DAYTONA, Fla. — On Thursday, Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway, Wood Brothers Racing was preparing the famed No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane NASCAR Sprint Cup car for the second of the two Budweiser Duels, but something, or more accurately someone, was missing.
“Win, lose or draw, no matter what happens in this (Duel) race, I’m going to go get daddy and bring him down here,” said Eddie Wood, current co-owner of one of the most famous teams in NASCAR, to a couple of PR types walking with him through the speedway’s bustling garage area.
Daddy, the missing element from the Wood Brothers’ contingent, is legendary Hall of Famer Glen Wood who has never missed a Daytona 500. In fact, Wood’s streak of perfect attendance covers parts of eight decades, back to 1947 when the cars ran on a course that included Highway A1A and the sand of Daytona Beach itself.
As soon as driver Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line in sixth place putting the Wood’s Ford Fusion in the 14th spot on the grid for the 56th annual Daytona 500, Eddie Wood was on a Roush-Fenway team plane heading to Concord, NC where he met his father the next morning at 9:00 a.m. Glen Wood drove his new Ford Taurus SHO to Concord from his home in Stuart, Va.
“I started driving his car from Concord and by lunch time we were in St. George (S.C.),” Eddie Wood explained. “When we came out of the restaurant, he walked to the driver’s side and said he would drive. I thought I might take a nap but we got to talking about the race on Thursday and how it unfolded and then stories about Curtis Turner and all of the sudden we were here. He drove all the way from St. George, so instead of me going and bringing him back, I went up there and he brought me back.”
According to the Woods, Glen’s attendance at this year’s Daytona 500 was questionable all along. Travel is not as easy as it once was for the 88-year-old and Virginia got hammered by winter weather in recent weeks, making the idea of getting to Florida even more daunting. But Eddie and his brother Len are determined people.
“When I called Dad and told him I was gonna fly home and pick him up, I could tell he got excited,” Eddie said. “The key thing that told me he really wanted to come was when he asked what time the plane was going to leave in the morning. He hasn’t flown in years. I knew that if he was willing to fly back down here, he really wanted to come. I told him that we were gonna drive his car and he said ‘OK.’”
All seemed right with the world once the Wood patriarch arrived in Daytona at 5:15 p.m. Friday and again both of the original Wood brothers were in the pits and holding court in front of the No. 21 team’s hauler.
And, once again, their hauler became a must-stop for some of the biggest names in racing, including A.J. Foyt, who drove a Wood Brothers-prepared Mercury to victory in the Daytona 500 in 1972.
“It just completes it,” Eddie said. “Something didn’t feel right all week. It was like a piece was missing and things weren’t going right. Then, all of a sudden, Trevor runs a great race, Dad is here and everything is complete. We went to dinner Friday night with Mr. (Edsel) Ford and it was just like everything was like it was supposed to be.”
Said the senior Wood about his 68th consecutive February trip to Daytona Speedweeks: “I think it means more to my family, or at least to Len and Eddie, because I’ve been here so many times. I told them I’m getting old and it (the streak) has to stop sometime, but they told me it wasn’t going to be this year. Eddie called up and said he had it all figured out, so how could I refuse? I knew I needed to come in a sense but when Bernice said she wasn’t gonna come, I made up my mind that I would stay home. But now I’m glad I’m here.”
One thing that has become a Daytona tradition for Glen Wood is a visit to the old beach race course, which inspired construction of the big speedway and was used for the last time in 1958.
“I have never been down here at Speed Week where I didn’t go back down to the North Turn and go all the way down to the South Turn – where the lighthouse is – and just sort of re-live what I used to do there,” Wood explained. “The first race I ran in the sand was in 1953. I took a picture of this house a year or so ago and it’s 42 Peninsula Drive. That was the office of NASCAR in 1953 and I remember it well. I went in there and Big Bill France was writing out the licenses to get you in. So I like to go down there and remember. I guess I ran eight races there total and I won the last three sportsman races they had there, so that’s a big reason why I need to go back down there. To me, it’s hard to believe I did that back then, but I guess the record shows that I did.”
Wood, who sat on the pole for the final race in the sand, remembers everything about his amazing career in racing and enjoys telling those stories including the one about that historic pole position.
“They ran the modified cars and sportsman together,” Wood recalled. “The cars were very similar other than the fact the modifieds could run multiple carburetors and had a big Lincoln engine in it. Mine had just a little 312 engine with one carburetor on it in a little ’54 Ford, but for some reason I just beat them all.
“Leonard was in the Army at that time and I just fooled with it all winter,” he continued. “I blocked off all of the grille, except for two inches about 18 inches long across the front for the air to get through. I guess it was sort of like the air dam of today, but it didn’t show like that. They had just come out with 14-inch tubeless tires and I put them on to qualify with, which lowered it kind of like they are today, and it just beat all of the modifieds. I think that was the biggest day of my life. The fun thing about it was my time was 139.461 or something like that, and Banjo Matthews was 139.469. It went out into the thousandths, but mine was first.”
Even though the No. 21 crashed late in the 2014 Daytona 500 putting the Wood Brothers Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion and Trevor Bayne into 33rd place, the Wood family and the NASCAR universe seemed happy to have the original Wood Brothers together again at the Great American Race.
“Daytona, from the first week of February to the third week is where we’re supposed to be,” said Eddie Wood. “Any way you cut it, that’s where we’re supposed to be.”