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HOF: Wood's impact on NASCAR felt to this day

January 10, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Chief mechanic for family team innovated pit stops and changed sport's course

Every time a winning driver thanks his pit crew in Victory Lane, he should include the name of Leonard Wood. As more and more races are decided not by passes on the track but by hundredths of seconds saved on pit road, the strategies and tactics pioneered by Wood and his brother Glen more than four decades ago are now commonplace.

In the early days of the sport, it wasn't unusual for pit stops to make several minutes -- with crewmembers using store-bought jacks and lugwrenches for tire changes. It was Leonard Wood who came to the realization that a huge advantage could be gained with quicker pit stops.

Wood developed the use of pneumatic jacks, worked with the Ingersoll-Rand company to improve their high-impact air wrenches, organized the equipment used during each stop and trained each member of the crew to perform their tasks in precise choreographed moves.

The end result was completed pit stops on the average of 20 seconds -- an eternity in today's lightning-fast stops but considerably faster than anyone else in the sport at the time. Using their revolutionary ideas, the Wood Brothers team was even hired to pit Jim Clark's winning entry in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.

During Leonard Wood's tenure as crew chief -- and primary engine builder -- the Wood Brothers achieved 88 victories and 385 top-10 finishes in 711 starts. For his contributions to the sport, Wood was named as one of five persons nominated this year for possible induction into NASCAR's Hall of Fame.

Growing up as one of five sons on a family farm near Stuart, Va., Wood's mechanical acumen was evident from an early age. All of the Wood boys worked in the garage when they weren't cutting lumber or farming, but it seemed Leonard Wood had a special gift for figuring out how to make vehicles go fast.

He first built a steerable wagon with wooden logs for wheels that would roll downhill. Then at 13, Wood got the idea of putting a washing machine engine on a frame for a motorized cart. Using a series of pulleys and chains -- salvaged from old cars and trucks at his father's shop -- to propel it, Wood was able to reach a top speed of nearly 25 mph.

A part of history

A 21-person nominating committee made up of representatives of NASCAR, the Hall of Fame and track owners voted to add H. Clay Earles, Bobby Isaac, Cotton Owens, Les Richter and Leonard Wood to the list of candidates. The Class of 2012 -- which will be inducted into the Hall in January -- includes Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Richie Evans, Dale Inman and Glen Wood.

Three of the Wood brothers -- Glen, Leonard and Delano -- caught the racing bug in 1950 from another local lumberman-turner-racer by the name of Curtis Turner. They eventually bought a 1940 Ford and brought the car home, where they used the lower limbs of a century-old beech tree and a chain to create a makeshift hoist. Since the car cost $50, they decided to go with No. 50, which the Woods used until they settled later on the more famous No. 21.

Friend Chris Williams and Glen Wood shared driving duties at first -- and after some early struggles, the team began to run up front at local tracks like Martinsville Speedway and Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem. Williams eventually sold his share of the team back to the Woods.

The brothers came to the conclusion that they had the talent and desire to succeed, and evolved their team from a weekend hobby to a professional racing organization -- although most of the employees remained friends and family.

Success in NASCAR certainly didn't happen overnight. Glen Wood's Cup debut at Martinsville in 1953 ended in a 30th-place finish and a $25 share of the purse money. In fact, the Woods didn't find their way to Victory Lane until 1960, when Glen won three times and Speedy Thompson added two more.

But shortly thereafter, Leonard Wood realized the potential of faster pit stops -- and the Woods began winning with regularity and didn't stop. Beginning in 1963, a Wood Brothers car won at least one race a season for 21 consecutive years.

And when David Pearson came on board in 1972, the combination was nearly unstoppable, winning 43 times over seven seasons -- including a memorable last-lap fender-banging duel with Richard Petty in the 1976 Daytona 500.

Glen and Leonard eventually retired from the team and handed it over to Glen's sons, Eddie and Len. Leonard's "go-kart" -- which was stored above the ceiling of the family's race shop -- has been restored to working order and is on display in the Wood Brothers Museum in Stuart.

And with Glen Wood earning induction as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Class of 2012, it only seems a matter of time before his younger brother joins him there. After all, NASCAR wouldn't be where it is today without the Wood brothers.