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Wood Brothers Racing wins first quarter NMPA Pocono Spirit Award

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Wood Brothers Racing has won the first quarter National Motorsports Press Association Pocono Spirit Award for charitable work in helping seniors in and around its home base of Stuart, Virginia.

The organization spearheaded a campaign to provide COVID-19 quarantined seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities — including Landmark Center and the Blue Ridge Therapy Center in Stuart, and 10 other facilities in the region — with electronic tablets to allow residents to communicate with family members.

Starting with $1,500 in seed funding, Wood Brothers Racing began a crowdfunding effort that raised $33,000 from contributions of $10 or more. That funding paid for 220 tablets for residents in those 12 facilities. More than 1,100 individuals contributed to the fundraising effort.

“We were shocked at the response we got,” Wood Brothers Racing senior vice president Jon Wood said in a statement. “I think everyone has some connection with a senior and many of those are in facilities that are affected.

“What we didn’t anticipate was the huge number of people wanting to contribute, and it just shows that we aren’t all that divided in a time of crisis.

“It was extremely gratifying to hear the stories since, how this helped ease some of the anxiety and stress from both the residents and the families. These people did nothing wrong. They managed to do something right in fact, that being to live to an age where they needed help, and so it seemed unfair for them to be cut off from the very people that give them comfort.

“Unfair because they were being protected from something many of them didn’t understand or weren’t able to fully grasp and the way they were going about being protected only added to their fears and frustrations. This just helped alleviate some of that, so in every way I can think of, it was a total success.”

Others receiving votes were:

* The Joey Logano Foundation, which teamed with Bobbee O’s BBQ and Elevation Church to provide free meals to children under 18 years old over a two-week period.

* Steve Myers, executive vice president and executive producer of iRacing, for spearheading an effort to bring virtual racing competition to a national audience during the pandemic.

* General Motors, which ramped up its assembly lines to produce personal protective gear for front-line workers and ventilators for patients in critical need during the pandemic.

The Pocono Spirit Award is voted upon by NMPA membership.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Entry lists for NASCAR iRacing events at North Wilkesboro, Martinsville

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With NASCAR scheduled to return on May 17 at Darlington Raceway, the planned conclusion of NASCAR’s iRacing season will take place this week, with events held on a virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

The planned finale of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series will occur at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at North Wilkesboro on Fox and FS1.

Among the initial 28 entries is Jeff Gordon, who won the final Cup Series race there in 1996. Not among the entered drivers is William Byron, who has won three of the six Invitational races so far. Also, Matt DiBenedetto has been replaced in the No. 21 car by Jon Wood, the member of the Wood family who once competed in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

Gordon will be joined in the race by fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte. They are the only two entries in the race who competed in Cup races on the real North Wilkesboro.

Martin Truex Jr. is also entered in his first Invitational race.

According to NASCAR.com, the race will be 160 laps. Drivers will get one reset. There will be manual cautions and a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Christopher Bell and Timmy Hill, who finished second and third at Dover, will start from the rear. The top 10 qualifiers will be inverted to start the event.

Invited Race Entries (Subject to change)
#3 Austin Dillon
#4 Kevin Harvick
#6 Ross Chastain
#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
#10 Aric Almirola
#11 Denny Hamlin
#13 Ty Dillon
#14 Clint Bowyer
#17 Chris Buescher
#18 Kyle Busch
#19 Martin Truex Jr.
#20 Erik Jones
#21 Jon Wood
#24 Jeff Gordon
#31 Tyler Reddick
#34 Michael McDowell
#37 Ryan Preece
#38 John Hunter Nemechek
#41 Cole Custer
#49 Chad Finchum
#51 Garrett Smithley
#52 JJ Yeley
#53 Joey Gase
#66 Timmy Hill
#77 Parker Kligerman
#89 Landon Cassill
#95 Christopher Bell
#TBD Bobby Labonte

Friday Night Thunder

Like the Pro Invitational Series, this weekend sees the scheduled conclusion of the iRacing series dedicated to non-Cup drivers with a race at a virtual Martinsville Speedway at 8 p.m. ET Friday on eNASCAR.com/live.

The series is open to drivers from the Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck, NASCAR Peak Mexico, Pinty’s, Whelen Euro and ARCA series.

The virtual race will be conducted under the lights and will be 125 laps.

The format: Single-car qualifying will set the grid for four, 10-lap heat races to determine 24 spots in the feature. A 15-lap last-chance qualifier race will determine six spots in the feature for a total of 30 cars.

