Ahead of Hall induction, Leonard Wood replicates Tiny Lund's 500 winner
There’s a tall spindle inside the right-front wheel well, made to look just like the one on the genuine article. The bars in the back window are covered in black electrical tape -- one wrapped in one direction, the other in the opposite -- exactly as they were five decades ago. There’s a gap in the tape coating the support bar next to the bucket seat, and the foam underneath sticks out just like it did in 1963. The car is hand lettered and painted in its original colors, Rangoon red and Corinthian white.
At first glance, it appears to be the exact Ford Galaxie that Tiny Lund drove -- in a substitute role, no less -- to win the 1963 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers. This one is a reproduction built by Leonard Wood, and it will be a centerpiece of his exhibit after the famed mechanic and innovator is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday. But the detail is so exacting, the specifics so precise, that Lund himself would feel right at home if he were behind the wheel.
"I’m absolutely in awe of what they’ve been able to accomplish with this car. I mean, they have the same type of tires, the same everything. It’s in a time warp."
--NASCAR Hall of Fame historian Buz McKim
“It’s no problem to make it like it was,” said Wood, whose brother Glen was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. “Since we made the first one, we should be able to make the second one. But it’s been a great experience. It’s just bringing back all the memories again. With the car and everyone who’s involved with it, it’s just like you’ve won the race again.”
Lund won the Daytona 500 a half-century ago, even though he came to Speedweeks without a ride. The Wood Brothers had enlisted 1961 Daytona winner Marvin Panch for the event, but he crashed his Maserati in a preliminary sports-car race, and it was Lund -- a giant of a man who also ran a fish camp in rural Cross, S.C. -- who pulled him from the flaming wreckage. As a show of gratitude he was offered the No. 21 car, and he pulled away in the waning laps to give the Woods their first victory in the Great American Race.
The Woods aren’t certain what happened to that original car; they once met someone who claimed to have it, but Leonard and Glen were unable to verify that it was the same vehicle. Glen’s sons Len and Eddie were at Indianapolis waiting for the garage to open two years ago when they noticed a red and white vehicle that turned out to be a replica of Lund’s Ford. It gave them the idea to build their own, which became a mission when they realized the 2013 Daytona 500 fell on the 50th anniversary -- right down to the day, Feb. 24 -- of their 1963 triumph.
“Then you’re committed,” Eddie said.
The stars aligned even further in May, when Leonard was elected to a 2013 Hall of Fame class that also includes Rusty Wallace, Cotton Owens, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas. The 18-month project was shepherded by Leonard, who built the vehicle along with cousin Butch Markle. “Everybody in the shop worked on it, but it’s really Leonard’s baby,” said Eddie, who now runs the race team along with his brother Len and sister Kim Hall. “And he built this thing exactly like he built the one in ’63, as he remembers it.”
They pored over photographs, from the family collection -- “My mom kept every picture that was ever taken of anything,” Eddie said -- as well as those from the NASCAR archives in Daytona Beach. The deeper they got into it, the more they wanted the details just right. The foam had to stick out of the tape covering the bucket seat support bar, because that’s how it was in 1963. They had an instrument dash cast exactly like that from the original car. After they wrapped both rear-window support bars in electrical tape, they realized from photos that each bar had been wrapped in a different direction, so they did one over again.
The positioning of the tailpipes, the size of the spindles, the type of tires, even Lund’s name written on a strip of tape, covering Panch’s on one side of the car -- no detail was overlooked. “If there’s any question, just look at the picture,” Leonard said. “It’s right there.” To hand-letter the vehicle, the Woods called on Hall of Fame historian Buz McKim, who did just that for years in Daytona Beach. McKim visited the Wood Brothers shop in Harrisburg, N.C., over a period of two weekends to apply the finishing touches.
“It’s just tremendous,” McKim said of the vehicle. “I’m absolutely in awe of what they’ve been able to accomplish with this car. I mean, they have the same type of tires, the same everything. It’s in a time warp.”
Not everything could be matched perfectly. Under the hood is a 427 engine that would have been used in 1967 or ’68, but the Woods will try to match the car with its correct engine after it comes out of the Hall of Fame next year. The paint is acrylic enamel from the 1970s, because the original enamel paint is no longer available. Still, it’s close enough. Two weeks ago, the Woods brought the car to their first shop in Stuart, Va., so some of the people who worked on the original vehicle could see it. Among those on hand was 91-year-old Ophus Agnew, who painted the Galaxie at the Ford dealership there in 1963.
“That was the coolest sight,” Eddie said. “That was worth the whole thing, right there.”
As it will be when the car goes into the Hall of Fame as part of Leonard’s exhibit. The vehicle will also be brought down to Daytona for Speedweeks, where McKim said it will appear in the track’s FanZone, and be driven by Leonard in a parade along the beach. The reproduction of the red and white Ford might make it feel like 1963 all over again, at least for a little while.
“It’s very, very close to the exact same thing,” Leonard said. “I used to drive the car into the trailer, up on the truck or whatever. Crank ’em up, drive ’em to the gas pumps. Well, I drove it into the trailer just the other day, and it was very familiar.”