Yes, the Wood Brothers are as much a part of NASCAR history as the France family, the Pettys and Jarretts and Fireball Roberts. What I didn't realize until last Sunday is that they are a part of NASCAR's present. Honestly, I didn't know Wood Brothers Racing still existed.
There was a time the No. 21 Ford was the most famous number and car in the sport. Cale Yarborough drove for the team and won the 1968 Daytona 500, A.J. Foyt was behind the wheel for a '72 win at Daytona, and David Pearson won maybe the greatest Daytona race of them all in a phenomenal duel with Richard Petty in '76.
Pearson was the Wood Brothers' shining star, winning 43 Cup races from 1972-79. The team entered 2011 with a total of 97 victories, but only one since 1993 and none in a decade. It had not run a full schedule since 2006 and had been reduced to a one-car, ma-and-pa garage in a sport that had become corporate in scope. A big-money game fueled by giant sponsorships for teams that sent out three, often four cars, and big-name drivers.
The Wood Brothers have been strictly family from the day in 1950 that brothers Glen and Leonard Wood started racing stocks on dirt tracks. Thirteen years later they had a driver named Marvin Panch who rolled his car into a fiery ball a couple weeks before the Daytona 500. Panch might have burned to death if not for Tiny Lund, one of those characters you find only in stock car racing.
Lund, all 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds of him, was the first to reach the wreck and pulled Panch out of the flames. Wood Brothers thanked Lund by naming him as Panch's replacement in the 500. Lund thanked the Wood Brothers by winning in the biggest Daytona upset until, well, this past Sunday.
Forty-eight years later, the Wood Brothers - it's really brothers and sister now as Glen's kids have taken over the operation - scored another upset with Trevor Bayne in the cockpit. Bayne is a Tiny Lund-like story, a no-name youngster just looking for a break after being dropped as a developmental driver by Michael Waltrip Racing because of that team's financial ills.
This upset story was written from top to bottom. The Wood Brothers had become a Sprint Cup Series afterthought. The team had little stock, little money, and little to show for it. Ford Motor Company, in the midst of writing its own comeback story, stepped in and changed all of that.
Ford's racing division brought two of its most loyal but now struggling associates, the Wood Brothers and Richard Petty Racing, together with its most powerful NASCAR team, Roush Fenway Racing, to share in technology, development and parts. Ford kicked in some much-needed sponsorship money. Roush Fenway had just signed this kid, Bayne, and suggested to Wood Brothers that he might be a candidate for a Sprint Cup ride. He just turned 20 Saturday.
So guess which team presented Ford with its 600th Sprint Cup victory on NASCAR's grandest stage?
When it was over, there was 85-year-old Glen Wood joining his famed No. 21 car in Victory Lane, arm in arm with Richard Petty and Edsel Ford II.
The Wood Brothers, back from NASCAR's scrap heap. A team that was history had made some more.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.