Virginia Is For Racers
by Tom Jensen April 12, 2021
From the earliest days of NASCAR, Virginia racers have been building the sport, breaking barriers and winning races.
On Saturday, April 18, NASCAR will host its second consecutive race in Virginia, with the running of the Toyota Owners 400 at historic Richmond Raceway.
Given that NASCAR was born in the South, it’s no surprise that the Commonwealth of Virginia has produced more than its share of racing stars.
Of the 55 individuals inducted to date in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, six are native Virginians. If that sounds like a big number, it is. While North Carolina leads all states with 20 NASCAR Hall of Famers, Virginia is tied for second with South Carolina in terms of states with the most Hall of Famers produced. That’s heady company, indeed.
Here are the six native Virginians inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame to date, along with their birthplaces:
Red Byron, Plasterco
An in-flight explosion during a World War II bombing mission sent Red Byron (2018) to a Colorado hospital for 27 months to recuperate from nearly losing his left leg. Undaunted, Byron returned to stock-car racing, even though doing so meant he had to race with his leg attached to the clutch pedal. Teaming up with owner and fellow Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (2017) and ace mechanic Red Vogt, Byron was NASCAR’s first champion, taking the Modified Division (now Whelen Modified Tour) crown in 1948 and the Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) title a year later.
Wendell Scott, Danville
A World War II mechanic who went home to Virginia after the war to open his own automotive repair business and moonlight as a bootlegger, taxi driver and racer, Wendell Scott (2015) broke the color barrier in NASCAR. Scott was the first Black driver to campaign full-time in the premier series and the first to win a race, and he was the Virginia NASCAR Sportsman champion in 1960. Scott’s last race car, a 1962 Chevrolet that he built for “Greased Lightning,” a film loosely based on his life, is currently on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in our new exhibit, “A Legendary Decade: The First 50 Inductees.”
Curtis Turner, Floyd
One of NASCAR’s true larger-than-life characters, the charismatic Curtis Turner (2016) was a daredevil racer, pilot and timber baron, as well as a former moonshiner. Considered by many of his peers to be one of the best dirt-track racers in NASCAR history, in 1949 Turner competed in the first Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) race. He would go on to win 17 premier series races, including one in which he became the only driver in history to win behind the wheel of a Nash. Tuner, who was nicknamed “The Babe Ruth of Stock-Car Racing,” also won a remarkable 38 times in just 79 Convertible Division races he entered.
Joe Weatherly, Norfolk
Known as both “Little Joe” and “The Clown Prince of Stock Car Racing,” Joe Weatherly (2015) won consecutive premier series championships in 1962 and ’63, a decade after claiming the NASCAR Modified Division (now Whelen Modified Tour) title in 1953. Weatherly won his first premier series title driving for fellow Hall of Famer Bud Moore (2011) in 1962, but when he captured his second title a year later, he drove for nine different teams and his cars carried a total of 10 different numbers. In 1998, Weatherly was posthumously named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Glen Wood, Stuart
The founder and long-time owner of Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR’s longest continually operating team, Glen Wood (2012) found success as a driver and a team owner. As the team’s first driver, Wood won four premier series races and five more in the Convertible Division before moving into a management role. Entering the 2021 season, Wood Brothers Racing posted 99 career race victories, including five Daytona 500s, with the likes of David Pearson (2011), Cale Yarborough (2012) and A.J. Foyt scoring 500 victories. Although the Wood Brothers rarely raced for titles in the early years, they won the premier series owner championship in 1963.
Leonard Wood, Stuart
The younger brother of Wood Brothers Racing founder Glen Wood, Leonard Wood (2013) was a Hall of Famer in his own right. Leonard’s genius was on the mechanical side of the Ford Motor Co. products the team campaigned exclusively for its entire existence. Leonard built the engines and served as crew chief and chief mechanic for the team, building cars that were driven by at least 10 Hall of Famers. He is also credited with helping choreograph the modern pit stop in NASCAR, and he led the Wood Brothers pit crew that helped Jim Clark win the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To purchase tickets, go to nascarhall.com/tickets.