(WTVR) – Eddie Wood was remembering his earliest racing experiences at the Ford Tech Center, just down the road from Charlotte Motor Speedway. While he doesn’t go all the way back to the origins of NASCAR, he does remember attending races where his father ran in the early 60’s and as a teenager, being introduced to the likes of Maurice and Lee Petty, and the Earnhardts.
Eddie, along with his brother Len, have run the Wood Brothers racing team for decades now, and the team itself is entering their 66th season. This one has already been celebrated more than most, because it marks their return to a full season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since 2008.
“This was in the process probably [last] May or before” Len Wood said. “We were pretty confident it was going to work out by August, but we really [weren’t positive it would happen] until we announced it at Homestead.”
For the last decade, the Wood Brothers have struggled as a one car team with 9 different drivers, doing a combination of different races. While they have aligned with Roush-Fenway racing and Roush-Yates engine builders, outside of a surprise Daytona 500 win with Trevor Bayne in 2011, they have not been much of a factor. Their last top 20 points finish came in 2001 with Emporia’s Elliott Sadler.
That all changes this year. With full sponsorship and rookie of the year candidate Ryan Blaney, the Wood Brothers plan to run all 36 races out of their shop still housed in Stuart, Virginia. And the good news spread through NASCAR eliciting a reaction from the garage and grandstands alike that surprised the brothers.
“Social media just completely blew up” Eddie Wood said. “I’m not a big social media guy but my kids are. And we got letters from guys who were fans back in the 50s and 60s. We’ve got the old generation that’s happy, the middle, and now the young kids who follow Ryan. I’m really honored that they’re that happy.”
“Everyone was so happy for us” Len Wood added. “Everyone has been so supportive of us going back full time. Hopefully, we can make them proud.”
“When we made the announcement at Homestead, I had a lot of drivers and teams come up and congratulate us” said Blaney, 22. “That really makes you feel good. Not only did they say something to me, they said it to the Wood Brothers and all the crew members.”
The team hasn’t run more than 17 races in any season over the past 8 years, picking and choosing where they could land sponsorship or where their cars might have the best chance to be competitive. They almost always ran the Daytona 500, but would then take a couple of weeks off, never straying far from their TV’s on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.
“We missed Vegas in 2009, and it was like a pit in your stomach” said Len. “You were sick because you weren’t there. Once we got past that one, it lessened, but it never really went away.”
“We belong at the race track. That’s all we’ve ever done.”
In linking up with Blaney, the Woods are continuing a long standing tradition of giving some of NASCAR’s youngest names their start. Blaney ran 16 races last year, scoring 2 top 10 finishes. He can only hope to have the type of career that some former Wood Brothers drivers have gone on to achieve.
“With my dad, Cale Yarborough was a young guy and they had success right away” Eddie said. “We were with Dale Jarrett when he first started. A lot of guys won their first race in our car. Kyle [Petty]. When Kyle came to drive for us, a lot of people said there was no way the Wood family and the Petty family could ever get along. But that was probably one of the most enjoyable times in my racing career.”
“They’re just very accepting people” Blaney said. “They really don’t mind who’s in the race car, if he or she is 18 or 50. They just want a hard racer and I’m fortunate they gave me an opportunity to do it. They just want to be at the racetrack, and I’m the same way.”