Wood Brothers’ July 4th Fireworks
by Tom Jensen June 29, 2022
When it came to NASCAR racing on the Fourth of July, no one did it better than the Wood Brothers Racing team from Stuart, Virginia.
Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR’s oldest continually operating team, has enjoyed success on many fronts, winning 99 premier series races and being credited as the inventors of the modern pit stop.
Some of the sport’s biggest stars piloted Fords for the Wood Brothers over the last seven decades or so, including 10 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees, as well as open-wheel stars like Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones.
In recognition of their myriad of accomplishments, team founder and businessman Glen Wood was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, while his brother Leonard, the team’s long-time crew chief and mechanical mastermind, went in a year later in 2013.
Some of the sport’s biggest stars piloted Fords for the Wood Brothers over the last seven decades...
— Tom Jensen
Fans of the Wood Brothers know that the small family-run team from Stuart, Virginia won five Daytona 500s, which is an impressive achievement. But believe it or not, it’s not their best achievement at Daytona International Speedway.
Where the Wood Brothers really shined at Daytona was in the Firecracker 400, the traditional holiday race run every summer on July 4th. Between 1965 and 1983, the Wood Brothers set a record by fielding cars that won the Firecracker 400 nine times with five different drivers.
With 24 laps to go in the 160-lap race, A.J. Foyt passed his Wood Brothers Racing teammate Marvin Panch, who was suffering from an overheating engine that knocked him out of the race and out of his chance at victory. The only other driver to finish on the lead lap was runner-up and Hall of Famer Buddy Baker (2020), who was driving a Plymouth owned by his father Buck Baker (2013).
South Carolina native and Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (2012) helped the Wood Brothers up their game, winning the Firecracker 400 in both 1967 and ’68. The ’68 season was a breakout campaign for Yarborough as he won a then-career high six races in just 21 starts, including a sweep of the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 400.
From 1972 to 1979, Hall of Famer David Pearson (2011) posted phenomenal numbers behind the wheel of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury. During that period, Pearson won 43 races in just 143 starts, a winning percentage of 30 percent. Included in the win column with the Wood Brothers were victories in the Firecracker 400 in 1972, ’73, ’74 and ’78. In 1973, Pearson won 11 races in just 18 starts.
In the ninth race of the 1979 season, Neil Bonnett took over the reigns of the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Mercury after David Pearson left the team. Bonnett wasted no time, winning his third race with the team at Dover International Speedway in May, then winning the Firecracker 400 on July 4th, as well as the penultimate race of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The 1983 Firecracker 400 was special for the Wood Brothers Racing team and its Hall of Famer driver, Buddy Baker (2020). Terry Labonte (2016) led late, but coming to take the white flag, he ran out of fuel, allowing Baker to take the lead and cruise to the checkered flag. The victory was the 19th and final of Baker’s career. It was also his first Firecracker 400 victory and the last for the Wood Brothers team.