As Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team head to Richmond International Raceway, it will be a first for Blaney in a Sprint Cup car. For the Wood Brothers, it will be their first visit to the track since 2008, and team co-owner Eddie Wood says he feels like it’s 1985 again.
In 1985, like this season, the Woods were coming off a partial Sprint Cup schedule and going racing full time. Just like the present day with youthful Blaney, they had another youngster, Kyle Petty, then age 25, at the wheel to start the 1985 season. Both are third-generation racers and both developed into perfect fits for the Woods, NASCAR’s longest tenured race team.
There are parallels with the cars too. As the Woods prepared to run a full schedule in 1985, one of the biggest needs was a car built specifically to compete on the short tracks. This year, facing the same scenario, the Woods fell back on their alliance with Team Penske. That allowed them to add a stable of short track cars that Blaney has driven to two top-11 finishes in his three short track starts to date.
“Thankfully we have a relationship with Team Penske. They have a great short-track program already in place,” Wood said.
In 1985 the Woods obtained a winning short-track car from what some would consider an unlikely source – none other than the Woods’ chief rival for decades, Petty Enterprises.
“At that point, Richard Petty, Dale Inman, and Kyle of course, had left Petty Enterprises and they were only going to run a few races that year,” Wood said. “Kyle told us about this new short-track car that was partially built but hadn’t been finished. It was just a bare chassis with a Thunderbird body. That car was exactly what we needed, so we bought it.”
The chassis was built by Hutcherson-Pagan, which was different from the cars we had been racing. All of our cars had Banjo Matthews chassis, so there were some changes to be made with different suspension parts to accommodate the design of the new offset chassis and body.
The final product turned out to be better than the Woods could have imagined. The car was fast everywhere they took it, which included races at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Richmond. It remained in the fleet until 1991 when a broken right front wheel sent Dale Jarrett into the wall while leading the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“We had a lot of fun with that car,” Wood said.
“There were very few places the car ran better than at Richmond.”
Petty finished seventh there his first time out in the car at Richmond in 1985 and went on to score his first of eight career Sprint Cup victories in the spring Richmond race of 1986.
The finish of that Miller High Life 400 is still considered one of the wildest in NASCAR history.
Petty had raced in the top five for most of the race, and was about a straightaway behind the race leaders with three laps to go. On that fateful lap, Darrell Waltrip appeared to have completed a race-long comeback from being a lap down as he drove past Dale Earnhardt to take the lead going down the backstretch. The two tangled going into turn three, collecting a slew of drivers including Joe Ruttman and Geoff Bodine.
Petty slowed to a crawl as the track was blocked in front of him, then drove by the disabled cars of Earnhardt, Waltrip, Ruttman and Bodine to beat them to the caution flag.
“I was on the radio with Kyle,” Wood said. “I saw the smoke on the backstretch and knew Kyle hadn’t gotten there yet. He was in the middle of turns one and two when the wreck started, so when he came by the start-finish line I knew he was leading the race.”
Two laps later the checkered flag fell on the Wood Brothers Thunderbird, which carried a No. 7 for the sponsor at that time, the 7/11 convenience store chain. They obtained that car number from Petty Enterprises, which was used by Kyle the season before.
“It was a big moment for us,” Wood said of the Richmond victory. “When Kyle came to drive for us, a lot of people didn’t think it would work because our families had been rivals for so many years, but it worked perfectly.
“We ran really well when Kyle drove for us.
It was one of the most fun times of my career. We raced hard, and we had a good time. Kyle was, and still is family to us.
“Leonard (Wood) was the crew chief, and he and Kyle clicked. It just clicked.”
Wood is hoping to continue to build the same kind of magic with Blaney, and is looking forward to another strong short-track run in this weekend’s 400-lapper at Richmond. Qualifying is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m., and the race is scheduled to see the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.