The order of the first 10 cars in the feature will be inverted before the green flag. There will be one reset, manual cautions and three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

Entry list is subject to change

Alex Labbe

90

Angela Ruch

OO

Anthony Alfredo

33

Austin Cindric

22

Bayley Currey

74

Brandon Brown

68

Brett Moffitt

23

Chase Briscoe

98

Chase Cabre

4

Christian Eckes

81

CJ McLaughlin

39

Derek Kraus

19

Donny Lia

O7

Drew Dollar

O15

Drew Herring

3

Grant Enfinger

O98

Harrison Burton

20

Jeb Burton

8

Jeffrey Earnhardt

50

Jesse Iwuji

36

Joe Graf Jr.

80

Josh Berry

88

Josh Bilicki

99

Justin Allgaier

7

Kaz Grala

29

Kyle Weatherman

54

Landon Huffman

75

Logan Seavey

67

Matt Mills

5

Myatt Snider

93

Noah Gragson

9

Ruben Garcia

27

Ryan Ellis

78

Ryan Truex

40

Ryan Vargas

51

Scott Stenzel

63

Spencer Boyd

0 2

Stephen Leicht

25

Stewart Friesen

52

Thad Moffitt

46

Todd Gilliland

38

Ty Majeski

45

Ty Gibbs

18

Will Rodgers

55

Stefan Parsons

83

March 23 in NASCAR History: The Kyle and Kyle Show at Auto Club Speedway

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If your name was Kyle, you had a good weekend in Fontana, California, in March 2014.

On Saturday, March 22, Kyle Larson got it rolling by pulling off an upset win in the Xfinity Series race over Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Larson passed Busch for the lead with five laps to go and then held off four straight dive-bomb pass attempts by Harvick in Turn 4 to take the checkered flag.

On Sunday, March, 23, it came down to Larson and Busch.

In an overtime finish, Busch and Larson navigated their way through a wild restart and passed the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on the last lap.

Kyle Busch held off Larson’s pass attempt in the final turn and cruised to his second straight Auto Club 400 win.

A rookie that year, the runner-up finish was Larson’s first career top five. He wouldn’t earn his first win until 2016 at Auto Club’s sister track, Michigan International Speedway.

Also on this date:

1969: Bobby Allison won the Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He led the final eight laps after David Pearson dropped out with an expired engine. Allison won over LeeRoy Yarbrough by four laps.

1975: Richard Petty beat Buddy Baker in a one-lap dash to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was Petty’s third win in six races to start the season and he’d win the following race at North Wilkesboro for his third consecutive victory. Dale Earnhardt Jr. revisited the race on his old show “Back in the Day.”

2003: In a two-lap shootout, Dennis Setzer beat Jon Wood in a Truck Series race at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, California. It would be the final visit to the half-mile track by the Truck Series after holding nine races there.

Friday 5: iRacing gives Cup rookie feel of the real thing and more

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Strapping into a Cup car to begin a race? No problem for rookie Christopher Bell.

But competing in an iRacing event in the comfort of his home?

Well …

“For whatever reason, I get more nervous whenever I’m racing on my computer than I do in real life,” Bell told NBC Sports. “I’ll be up there sweating and death gripping the steering wheel. … Whenever you get into a real race car it’s more off of reactions and instincts. You’re just kind of along for the ride.

“But, man, for whatever reason, basically everybody I’ve talked to said the same thing. You get more nervous on the computer than you do in real life.”

Understand that Bell has been racing on a computer for a decade or so. He also helped develop iRacing’s sprint car and dirt track racing, which debuted in 2017.

Bell’s nerves will return Sunday for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which debuts at 1:30 p.m. ET. on FS1 and feature drivers from the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series racing at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The multi-week Pro Invitational Series will feature Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Bell, among others.

“I’m just excited to see who all is going to participate in it,” Bell said. “It’s really cool to see how far this deal has come. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have something to race on Sunday.”

iRacing has become a haven for competitors and fans with NASCAR racing postponed through the May 3 Cup event at Dover International Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bell also is working on his World of Outlaws sprint car in his free time. He partnered with Chad Boat last year on a sprint car team and won in October at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana. There’s plenty of work to do on the car.

“We had it stripped from last year,” Bell said. “Our first race wasn’t scheduled until April 16 I think. Now that everyone has got a little bit of time off, we’re just trying to get it ready. If there are some races in the foreseeable future, we’ll go do them.”

Bell admits this break seems like another offseason but the difference is that he raced this past offseason in New Zealand and the Chili Bowl.

“It’s very strange not having anything to go race,” he said. “That’s a really big advantage of having iRacing right now and being active in it. You’re able to, obviously not feel the race car itself, but you are getting every other cue, all the visuals, all the reaction time. It’s real racing and it’s a lot of fun, too.”

2. A plan to help others

The coronavirus has put nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout the country on a virtual lockdown, preventing residents from having visitors because older adults are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

As Jon Wood, senior vice president of Wood Brothers Racing, talked this week to his mother, who oversees marketing for a pair of assisted living centers in Stuart, Virginia, the question arose of what could be done for those residents.

Wood recalled watching the MSNBC show “Lockup” that goes behind the scenes at prisons. He remembered seeing how video conferencing took place between visitors and inmates to keep them separate. Wood thought the same concept could be done at assisted living centers and nursing homes to protect older adults.

Then it became a matter of purchasing enough tablets that could be used for the video conferencing. Wood Brothers Racing donated $1,500 and Wood put out a request on social media for $10 donations through the team’s website. Donations were done through the team’s store so Wood could have the address information for each donor to send thank you notes signed by Matt DiBenedetto.

Wood set a modest goal of a few hundred dollars in donations and has been overwhelmed at the response.

As of Thursday afternoon, Wood said $31,000 in donations had been made, allowing him to purchase about 200 tablets for nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“Every little $10 donation has added up and it’s crazy how it has exploded,” Wood told NBC Sports.

Wood was at a nursing home Thursday in Stuart as a person outside the building used one of the tablets to speak to a resident inside, who was communicating on another tablet.

“I’ll be honest,” Wood said, “the whole time I was nervous, hoping it would work.”

It did.

Now he’s getting requests from other retirement homes and assisted living centers for tablets to help their residents connect to family and friends.

Wood’s work isn’t done. Donations can continue to be made on the team’s website. For every $150, another tablet will be purchased.

“There’s no reason to stop,” Wood said. “I’ve got plenty of thank you notes.”

3. Challenges ahead

NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ comment this week that the sanctioning body intends to run all the Cup races this season and wants to reschedule the postponed races before the playoffs, has some crew chiefs pondering what things could be like this summer.

Providing NASCAR returns May 9 at Martinsville, that would leave 17 weekends to run 22 races and the All-Star Race. There are only two off weekends during that stretch (July 26 and August 2).

To run all those races before the playoffs means that NASCAR will have to do some creative scheduling, whether that is additional doubleheader weekends and/or mid-week races.

What seems certain is an increased workload on teams, particularly crew members who are traveling to each race.

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott at Hendrick Motorsports, said he’s already pondered such scenarios.

“We’ve looked at all that and that’s going to be a huge logistical challenge,” Gustafson told NBC Sports. “I don’t know what the schedule is going to be but it’s certainly going to be difficult. The first thing that kind of comes to my mind is that the road crew is basically going to be removed from assisting any preparation in the shop, especially if you are racing on Wednesdays or you are racing two races in a row or you’re going to be traveling for an extended period of time.

“They’re not going to be able to assist in the production of the cars. It’s all going to fall back on the shop and it’s going to be extremely important for those guys to be able to carry that load, which our shop has done a fabulous job this year. Logistically, it’s going to be very, very difficult. It’s going to be tough to manage that.”

For as challenging as it could be for an organization such as Hendrick Motorsports, the task will be even greater for a smaller team such as Go Fas Racing, which has about 20 employees.

Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie and the No. 32 team said his team could face challenges if NASCAR does run all the postponed races before the playoffs. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“Even working ahead and being prepared, I see a lot of sleepless nights in the near future,” said Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie at Go Fas Racing. “I live for it man. I could give up sleep to go racing. I’m all good for it.”

Even more responsibility will be on LaJoie to do all he can to avoid an accident. Repairing cars will only add to the team’s workload during that time.

“The biggest thing that will help us is coming out of the race weekends clean,” Sparks told NBC Sports. “Not making any mistakes on the race track and tearing up a car where we can turn it around quickly and go to the next track if needed.”

Sparks said employees are working in the shop while keeping a safe distance to prepare cars for the coming races and for what could be a busy summer of racing.

“Being small and still being able to come to work and work ahead and be prepared is key in this moment,” he said. “If they just sprung it upon us at the last minute, we would really struggle.”

Sparks said while bigger teams will put new bodies on cars to run at other tracks, that isn’t always an option for his team. 

“That’s not going to take us to the next level,” he said of all that extra work with a small crew. “It’s just going to put us further behind. As long as we have a good, solid intermediate product, that’s what we’re going to take to each intermediate track where the bigger teams have track-specific cars.”

4. Work still to do

Although some race shops are closed and NASCAR has banned testing not related to the development of the Next Gen car, there’s still work for teams.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson says he and his engineers are examining areas that can improve the performance of Chase Elliott’s cars.

Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson are in their fifth Cup season working together. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“The rules this year are much more stringent than they’ve been in the past, we’re having to certify a lot of the components,” Gustafson said, referring to NASCAR’s freeze on many new parts for this season with the Next Gen car set to debut next season. “There’s not just a whole lot of places to go and find performance. I expect things to be similar when it restarts, but I think that’s certainly just an educated guess on my part.”

If so, that will be a good sign for Elliott fans. Elliott won three stages in the first four races.

But that’s not stopping Gustafson and his engineers, who are working from home, from trying to find any area to make the cars better.

“It’s very much like the offseason to me,” Gustafson said of the break in racing until at least May. “You know what you feel like you need to improve and you’re trying to mine as much as you possibly can. Then at the same time you have to be a little bit careful and say, ‘Hey I can’t get too caught up in these things because I’m assuming this is better and I don’t want to go down this road and ultimately be worse.’ It is much like a research and development phrase and you’re trying to be prepared.”

One of the advantages of working at home during this pause in the sport is it allows Gustafson to continue healing from the mountain bike accident he suffered last month while in Fontana, California for the race at Auto Club Speedway. Gustafson suffered a torn AC joint in his right shoulder and a hairline fracture in his right clavicle.

“It’s been more convenient for me to stay off of it,” he said. “Right now, I’ve just been in the phase of basically not doing a whole lot of (physical therapy). It’s just basically rebuilding the ligaments.”

5. Long, strange ride

Daniel Suarez and his girlfriend made it to California on Thursday, driving across the country to retrieve a 1963 VW double cab bus he found online and purchased.

Suarez’s first car was a VW Beetle and that has fostered a lifelong love of the make and hunt for such cars to restore.

He recently found the 1963 VW double cab bus, which he said was in good condition, having had only two owners and having been parked since 1982.

Suarez told NBC Sports that he originally joked with his girlfriend about driving out to California to get the vehicle but when she said yes, the trip was on.

Much has changed since they hit the road. When they first left North Carolina, restaurants were still serving people inside. Now, they’re only open for take out or the drive-thru lane. That has meant many meals in his truck. Suarez also said seeing cities vacant has been stunning.

“I’ve been surprised in many different places how different it is,” Suarez said. “We made this decision because we knew we were going to be safe staying away from everyone and just being in the (truck) for many hours.

“We just spent the night in Las Vegas, it was one of the most crazy things I’ve seen in my life. The whole Las Vegas is empty. It’s almost like a movie. It’s very, very incredible. We walked into a hotel and the hotel casino was empty. We got lucky that we got a room. Last night was the last night they were actually offering rooms (with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak closing all nonessential business for 30 days to stem the spread of COVID-19). It’s extremely, extremely strange. We’ve just been trying to take care of ourselves.”

While on the trip, Suarez and his girlfriend have had a chance to visit some sites, such as Monument Valley, which is located on the Arizona and Utah border, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.

“I’m a big outdoor person and Julia is the same way,” Suarez said. “We’ve been talking about a road trip for like a year but with the racing schedule it’s almost impossible to do something like this without being in a hurry.

“Fortunately for us, some of the places that we have visited like Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend, they’ve been open but they’ve been almost empty, which has been good for us because we’ve never been in those places before and we’ve been able to explore those places.”

Suarez and his girlfriend begin their journey back to North Carolina towing his VW bus today.

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Wood Brothers Racing taking donations to help quarantined seniors

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The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 has led to quarantines at nursing homes across the country, including the Landmark Center in Stuart, Virginia, the hometown of Wood Brothers Racing.

On Sunday, the team announced it was raising money to buy tablets so residents at the Landmark Center could video chat with family members.

The team put up an initial pledge of $1,500 and made it possible for fans to donate $10 through their website.

Each donation would result in a hand-written thank you card from Matt DiBenedetto, Leonard Wood and Eddie and Len Wood.

The response has blown by their expectations.

“I knew we couldn’t buy up every one from the team side so I figured a crowd funding thing would help but I only anticipated buying about 10,” Jon Wood told NBC Sports via text. “I told Matt and he was good with it since he would be signing the thank you notes. I set it at 200 ‘donations’ to begin with and that lasted about 5 minutes. Bumped it to 500 and that lasted about an hour. I checked with Matt to make sure he was ok and we bumped it to 1,000 and now it’s at 1,500 which is where I’ll leave it.

” … Wood Bros is in for $1,500 … and we got $15,000 in $10 donations. I just bought 24 iPads to at least have something going by the end of the week because shipping is beginning to be delayed but I expect to have 40 iPads and maybe 40 more amazon fire tablets. We will give whatever the two facilities in Stuart need and then start branching out to others nearby.”

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