Before he became one of NASCAR’s most successful team owners, Glen Wood was a mechanic and driver in the sport’s early days, running in the Cup Series from 1953-’64 and the Convertible Series from ’56-’59. His nine wins, 23 poles and 65 top-five finishes earned him a place on NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list, and later, induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On January 18, Wood, once the institution’s oldest living inductee, died in Stuart, Virginia, at age 93, following a prolonged illness.
Wood Brothers Racing began in 1950, founded by Glen and his brothers Leonard, Clay, and Delano, along with friend Chris Williams. Pooling their money, the group scraped up $50 to buy a car, which Williams volunteered to drive. After a few years and the team’s first taste of success, Williams sold his share to Glen, who transitioned from part-time driver to the team’s regular driver.
Glen’s favorite track seemed to be Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem North Carolina, a quarter-mile flat-oval short track known by fans as the “Madhouse” for the non-stop action taking place during qualifying and racing. The Madhouse was kind to Wood, giving him three Cup Series wins in 1960 and one more in 1963, plus a 1959 win in the Convertible Series. By the mid-‘60s, however, NASCAR was beginning to move away from the short tracks the Wood liked, favoring faster races – and larger crowds – drawn to the sport’s superspeedways. Sensing it was time to move on, Glen climbed out of the cockpit to focus on running the team.
Circa 1967, Glen Wood works on his Cale Yarborough-driven Ford Fairlane in the garage area before a race. Photo by ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images.
Even then, the Wood Brothers had proven themselves innovators. In his early racing days, Glen signed his name with two “Ns” – Glenn – but soon realized that dropping the second “n” would give him the ability to sign more autographs in less time. This efficiency was reflected in the Wood Brother’s pit crew, who are generally credited with establishing the modern pit stop, where time is of the essence and every crew member has a specific – and oft-practiced – task. Glen and brother Leonard were among the first to realize that seconds saved in pit lane directly translated to positions gained on the track.
Sponsor Ford noticed this efficiency, too, and when the automaker backed Jim Clark’s bid to win the 1965 Indy 500 in a Ford-powered Lotus, the Wood Brothers were asked to provide the pit crew. Clark went on to victory that day – the first for a rear-engine car at the Brickyard – leading 190 of the race’s 200 laps. So dominant was Clark’s performance that year that polesitter A.J. Foyt was the only other car to run in the lead position, on laps 2-3 and 66-74.
In NASCAR, the Wood Brothers managed to attract some of stock car racing’s best drivers. Through the 2018 season, the team – the oldest still competing in NASCAR – has made over 1,500 starts, earning 99 victories along the way with drivers like Foyt, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott. Both the Ford brand and the car number 21 have long been associated with the team, although its earliest car carried the number 50, a likely reference to its cost in dollars.
(L to R) Eddie, Leonard, Glen and Len Wood pose with the 1963 Ford Galaxie and the 2013 Ford Fusion at Daytona International Speedway. Photo copyright 2013, Nigel Kinrade/Autostock, courtesy of Ford.
In 1998, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, NASCAR appointed a panel to list the sport’s 50 Greatest Drivers, and Glen was included. He was part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s third class, inducted in 2012, beating his brother Leonard into the hall by one year.
Wood Brothers Racing broke the news of Glen’s death on social media, saying:
It’s with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of team founder and family patriarch Glen Wood this morning. We want to thank family, friends, our small-town Virginia community of Patrick County, as well as everyone in the NASCAR community for their unwavering support of him, his life, his legacy and everything “Pa” represented. We’ve had some very challenging days but the uplifting words you all have sent truly meant a lot and we thank every one of you for thinking of our family during this difficult time. Funeral arrangements are still pending but it will be a small family service.