Daytona wouldn’t be Daytona for Wood Brothers Racing if team patriarch Glen Wood wasn’t sitting in front of the hauler holding court with the who’s who of NASCAR racing.
Wood, 89, is attending his 69th consecutive race on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Starting in 1947 as a spectator to watch Curtis Turner drive, through driving to victory himself in the last three races run on the sand, to being the owner of a dominant team in the ‘60s and ‘70s, to being a proud father watching his sons follow in his footsteps, Wood hasn’t missed a February in Daytona since shortly after World War II.
“The first trip down here in 1947, we came not knowing anything about the place,” Wood recalled. “It was just something off the wall to do. We heard about this big race by the ocean and we’d never heard of that. So we drove down here.”
His memory as sharp as ever, Wood remembers the two wood-slat bridges that led from the mainland to Daytona Beach.
“Once in a while you’d hit a slat and it would break,” he said with a chuckle.
Rather than miles of high-rise hotels, he remembers small cabins and one-floor motels lining the Atlantic.
The landscape wasn’t that much different in 1953 when he and his brother, Leonard, brought a Ford from Virginia to the beach for the first time.
“There were 139 cars that started and I qualified 12th out of that bunch and finished seventh out of that bunch,” Wood related. “I went home after I thought I’d set the world afire. The people back home in Stuart said, ‘well, maybe you’ll do better next year.’”
Ultimately he did do better, winning the final three sportsman modified races run on the sand.
“The last time, I had a little ’54 Ford and I beat the modifieds, every one of them and sat on the pole for that and set a new track record,” he said. “That’s been a long time ago and I never have forgotten that.”
Leonard Wood, who at age 80 still is active with the race team, fondly recalls his brother’s wins on the beach.
“You know, we’ve had some of the world’s greatest drivers driving for us over the years, but when Glen and I were working together, to watch your brother go out there and win races, is as good as it gets,” Leonard Wood said. “I like to see him come (to races) any time he can. He didn’t want to break his string of how many times he’s been down here. And he’s always drove down here. He’s never flown.”
Glen Wood hasn’t forgotten the thrill of driving on the beach, either. “When we were racing there, you had to run as close to the water as you could because the sand was harder,” he said. “You could run 10 wide. It was something else when they turned them loose.”
The memories continued to build when he became a team owner and the racing moved to the new Daytona International Speedway.
“Since I quit driving, we’ve had a lot of memorable years here,” he said. “David Pearson’s record speaks for itself.
“Tiny Lund won our first (Daytona 500) in 1963,” he continued. “Nobody paid any attention to him until the last 100 miles. We had stepped up our fuel mileage from 40 laps to 42 laps and we did that a couple of times with no cautions so everyone had to stop toward the end and we didn’t.”
More recently, “one that sticks out pretty good was 2011 with Trevor Bayne,” Wood said. “Nobody would have thought that he’d win that race and we were probably among them. It was the second time he was ever in a Cup car and you just would have never bet on that.”
Could history repeat itself this year with rookie Ryan Blaney behind the wheel of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion?
“If you took a poll asking who will win this race, (Blaney) wouldn’t win that poll, but he’s as good as any of them and he’s got as good a chance as they have,” he stated.
Len Wood, one of Glen’s two sons and a team co-owner, says his father’s attendance record at Daytona is important for team continuity.
“For us, him being here 69 years in a row is part of our history, part of our tradition,” he said. “He’s a link back to earlier days when guys like Pearson, Foyt, Gurney and Yarborough drove for us.
“We brought the team (now comprised of several Team Penske personnel as a result of the technical alliance between the organizations) up to Stuart in January to give them a bit of a history lesson. Hopefully when they put on that 21 uniform they’ll think about the past and try to make Ryan Blaney the next big star.”
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