to run that paint scheme. It was one of dad’s favorite cars.”
But it isn’t just the car and the paint scheme. It’s also the track Too Tough To Tame.
“We’ve had a lot of success at Darlington and it’s just one of those special places,” Eddie Wood said. “Len and I went to the old Yankee Stadium before they tore it down, as well as Wrigley Field. Going to Darlington, to me, is kind of like going to those old ballparks. Darlington was NASCAR’s first big race track, first superspeedway. You go back through history and how many cars that started that first race (75 cars in 1950).
“The history around Darlington is just fascinating to me and to do a throwback weekend with cars and paint schemes every year is a brilliant, brilliant idea. It’s the right place for it. It’s almost like a reunion for everybody, a family reunion of racers, whether you raced in the 50s or 60s or raced last week. Everybody just seems to be invited.
Eddie’s brother and team co-owner Len Wood agreed.
“Darlington as well as Daytona and Charlotte, those are the big races that we kind of grew up around, the Daytona 500, the World 600 and the Southern 500. That was the ultimate,” Len Wood said. “Fortunately with David Pearson, we won all three of those in 1976. To us, they’re very important races.
“To honor our dad, it was very special to us (to have the retro scheme). With Daddy passing away, it just all came together to do a paint scheme for him.”
Eddie Wood grew emotional when asked if the passing of his father eight months ago is getting easier with each track the team goes back to, given how most of those played such a vital role in the Wood Brothers’ racing legacy.
“It really doesn’t get any easier, but I’m sure that’s the way it is for everybody,” Eddie Wood said. “You go along and you run into something like this and then the emotions come back. But they’re good emotions. You’re honoring him and everybody is noticing and feeling everybody is honoring him and that makes you feel good.”
It will also be the first time Wood Brothers Racing has raced at Darlington since David Pearson, who won a track-record 10 times there, passed away Nov. 12, 2018.
Len Wood admits he’ll also likely grow emotional when Menard brings the No. 21 to the green flag to start Sunday’s race.
“When that comes by, it’s going to put a lump in my throat,” he said.
The only thing that could make this weekend even more special is if Menard can take the No. 21 to victory lane.
“Darlington has done a really nice job the past few years with their throwback theme for the Southern 500,” Menard said in a statement. “As the driver for perhaps the most iconic and longest running NASCAR team of all time, I’m completely honored to represent the man that started it all, Mr. Glen Wood, with our Wood Brothers Racing #21 scheme for this year.”
Added Eddie Wood, “If Paul were to win this weekend, boy, that would be over the top. Winning the race would be the 100th win for us and that’s a huge milestone for us if and when we can get there. If it happened at Darlington, there couldn’t be a better place.”
“Winning at Darlington would be quite special,” Len Wood said. “I just know Daddy would be looking down on us and would be very proud of us if we did.”
NOTE: NBCSN will debut a documentary on Wood Brothers Racing at 6 p.m. ET on Friday (and again at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, just before that evening’s main event race). The documentary traces the family’s history in racing, including its start, how it revolutionized pit stops, winning the Indianapolis 500 and multiple Daytona 500s, competing with David Pearson and beyond.
“Sixty-nine years,” Leonard Wood, younger brother of Glen Wood and also a NASCAR Hall of Famer, says in the documentary. “That’s a long time being racing. You know going in you might not win. Don’t say poor me. Take it in stride and go for the next one.”
Added Len Wood, “I think everybody will be pleased with the documentary. It kind of shows a different side of (the company’s legacy) than what most people have seen. I hope it goes over well.”