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Curator's Corner / Historic Moments

Five Memorable Wood Brothers Wins

NASCAR’s oldest continually operating team had a flair for creating great storylines.

Racers will tell you that it’s tough to pick out their favorite race victory, in the same way that it’s tough to pick out your favorite child. You cherish them all.

And when your NASCAR Cup Series team dates all the way back to 1950 and has won nearly 100 races, well, choosing favorites is nearly impossible. So for this blog post about the fabled Wood Brothers Racing squad, we’re not going to try and pick out favorite race victories.

Instead, we’re going to pick out five memorable races for the legendary team from Stuart, Virginia. And these races certainly helped earn NASCAR Hall of Fame berths for team founder Glen Wood (Class of 2012) and his brother and mechanical genius Leonard Wood (Class of 2013).

Driver Speedy Thompson (second from left) and team owner Glen Wood (right) had a lot to celebrate after Thompson won the 1960 National 400. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1960 National 400

Racing is an expensive business, always has been. To keep racing, especially in the early days of NASCAR, teams needed to win in order to earn enough money to stay in business. In 1960, Glen Wood drove his Wood Brothers Racing Ford to three victories, all at the 0.250-mile Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The problem is, the winner’s share of the purses for those races were miniscule, ranging from $600 to $1,125.

But in late October, the newly opened Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted a big-money race called the National 400 that had a field of 50 cars. Driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, veteran Speedway Thompson passed Fireball Roberts (Class of 2014) with 35 laps to go and held on to win over two more Hall of Famers, Richard Petty (Class of 2010) and Ned Jarrett (Class of 2011). Thompson and the Wood Brothers pocketed a whopping $12,710 for the victory, and that money was a huge asset in keeping the team on solid financial footing. The race featured one of the five largest purses of the year. Thompson also won the next race at Richmond, although that one paid a paltry $800 to win.

Curtis Turner’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory was also his last. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1965 American 500

Some of the best stories in motorsports have huge feel-good elements that go with them. Such was the case with the 1965 American 500, the first NASCAR Cup Series race run at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham. Hall of Famer Curtis Turner (Class of 2016) had been banned from NASCAR for life by Chairman William H.G. France (Class of 2010) after Turner took part in a failed plan to unionize the drivers in the early 1960s. Turner, who hadn’t won a Cup race since 1959, missed all of the 1962-64 seasons because of France’s ban.

Reinstated in 1965, Turner ran a limited schedule of seven races, the final four of which were with the Wood Brothers. On the afternoon of Halloween at Rockingham, the team fielded two cars, its traditional No. 21 Ford for Marvin Panch and the No. 41 for Turner. The two Wood Brothers Fords dominated the proceedings, with Turner leading 239 of 500 laps to win and Panch finishing third behind Cale Yarborough (Class of 2012). The victory would be the 17th win for the popular Virginia driver.

Despite heavy front-end damage, David Pearson was able to nurse his Wood Brothers Racing Mercury to the checkered flag in 1976 Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1976 Daytona 500

All five of the Wood Brothers’ Daytona 500 victories have been memorable. In fact, this entire blog post could have easily focused on just the team’s triumphs in the Great American Race. Be that as it may, a couple of their Daytona 500 victories stand out as exceptional. Such was the case in 1976, when David Pearson (Class of 2011) drove the Wood Brothers Mercury to victory in an unforgettable final lap skirmish with his archrival Richard Petty (Class of 2010).

Petty led when the white flag came out, signaling one lap to go. On the backstretch, Pearson drove his Mercury below Petty’s Dodge, taking the lead going into Turn 3. As they headed into Turn 4, it was Petty’s turn to go low. But at the exit of the final turn of the race, the two made contact, both cars going headfirst into the outside wall before spinning into the infield grass. Petty’s car stalled just a few yards from the start-finish line, while Pearson was able to re-fire his car and limp down the track to take the checkered flag. To this day, it remains one of the most famous Daytona 500 finishes of all time. “I’m not sure what happened,” Pearson said. “He (Petty) was beneath me, and his car broke loose. I got into the wall and came off and hit him. That’s what started all the spinning, I think.”

Dale Jarrett (No. 21) fought to the bitter end to hold off Davey Allison at Michigan in 1991. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1991 Champion Spark Plug 400

Coming into the August race at Michigan International Speedway, Dale Jarrett (Class of 2014) was winless in 128 Cup Series starts dating back to 1984. In his second season behind the wheel of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, Jarrett’s luck changed and in a big way. Davey Allison (Class of 2019) had won the June race at Michigan, but the return race at the 2.0-mile oval was the first one in which both Fords had the same Robert Yates (Class of 2018) designed cylinder heads and were therefore on equal ground in terms of horsepower.

Allison was fast again at Michigan, but on the last lap, Jarrett got underneath Allison’s Robert Yates Racing Ford and crossed the finish line 8 inches ahead of Allison. The victory would launch a Hall of Fame career for Jarrett, including 31 more Cup Series race wins and a championship in 1999. "You have to get it started somewhere,” Jarrett would later say. “You think you can win against the best, but until you actually do it, you are only thinking in your mind that it can happen. That day I proved to myself and others that I can handle that type of situation.”

Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers pulled off one of the most emotional victories in the long history of the Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

2011 Daytona 500

One of the great things about NASCAR is that the actual story lines at times are so unbelievable that you couldn’t make them up. Such was the case with the 2011 Daytona 500. When Speedweeks opened, Trevor Bayne was a 19-year-old kid who’d had one career NASCAR Cup Series start and Wood Brothers Racing was a team that hadn’t won a race since the spring of 2001. But during Speedweeks, Bayne drew praise, most notably from Jeff Gordon (Class of 2019) for how well he handled himself in the draft in practice. Bayne was not the typical nervous rookie in his first time at Daytona.

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I walked in Victory Lane with Richard Petty and Edsel Ford and my dad...I don't know how much better that can get.

— Eddie Wood

After celebrating his 20th birthday the day before the 500, Bayne rolled off the grid in 32nd place. He ran well all day, but didn’t get his first lead until Lap 203, when David Ragan botched a restart. From there, Bayne survived one more restart to score an unbelievable – perhaps even inconceivable – victory for himself and the entire Wood Brothers team. Bayne’s triumph wasn’t just one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, it was also one of the biggest upsets in professional sports history. Two enduring memories from this race: An excited Bayne yelling, “Are you kidding me?” on the team radio during his cool-down lap and Richard Petty walking old friend Glen Wood to Victory Lane after the race. “I walked in Victory Lane with Richard Petty and Edsel Ford and my dad (Glen Wood),” said team co-owner Eddie Wood after the race. “I don’t know how much better that can get.”

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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