When Eddie and Len Wood head west this weekend for the races at Sonoma Raceway, they’ll travel by jet airplane.
But on that flight their minds likely will wander back to the days when they drove the team hauler to road course races at another California track, Riverside International Raceway.
Back in the day, Eddie and Len Wood, now the co-owners of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion driven by Ryan Blaney, made that long trek in the company of some older members of the team, like their father Glen Wood, uncle Leonard Wood or a crewmember like Kenny Martin.
“We always had someone older with us,” Eddie Wood said. “It sounds like a lot of work to drive that far, but it really wasn’t. Those trips were some of our favorite times in the sport. It was like a game figuring out how long it would take us to get to the next town.”
The Wood Brothers enjoyed great success at Riverside, winning eight times – four with David Pearson, three with Dan Gurney and another in 1967 with Parnelli Jones in a No. 115 Ford that was initially entered by Bill Stroppe but prepared and serviced by the Wood Brothers.
They also have had some strong runs at Sonoma, including a runner-up finish in 2005 with Ricky Rudd driving.
For that race, the Motorcraft team and then-crew chief Michael “Fatback” McSwain used the same chassis that Rudd had driven to victory at Sonoma three years earlier while driving for Robert Yates.
Len Wood recalled that the car had been cut down to the frame and stored at Yates’ shop. But McSwain and Rudd liked it, so the Woods purchased the chassis, and the team built it into a road-racing car.
“The seat was moved to the right, and a lot of other changes were made to adapt it to road courses,” Len Wood said.
Rudd qualified 20th, but the car proved to be much better than that in the race.
As the laps wound down, McSwain, considered by many to be one of the best strategists during his time in the business, made a decision to call Rudd to pit road for fresh tires and fuel as soon as he was in a window to make it to the end of the race.
As other drivers stopped, Rudd cycled into the lead.
He held the top spot for 18 laps before Tony Stewart, riding on fresher rubber, passed him for the win with 11 laps to go.
McSwain said the decision to pit was easy for him.
“It was a gamble, but I wasn’t scared to take it,” he said. “Some crew chiefs worry that they might lose their jobs by taking gambles. But I was more worried about winning than I was about my job.”
McSwain also pointed out that even though the runner-up finish was due in large part to strategy, there was more to it than that.
“It wasn’t like we had a 40th-place car and lucked into a good finish,” he said. “The car was good all day.”
Eddie Wood said that McSwain had a knack for making good strategy calls and for being able to communicate well with his drivers.
Now the Wood Brothers are racing at Sonoma with a young Blaney at the wheel of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion and with Jeremy Bullins on the pit box as crew chief.
Although Blaney has run just two times on road courses, once each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen last year, he has a road-course win in the Camping World Truck Series at Bowmanville, Ont., and two top-three finishes in Xfinity Series races on road courses at Mid-Ohio and Road America.
“It’ll be Ryan’s second Cup race at Sonoma, and he has some other road-course races under his belt,” Wood said. “I feel pretty good about the weekend.”
Qualifying for Sunday’s 110-lap race is set for Saturday at 11:45 p.m. (2:45 Eastern Time) and the race is scheduled to start just after noon (3 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FS1.