As the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team head to Talladega, the festivities at this weekend’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway will include a look back 30 years to the 1985 Winston 500 at Talladega, a race in which Bill Elliott and his No. 9 Ford Thunderbird put on one of the greatest displays of power in modern NASCAR racing.
Elliott started on the pole but had an oil line come loose at lap 48. His crew repaired the line and put Elliott back on the track just a few yards shy of being two full laps down.
Without the benefit of a caution flag, Elliott made up the five-mile deficit and went on to win the race, with Kyle Petty; driving the Wood Brothers’ Ford, finishing second, his best finish at that point in his career.
The race saw Ford Motor Company, which had just a few years before, rejoined NASCAR racing with a full factory-backed program, sweep the top-three finishing positions, with Cale Yarborough finishing third in Harry Ranier’s Ford, and take four of the top-five positions as Ricky Rudd drove Bud Moore’s Ford to a fifth-place finish. Between Elliott, Petty and Yarborough, Ford drivers led 166 of 188 laps that day.
As it turned out, all four of those drivers at one point drove the Woods’ Ford, with Elliott himself running 62 races from 2007 to 2010 in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford.
“That’s Hall of Fame material there,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion that will be driven by rookie Ryan Blaney this weekend at Talladega.
The bond between Elliott and the Woods was forged long before that race 30 years ago, and Eddie Wood said it was Elliott himself who helped the Woods get their Thunderbird tuned for a runner-up finish in the Winston 500.
Petty had qualified fourth but felt his car was too unstable, darting around, especially for the 200-plus miles per hour speeds the cars were turning in the days before restrictor plates were used to slow the cars at Daytona and Talladega.
Eddie Wood consulted Elliott, who already was well on his way to an 11-win, 11-pole season that also saw him collect the Winston Million bonus being offered to any driver who could win three of NASCAR’s four major races in a single season.
Elliott offered more help than Wood expected. He essentially gave the Woods his winning chassis set-up.
“He told me to put a 2,700-pound spring, cut to 7 ½ inches in the right front, a 2,000-pound spring cut to 7 ½ inches in the left front and a pair of 600-pound springs in the rear,” Wood said, adding that Elliott also told them to run an inch and a quarter sway bar in the front and which numbers of Bilstein’s new gas shocks to put on each corner of the car.
After a quick trip to Banjo Matthews’ parts truck, crew chief Leonard Wood made the changes Elliott suggested, which were contrary to some of the conventional thinking at that time.
“The general thinking was that to make a car more stable you’d soften up the suspension, but Bill and Ernie Elliott were doing the opposite,” Wood said. “Kyle went out in practice and said it was fixed.”
In the race, as Elliott made up the lost laps, he did something that surprised both Petty and the Woods. As Petty drove off into turn one behind Elliott’s flying Ford, he keyed his radio and said: “He just backed off that thing.”
Petty had seen a tell-tale puff of smoke, letting him know that Elliott indeed was letting off the gas going into the corner, unlike those trying to catch him.
“Kyle hadn’t let off the gas in 50 laps,” Wood recalled.
At the end of the race, Elliott motored away unchallenged, but Petty held off Yarborough, who led 97 laps, to finish second.
Wood, whose family run team has won 98 times on NASCAR’s elite circuit, was happy to be a runner-up that day.
“If Bill hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have been able to finish second,” Wood said. “And when someone puts on a performance like he did, making up two laps under green, they deserve to win.”
“It was the most dominating run I’ve ever seen at Daytona or Talladega.”
Wood and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will be back at Talladega this weekend looking to be a part of more racing history for Ford Motor Company and the Wood Brothers race team.
Qualifying for the Aaron’s 499 is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. eastern time with TV coverage on FOX, and the race is expected to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. eastern on Sunday, again with TV coverage on FOX.
Wood Brothers Racing PR