Rex White

April 23 in NASCAR: Darrell Waltrip sends Monte Carlo out with win

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Long before the Cup Series conducted the 2007 season alternating between two generations of cars, a manufacturer swapped car models in the middle of the season.

The switch took place in 1989 and involved Chevrolet going from the Monte Carlo to the Lumina.

The Monte Carlo’s last ride (before its 1995 re-introduction) came in the season’s eighth race on April 23 at Martinsville Speedway as the short track’s master in the 1980s, Darrell Waltrip, took the win.

Waltrip passed 47-year-old rookie Dick Trickle for the lead with 52 laps to go and led the rest of the way.

His main challenger in the race’s final stage was Dale Earnhardt, who finished second after leading 103 laps. The Intimidator’s chances at the win ended on his last pit stop when an air hose malfunctioned and the No. 3 team couldn’t get a new left-rear tire on it.

Afterward, NASCAR officials found Earnhardt’s left rear was missing two lug nuts and fined the team $300, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” The same violation today would cost a Cup crew chief $20,000 and a one-race suspension.

For Waltrip, it was the 10th of his 11 career Martinsville wins. Nine of them came in the 1980s. In Victory Lane, an exhausted Waltrip had to receive oxygen before continuing his celebration.

“What a great day for Chevrolet, I was hoping it would happen this way,” Waltrip said in the next day’s Charlotte Observer. “The reason I sat down for a few seconds in Victory Lane is because I was sick and I didn’t want to throw up on this race car. I might have to use it again.”

Waltrip would get the Lumina’s first win two races later in the Coca-Cola 600.

Also on this date:

1961: Richard Petty easily won a race at Richmond that saw 12 cars start and six finish it.

1962: Rex White won a rain-shortened race at Bowman Gray Stadium to cap off a series of four Grand National races over five days. For those races, the series traveled from Greenville to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then to Martinsville, Virginia, before ending at Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Eleven drivers competed in all four events.

1967: Petty led the final 31 laps to win at Martinsville for his fourth win on the short track. He and Cale Yarborough were the only drivers to finish on the lead lap. Third-place finisher J.T. Putney finished nine laps down.

1972: Petty won at Martinsville by seven laps over Bobby Allison. That was despite his 1972 Plymouth running on only seven cylinders, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “It cost me about 50 horsepower,” Petty said. “But I could make up some of the distance in the corners because I was going into them slower.”

1995: Rusty Wallace led 175 laps and beat Ted Musgrave to win at Martinsville for his third consecutive win on the short track.

April 20 in NASCAR: Bobby Hamilton gets Morgan–McClure’s last Cup win

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One year after missing out on a Martinsville win by one spot thanks to a dominating performance by Jeff Gordon, Bobby Hamilton turned the tables on the Cup Series field on April 20, 1998.

The 40-year-old Hamilton started from the pole, the fifth and final of his Cup career, and proceeded to lead 378 of 500 laps.

Hamilton led eight times, taking the top spot from John Andretti for good with 63 laps to go. He went on to win over Ted Musgrave.

The win turned out to be the 14th and final trip to a Cup Victory Lane for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, which competed from 1983-2009.

“I’m tired … But I stayed up in that seat all day long though,” Hamilton told ESPN. “They built a brand new car a week-and-a-half ago. It was a wreck from here two years ago.”

Also on this date:

1958: After starting 20th in a field of 47 cars, Bob Welborn won at Martinsville for his third of nine career Cup Series wins. He won despite losing a tire with 30 laps to go when he had a four-lap lead, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” Welborn stopped for new tires and returned to the track still the leader over Rex White. Welborn won by 12 car lengths.

1961: Cotton Owens won a 200-lap race at Greenville (S.C) Speedway by one lap over Ned Jarrett. Jarrett led the first 196 laps from the pole until he ran out of gas. “From now on whenever I come into the pits at any race, someone’s going to be there pouring gas into the tank (even) if it runs over every time,” Jarrett said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1980: Richard Petty led 327 laps, including the final 27, to win at North Wilkesboro Speedway for the 14th time in his career.

