Dave Kallmann, Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel
A Daytona 500 for Young and Old
Daytona Beach, Fla. – The Wood Brothers were born under a beech tree 61 years ago in Stuart, Va.
Well, not the actual brothers.
Not Glen and not Leonard. That’s when they started the racing team that carries their name by dragging a 1940 Ford to their family home and ignoring the admonition of Jay Walter Wood, their father: “Don't unload that mess here.”
It’s a good thing they did. With their lightning-fast pit stops, they changed racing in the 1960s, and with David Pearson at the wheel, they struck fear into NASCAR’s king, Richard Petty. The team crosses so many eras and involves so many legends that even a couple of down decades haven’t tarnished the reputation of the Woods among fans with any sense of history.
Trevor Bayne turned 20 Saturday.
A highly regarded, humble young man with vast potential, Bayne nonetheless had just one Sprint Cup Series start before the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday. No one was going to confuse him with, say, Pearson or A.J. Foyt or Cale Yarborough or Tiny Lund.
Someday they may, though. And that someday suddenly seems a whole lot closer.
With a display of veteran poise at the wheel of a throwback red-and-white Ford with a gold No. 21, Bayne gave the Woods their first win in a decade and their first 500 since 1976, when Pearson beat Petty.
“I guess I better call somebody up that can make a suit and get some clothes down here for me,” said Bayne, who will leave his pickup truck behind when he embarks on the national “Trevor Who?” publicity blitz Monday.
“I almost feel undeserving because . . . (of) all these guys out here that are racing against us that have been trying to do this for so long. But there’s nobody that deserves it more than any of these guys sitting up here.”
To Bayne's right sat veteran crew chief Donnie Wingo and to his left were Eddie and Len Wood, two of the team’s second-generation owners.
They had just won their fifth 500, and Bayne, the youngest driver ever to win the race, had placed his name on a list with Wood drivers Lund (1963), Yarborough (’68), Foyt (’72) and Pearson.
Bayne, a Sprint Cup Series part-timer, played the consummate good guy all day, pushing anyone who needed a shove in this tandem style of racing almost until the end. With a fast car, he was a popular partner.
Bayne appeared headed for a solid finish – a likely top 10 – before several top contenders got caught in two late crashes on the Daytona International Speedway back stretch.
Kurt Busch sent Regan Smith spinning on the 197th of a scheduled 200 laps, and they collected Ryan Newman, who had led a race-high 37 laps, and Clint Bowyer, who had led 31.
A half-lap after the restart, Robby Gordon punted Tony Stewart, and contenders Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. were caught up, along with Newman again.
Bayne inherited the lead when David Ragan was penalized for an improper pass on the previous restart, took the green flag for a two-lap shootout and used a shove from veteran Bobby Labonte to pull away.
“I’m leading, and I’m saying, ‘Who can I push?’ ” Bayne said, excitedly reliving a reality that had not yet fully sunk in.
“Kind of cool to say, ‘Well, we were leading at the start of the green-white-checkered. I got to the white flag, and I’m like, ‘At least we can say I led at the white flag.’
“We get to Turn 4 and we were still leading the band. Man, somebody’s going to pass us – you know, what’s going to happen here? Then nobody ever did.”
Carl Edwards tried. It’s been six years since he was in Bayne’s spot – a young driver looking for a break in the big time – and experience is huge on the big tracks. He dived to the inside with David Gilliland pushing him from behind, but Bayne gently glided to his left and Edwards had nowhere to go.
“If we would have gone to the high side, I think we would have gone around them if we didn’t get broken up,” Edwards said. “But then I think David probably would have won because he would have been able to go by me.
“So I think I was pretty much in trouble no matter what.”
Edwards finished 0.118 of a second behind with Gilliland third, Labonte fourth and Busch a distant fifth.
Bayne got lost on his way to victory lane. The Woods knew where it was, although it had moved since they had been there last.
Petty escorted 85-year-old Glen there, and the visit invoked memories of the Woods’ best days and their 97 previous wins. More important, it helped them come to terms with the worst.
“The lowest point was missing this race in ’08,” Eddie Wood said. Bill Elliott drove at the time. “You know, our family had been coming down here since the ’50s. They never missed one until we missed it.
“It’s almost like when you miss a race, especially the Daytona 500, it’s like somebody died. . . . When you walk through the garage, you run into people that you see every week, they’re afraid to look at you. It’s like they don’t know what to say.”
The Wood Brothers may miss some races again this year. With insufficient sponsorship they hadn’t planned to run the full schedule.
Regardless, the team is far stronger than it was in 2008, even racing part-time. Ford stepped up with engineering support, and the Wood Brothers get cars and engines from Roush Fenway Racing, the flagship Ford team.
A smiling young racer showed how far the Woods have come. And now old friends know what to say when they see Eddie and Len in the NASCAR garage: