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Glen Wood, a pioneering driver and co-founder of stock-car racing’s longest-running team, died Friday morning. He was 93.
Wood’s passing was announced by Wood Brothers Racing. Until his death, Wood was the oldest living member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, inducted into its third class in 2012.
From humble beginnings in southwest Virginia, Glen Wood and his brother, Leonard, built a legendary racing operation that still competes in what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The Wood Brothers Racing organization has 99 victories in more than 1,500 starts in NASCAR’s top division, fielding cars for an illustrious list of legendary drivers. Four of those wins belong to Wood, the team’s primary driver in its earliest years.
“We started racing in 1950 with a car we bought for $50,” Wood told the Associated Press as the team readied for its 1,000th start in 2000. “We put No. 50 on the side of the car because it just seemed like the right thing to do. Now here we are 50 years later.” Wood Brothers Racing eventually changed those numbers on the doors, later making the No. 21 one of the most iconic car numbers in the sport’s history.
PHOTOS: Wood Brothers through the years
In 1998, Wood was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Of the stars on that all-time list, 20 of the 50 — including Glen himself — once drove for Wood Brothers Racing, according to the team.
Wood scored all four of his triumphs in NASCAR’s top series at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His success at the tricky quarter-mile track helped to earn him the title of “Master of the Madhouse,” a nickname that also acknowledged his dominance there in the featured Modified Division.
Glen Wood’s path to auto racing came after an early career as a sawmiller. That experience gave him another early nickname — “The Woodchopper” — to adorn his uniquely engineered entries at Bowman Gray. Those cars also had his first name listed as “Glenn.” According to lore, he dropped the second “N” to assist his speed in signing autographs.
Those early Modified cars came with an engine moved further back on the chassis by Leonard Wood to optimize weight distribution. The extreme modification, plus a long steering wheel shaft, placed driver Glen in the car’s back seat. “When I first got in it after Leonard fixed it up, I thought, ‘If I can drive that, I can fly an airplane,’ ” Glen Wood said.
The racing bug bit for Glen Wood early on as he made his first trip to Daytona Beach, Florida, to watch events on the old beach-road course in 1947. Wood’s pilgrimages to Daytona became an annual tradition that lasted for 71 years, a remarkable streak that ended in 2018.
Wood’s driving days ended in 1964 as the sport continued to grow away from his favored short tracks to larger speedways. But he remained, with his younger brother, a savvy team owner, employing several drivers — David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Curtis Turner and A.J. Foyt among them — who would become legends in their own right.
The Wood Brothers team also became legends with their part in modernizing the art of the pit stop, introducing a well-choreographed process for servicing their cars. The speed of their family effort over the wall led to Ford Motor Company asking the Woods to staff the pit stops for the Lotus-Ford team and driver Jim Clark at the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Their innovations reduced the time of the typical IndyCar pit stop of the day nearly in half, becoming a benchmark for how motorsports approached pit-road strategy. Clark won easily, leading 190 of the 200 laps, and the Wood Brothers joined the Lotus-Ford team in the Brickyard’s Victory Lane.
“We think that fast, thorough pit stops are as important as running swiftly on the track,” Glen Wood told legendary writer Benny Phillips in March 1966. “A few seconds saved in the pits is that much time gained in the race.”
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Wood’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame came with a dose of uncertainty as voters considered the prospects of electing one brother without the other. Glen’s enshrinement came in 2012, one year before Leonard’s, with one of their former drivers stumping to consider the two pioneers on an individual basis.
“I made a case for separation, because I think they are two different people,” Kyle Petty told the Associated Press. “I think Leonard is the smartest man I ever met that works on a race car, bumper to bumper. There are some guys out there that are good strategists and good mechanics, but he is the total package and always has been.
“But Glen owned the thing. He owned the team. You have to make that separation. To put them in and judge them as a single entity against some other people was not right.”