1997: Jeff Gordon led 431 of 500 laps to win at Martinsville over Bobby Hamilton for his second straight Martinsville victory.

 

‘The Madhouse’ and the Wood Brothers’ first Cup win 60 years ago

Bowman-Gray Stadium
(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
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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.”

WINSTON-SALEM, NC: Glen Wood at Bowman Gray Stadium in the early 1950s during weekly NASCAR modified and sportsman racing. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

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.

An ad in the High Point Enterprise newspaper promoting the Grand National race Glen Wood would get his first career win in.

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.

“I liked the flatter tracks,” Glen said in 2010, nine years before he passed away at 93.  “If you got your car handling good, you could beat people without trying too hard.”

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.

How Glen Wood’s first Grand National win was covered in the April 19, 1960 sports section of the Charlotte Observer (newspapers.com).

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.

(L-R) Curtis Turner, Leonard Wood, Earl Parker of the Champion Spark Plug Company, and Glen Wood look over an engine at a NASCAR Cup race in 1961. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“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.”

You heard the man, stay safe.

March 26 in NASCAR History: Matt Kenseth turns Jeff Gordon, Gordon shoves back

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Bristol Motor Speedway is used to fireworks, and the Food City 500 on March 26, 2006, was no exception.

It began with five laps to go with Matt Kenseth leading Kurt Busch, winner of four of the last eight Bristol races.

Busch, in Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford, got into Kenseth’s rear bumper, causing Kenseth to get wicked sideways and letting Busch rocket by as Kenseth fell to third in front of Jeff Gordon.

With two laps to go, Gordon got Kenseth loose exiting Turn 4 and passed him.

As they raced through Turns 1 and 2 on the last lap, Kenseth returned the favor and sent Gordon into a spin.

Meanwhile, Busch outran Kevin Harvick to the take the checkered flag.

During the cool-down lap, Kenseth showed his own displeasure by quickly driving up to Busch and veering toward him, but not making contact.

Then, as Busch performed snow angels on the frontstretch (it had snowed in the area that weekend), Gordon exited his car with his helmet still on, made a beeline for Kenseth and gave him a hard shove.

“Kenseth got shuffled out and you know, he’s holding guys up,” Gordon told Fox. “I got to him a couple times and showed my nose and he shut the door on me. The next time I got the opportunity I definitely moved him, but I didn’t wreck him. We went down into (Turn) 1 afterwards and he just wrecked me. I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it and all that stuff, but I wasn’t happy about it and I showed it to him after the race. … That stuff rarely ever happens with him. I’m going to give back to him what he gives to me.”

Also on this date:

1955: Fonty Flock, driving a No. 14 car owned by Frank Christian, won a premier series race at Columbia Speedway in Cayce, South Carolina. Flock became the first driver to win a race for Chevrolet in NASCAR’s top series.

1961: Bob Burdick only made 15 Cup Series starts in his career, but he left an impression. At Atlanta this year, Burdick led 44 of 334 laps to score an upset win. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” he did so in an unsponsored Pontiac car on used tires and with an inexperienced crew in the pits. He beat Rex White and Ralph Earnhardt.

1972: After making up seven seconds in the last 30 laps, Bobby Allison beat A.J. Foyt by about five car lengths to win at Atlanta. Allison earned Chevrolet’s first win on a speedway since 1963. Allison raced for Junior Johnson, who won that 1963 race at Charlotte.

1995:  After 314 career Cup Series starts, Sterling Marlin earned his first win on a non-restrictor plate track with a victory at Darlington. His first two Cup wins were back-to-back in the Daytona 500 in 1994-95.

2000: Rusty Wallace claimed his eighth career win at Bristol, which also marked his 50th Cup Series win.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood dies at 93

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, died Friday. He was 93.

The team announced his passing Friday morning on social media.

Wood was a link to NASCAR’s early years.

A former driver – he won four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Glen Wood founded the Wood Brothers Racing team with brothers Leonard and Delano. In Wood’s first win at Bowman Gray Stadium in April 1960, he beat a field that included former champions Richard Petty, Rex White, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty. Wood’s history also includes seeing Tim Flock race with a monkey and having Ralph Earnhardt drive convertible and sportsman cars for the team.

His racing career nearly ended as soon as it started. Wood and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford coupe to go racing. The Stuart, Virginia, native ran his first race at a track near Martinsville. During the heat race, his car was hit and bent the rear-end housing. After the race, Wood and his friend hooked the race car to the vehicle they were driving and headed home.

But on the trip, the axle eventually broke, and the damage caused spilling fuel to ignite. The fire engulfed the back of the race car.

“Every once in a while one of them (gas cans) would blow up, and we would be afraid to get close to it because of that,” Wood recalled in a 2011 interview. “Finally we got it unhooked and got the car away from (the one pulling it) and let it burn because we couldn’t do anything about it.”

They salvaged the engine and repaired the car. A few weeks later, Wood was back racing.

While Leonard is often credited as the father of the modern pit stop, Glen was equally as responsible. The two developed a communication and strategy plan that was one of the best in NASCAR for several decades.

Wood Brothers Racing, which has 99 Cup victories, remains the oldest continuous racing team in NASCAR. Among the drivers that have raced for the team are Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

Born on July 18, 1925, Glen retired as a driver at the age of 39, assuming full-time duties as the team’s chief administrator, a role that he handled for nearly 30 years before relegating the role to sons Eddie and Len.

Through the years, Wood’s name mysteriously changed. His birth certificate lists his first name as Glenn, but somewhere along the way the last letter was dropped.

Wood received the colorful nickname of “Wood Chopper” early on for how he used to cut timber at a Virginia sawmill. But when Glen started racing, that nickname followed him and became somewhat of a calling card for his winning ways.

“When he pulled into a racetrack, and the announcer would say, ‘Here comes the Wood Chopper from Stuart, Virginia,’ you knew you had a challenger that night,” Ned Jarrett, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, said of Glen Wood in a 2012 NASCAR Hall video of Glen Wood’s career. “Glen Wood, he was the master.”

Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers during his career, was a Hall of Fame voter when the group discussed who to induct in the 2012 class. Behind the closed doors, Petty made an impassioned speech for the voters to select Wood for induction.

“I think people forget the breadth of somebody’s career sometimes when it spans as long as his,” Kyle Petty said that day in 2011.

In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, said of Wood’s passing:

“This is a difficult day for all of us at Ford Motor Company. Glen Wood was the founding patriarch of the oldest continuously operating NASCAR Cup Series team and we consider Wood Brothers Racing a part of our family, the Ford Family. The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history.

“Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself.  But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.   I will cherish the memories of our chats in the NASCAR garage, at their race shop in Mooresville or the racing museum in Stuart.  My most memorable moment with Glen was with he and his family in the #21 pit box watching Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed in victory lane.”

In a statement, NASCAR’s Jim France said: “In every way, Glen Wood was an original. In building the famed Wood Brothers Racing at the very beginnings of our sport, Glen laid a foundation for NASCAR excellence that remains to this day. As both a driver and a team owner, he was, and always will be, the gold standard. But personally, even more significant than his exemplary on-track record, he was a true gentleman and a close confidant to my father, mother and brother. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I send my condolences to the entire Wood family for the loss of a NASCAR giant.”

In a statement, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said: “Everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened by the passing of Glen Wood. The word ‘legendary’ sometimes is overused, but it absolutely fits Glen and the team that he and his brother, Leonard, founded and built into a powerhouse in NASCAR. Wood Brothers Racing has such a deep, rich connection to IMS through its multiple entries in the Brickyard 400 and by serving as the pit crew for the Lotus/Ford that Jim Clark drove to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Glen’s legacy as a fine driver and motorsports innovator will be matched only by his enduring status as one of racing’s true gentlemen and class acts.”

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report