Repairing family car; Auto racing: Few names in NASCAR racing are as old or respected as the Wood Brothers, but technology, location and plain bad luck have dogged the family recently.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

STUART, Va. -- New Winston Cup fans may not be aware of Glen and Leonard Wood, whose roots are deep in NASCAR history. But for longtime followers, the Wood Brothers are every bit as well-known as the Petty clan, Junior Johnson and the Allisons -- Bobby, Donnie and Davey.

Glen and Leonard Wood are the soft-spoken Virginians whose family business turned out to be owning race cars. They are celebrating 50 years in the sport this season, having compiled records that still stand: 80 superspeedway victories, 53 500-mile wins, 87 superspeedway poles and 26 superspeedway races won from the pole.

For 21 consecutive seasons, from 1963 to 1983, their No. 21 Ford won at least once every year.

But last weekend, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the Wood Brothers' car failed to qualify. For only the second time in its long, proud history, the family went home before the main event.

"The car just wouldn't get up to speed," said Glen's son, Eddie, 48. He and his brother, Len, 43, are now the ones in charge as the family team strives for a rebirth.

"I wish I knew why. It could be hundreds of things keeping it from running," said Eddie, focusing on adjustments related to the required restrictor plate.

(In 1987, after Bobby Allison's car flew into the catch fence at Talladega, scaring everyone, NASCAR invented restrictor plates to reduce the air flow to the engine and therefore cut speeds that had reached well over 200 mph.)

"We'll go home and work on it, hard, like we always have," Eddie said. "The restrictor problem has plagued us for three years. We'll continue to work on a fix and hope to be ready for the race in July at Daytona."

It's a long road back, but the Wood Brothers have never shirked work in any generation. And with Elliott Sadler, their youthful second-year driver at the wheel of their Citgo Ford, they think they have begun taking the right steps. Sadler, 24, ran second to the amazing Tony Stewart in the Rookie of the Year race last season.

But luck has not been on the family's side recently. Over the first seven races of this season, it had strong cars, only to see its efforts wiped out by being caught in someone else's accident. Then, early this month in Texas, Sadler suffered a separated shoulder that limited his performance the following weekend in Martinsville, Va.

At that point, Sadler said, "Our bad luck has to run out sometime."

When the turnaround didn't occur at Talladega, he said, "I'm glad we've got a week off coming up. We need to sit back and see what we need to do to get going in the right direction for Daytona [July 1]. That's really going to be right around the corner.

"We think we'll be good on the intermediate tracks and the short tracks," said Sadler, who is 35th in the Winston Cup points standings. "We've just got to get better on this speedway stuff."

As a boy, Sadler used to root for the Wood Brothers car.

The team's history began in 1950, when Glen, now 74, drove and Leonard, 65, worked in the pits.

Eventually, Glen quit driving and joined Leonard on the sideline doing what they do best, making race cars run fast for others.

It didn't seem to matter who drove their cars, "though we always had some of the best," Glen said.

No one can argue that. Seventeen of the men who drove for the Woods are on the list of NASCAR's top 50 greatest drivers. Everyone from Curtis Turner to A.J. Foyt to Cale Yarborough to the current Winston Cup champion, Dale Jarrett, has competed in a Wood Brothers' car.

But if there is one driver most closely associated with the team, it is David Pearson. The Silver Fox drove its car from 1972 through 1979 and, in that time, Pearson accumulated 42 of his 105 career victories.

"I can honestly say, in the seven years I drove for them, I never went anywhere I didn't feel capable of winning," said Pearson, as he talked over old times. "They gave me a good car. That's about as good as I can say it."

"When David raced for us," Glen recalled, "I think there were four people on the payroll. Now, there are 33. We had a lot of fun. Today, they don't have a lot of time for fun. The boys are in charge and everything is specialized."

Pit row prowess

Even though Leonard has never owned any percentage of the team, it was as much his as Glen's. Glen was the one who conceived the idea to go racing and found the money to get started. Leonard was the one with the creative mind who kept the team in the fast lane, inventing the first organized pit stop.

By 1965, the Woods were so well-recognized for their pit road ingenuity, the Ford Motor Co. asked them to be the pit crew for Jimmy Clark at the Indianapolis 500.

"We got there and found out it would take five minutes to change a wheel, the way they were doing it at the time," said Leonard, who set to work to improve on that. "It took a while to streamline everything to make the hoses fit real nice. -- Our first pit stop, we took 18 or 19 seconds. We caught them all by surprise because we had experience."

Clark, of course, won the race.

It was a Wood Brothers trend and, as Pearson bluntly said one recent afternoon, Leonard was the key.

"He was the brains of the whole thing," said Pearson. "I could go out and drive and, if I wanted something done, we sat and talked about it, and when we went to the race track the car was perfect."

Perhaps that is one reason Pearson was able to give the Woods one of their fondest memories.

In the 1976 Daytona 500, Pearson and Richard Petty were coming out of the final turn on the final lap when they collided. The two cars spun down the front stretch on the grass. Petty's car stalled, but Pearson, keeping his foot on the clutch, kept his engine running and managed to cross the finish line to win.

Now, Pearson is retired. Glen Wood is, too, though he still goes to the garage every day. Leonard, however, still works, doing research and development for Roush Racing. He is currently interested in the process of speeding the flow through the fuel hose.

"It's a big thing in a gas-and-go pit stop," said Eddie. "It means no more than five seconds for gas."

No secrets here

After winning 92 races over their first 31 years, the Wood Brothers have won just four times in the last 16. Their last win came in 1993, with Morgan Shepherd driving. But there are no real mysteries to how the team slipped from the limelight.

Jack Roush, a big-time owner with six teams, has no trouble defining their woes.

"I don't want to be critical," said Roush, who has known the Woods for 40 years and was befriended by them when he came into the sport in 1988. "A major part of my engines have been developed on their dynamometer.

"But as this thing has grown, it's harder and harder to be competitive with a single team. And then, there is location . -- They've put together a good team in Stuart, Va., but they're out of the main labor pool and not in the mainstream for the exchange of ideas.

Beyond that, there is no question that they can do as well today as others. Their management is as good as any. Glen and Leonard bring them depth to brainstorm. But it is hard to do when everything else is elsewhere."

Roush said the Woods continue to help him with his engine program "and a bunch of other things." But "the kids," as Roush calls Eddie and Len, smile at their friend's humility.

"Jack Roush has kept us in racing," said Eddie, who with Len began taking over the business in 1985. "Every time we'd get down with problems, Jack would loan us a motor and get us going again. He's a great friend. If Len and I have some problem, we call Jack in Charlotte and tell him we need to talk. He flies to Martinsville Airport."

There, the Woods meet Roush at a picnic table near the runway.

"Whatever they want, I'll help with," Roush said. "But it's a fair exchange. I call them too, and they always help me."

Neither Eddie nor Len ducked when asked about the weaknesses that come from having a single-car team based in Stuart.

"It's the hand we've been dealt," said Eddie, who handles the business side and the chassis work.

"But we're working on improving the situation," said Len, who works in the engine room.

In February, the Woods opened a satellite shop in Mooresville, N.C., near Charlotte. "It's our deal," Eddie said. "And the people we have working there will be hearing what's going on from other teams. They'll be hearing the scuttlebutt. And, eventually, we'll have both teams there in Mooresville."

"It's like you go along day after day and everything seems all right," said Eddie, who with Len, started taking over the operation in 1985. "Then, one day, you turn around and say, 'Huh! I was winning. Where did it go?' It happens in every sport. It will happen to every team.

"It happened to us and now it is up to us to get some of it back."

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