By JENNA FRYER
The Associated Press
Glen Wood, the courtly and innovative patriarch of the famed Wood Brothers Racing team who had been the oldest living member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, died Friday. He was 93.
Wood Brothers announced the death of its team founder on social media, saying he died in Stuart, Virginia, after a long illness.
Wood Brothers is the longest continuous Cup team in NASCAR and has weathered lean years over nearly seven decades, including seasons in which the organization ran only a partial schedule. The team has been credited with revolutionizing pit stops from routine service calls into carefully orchestrated strategic events that can win or lose races.
Wood and younger brother Leonard co-founded Wood Brothers Racing in 1953. Glen Wood won four races as a driver over an 11-year racing career, but in 1998 was nonetheless named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers — a list that included 20 drivers who had once raced a Wood Brothers car.
“In building the famed Wood Brothers Racing at the very beginnings of our sport, Glen laid a foundation for NASCAR excellence that remains to this day,” NASCAR Chairman Jim France said. “As both a driver and a team owner, he was, and always will be, the gold standard. But personally, even more significant than his exemplary on-track record, he was a true gentleman and a close confidant to my father, mother and brother.”
Wood in 2011 was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in a contentious decision in which many voters felt Glen and Leonard should be elected together as one entity. It was former Wood Brothers driver Kyle Petty who swayed the room, arguing the brothers could be separated. Glen Wood was elected as part of the Hall’s third class, and Leonard Wood was elected the next year.
“I made a case for separation, because I think they are two different people,” Kyle Petty told The Associated Press then. “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.”
The Wood brothers came from humble beginnings but built a race team ahead of its time that still competes at NASCAR’s top level. The team has won 99 races in more than 1,500 starts in NASCAR’s elite division and they did it with an array of manufacturers and multiple star drivers.
“We started racing in 1950 with a car we bought for $50,” Glen 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.”
The car number was eventually changed to No. 21, which is now one of the most iconic numbers in NASCAR. Wood Brothers has won at least one NASCAR race in each of the last six decades.
Among those who raced for the team were David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Curtis Turner and A.J. Foyt. The team won the Daytona 500 in 1963 (Tiny Lund), 1968 (Yarborough), 1972 (Foyt), 1976 (Pearson) and 2011 (Trevor Bayne). Pearson waged most of his battles with rival Richard Petty while driving for Wood Brothers.
Foyt drove 13 races for the Wood Brothers in 1971 and 1972, winning four races along with seven poles.
“I never had as much fun down there [in NASCAR] as I did driving for the Wood Brothers,” Foyt said. “Their cars were unbelievable to drive. Their team was the kingpin of stock car racing and I felt honored to be driving for them.”
Wood himself drove in the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500 and won the race five times as team owner. He attended every Speedweeks in Daytona since 1947 until his deteriorating health and fear of widespread flu kept him home for the first time last season.
Glen Wood always rode by car to Daytona Beach, driving a 1940 two-door Ford on his first trip in 1947. Wood took every ride through eight decades in a Ford.
“The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history,” said Edsel B. Ford II, a member of Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors. “Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself. But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.”
NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley credited the team with dropping the time teams spent on pit road by as much as 50 percent. Kelley noted that Wood Brothers Racing was recently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest active NASCAR team, 69 years and counting.
Wood was nicknamed “The Woodchopper” because he first worked in a sawmill and, legend has it, he initially adorned “The Woodchopper” on cars he entered at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Wood was first hooked on racing when he made a trip to Daytona Beach, Florida, to watch cars on the beach-road course in 1947. His driving days ended in 1964, but he and brother Leonard carried on the team. At the Indianapolis 500 in 1965, four Wood brothers — Glen, Leonard, Delano and Ray Lee — served as the pit crew for Jim Clark, the most glamorous Formula One driver of the day and the winner that day.
“They pioneered the quick pit stops and were part of the reason Jimmy Clark won the Indianapolis 500 because they pitted him,” said Foyt, a four-time Indy 500 winner.