For anyone who loves NASCAR-style auto racing, from drivers to fans and every one in between, any trip to Bristol Motor Speedway is a memorable one, especially that first visit.
For Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford driven by Paul Menard, that first Bristol trip as a true member of the Wood Brothers race team came in the summer of 1968.
“That’s the year I turned 16, and you had to be 16 to be in the garage,” Wood said. “It was the first time I got to wear one of the red-and-white crew shirts.”
Wood said he doesn’t recall being a big help to the team and its driver at that time, Cale Yarborough.
“I didn’t do much of anything because at that time I didn’t know how to do anything,” he said, adding that his biggest contributions were helping clean the car and push it around the garage area.
Wood doesn’t remember many details from that Volunteer 500, in which Yarborough ran second to David Pearson’s No. 17 Holman-Moody Ford. But he does remember other details of the trip from the team’s home base in Stuart, Va.
“We went in a ramp truck with the car on back,” he said. “We traveled two-lane roads the whole way.
“It started raining, and I remember my dad got out and put a piece of duct tape over the cowl opening, to keep water from getting into the two four-barrel carburetors.”
He remembers stopping at a Howard Johnson’s in Wytheville, eating at Trayer’s, a popular restaurant in Bristol, and timing the car with a Minerva stopwatch he found among the team’s equipment.
The stopwatch, which at one time was a part of the customary pair that teams used to determine lap times, wasn’t as useful as a solo unit. “I could only get every other lap,” Wood said.
He remembers seeing legends like Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Tiger Tom Pistone, Turkey Minton and a burly crewman for Holman-Moody who would simply wring off locknuts on the race car rather than take the time to unscrew them.
In the years since, Wood has never missed a Bristol race in which the Wood Brothers team has competed. And, he says, some things about the old Bristol will be the same this weekend when the Menards/Dutch Boy paint scheme will make its second of four scheduled appearances this season on the No. 21 Fusion.
“It’s like Daytona at a short track,” he said. “Things happen so fast at the speeds they run, and the reaction time is really short.”
But that doesn’t mean he and his driver don’t like racing there.
“Paul really likes that race track,” Wood said. “If you’re lucky enough to get through the things that happen in traffic there, you’re going to have a good finish.”
Qualifying for the Food City 500 is set for Friday at 4:45 p.m. Eastern Time, and the race is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.