In the days leading up to that inaugural race, a 600-mile event that later became known as the Coca-Cola 600, Leonard Wood remembers going up in the stands to watch Turner – one of stock car racing’s earliest stars and the business partner of Charlotte Motor Speedway founder Bruton Smith – shake down a 1961 Ford test car.
“It left tire marks all the way around the track,” said Leonard Wood, who was enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013, a year after older brother Glen, and three years before Smith and Turner. “It was new pavement. But that’s the first race car that ever went around Charlotte Motor Speedway.”
While the Wood brothers were present for the first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the summer of 1960, it wasn’t until the fall of that year – and the race now known as the Bank of America 500 – that they officially fielded their own car at the Charlotte track.
Appropriate, given the Wood brothers’ close ties to the speedway, the race was a smashing success. Making his first start in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford, Alfred “Speedy” Thompson qualified third. He initially ran behind pole-winner Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, who quickly grabbed the lead and proved to have the dominant car.
Roberts led 197 of the first 232 laps, but blew a tire that took him out of the race and handed the lead to Thompson. That was just the break needed by Thompson, who led 44 of 267 laps and won the race by a full lap over second-place Richard Petty.
“‘Speedy’ ran in third place right behind the Pontiacs, and nobody figured we were going to be that close to the front,” said Leonard Wood, who served as the crew chief for Thompson. “He ran there all day and he had a way of backing off going into Turn 2. You go in real high and then you drop it low and then you stay high for a little bit longer, and it seemed to work. He really knew the way around the track and did just an awesome job. I remember we came in for the last pit stop – we had to have a splash of gas. He was wide open coming off the track and he came down through the pits and slid to a stop, so to speak, and the gas man, fueling from behind, you’re liable to miss it, but he hit that thing perfect and just shoved the gas into the tank. And away ‘Speedy’ went, and he won the race.”
The victory was the first on a 1.5-mile superspeedway for the Wood Brothers team, which was formed in Stuart, Virginia, in 1950 by Glen Wood, and today is NASCAR’s longest continuously operating team.
“Winning your first superspeedway race when you hadn’t ever won one on a superspeedway was just awesome,” said Leonard Wood, who in addition to being the team’s longtime crew chief and engine builder is widely considered the chief innovator of the modern-day pit stop. “Glen, he won over 100 sportsman races himself as crew chief, but he had never won a superspeedway race. And Charlotte Motor Speedway has just been a race that you always want to win. Curtis Turner was our great friend, and we were there when he finished the very first race (in June 1960), so it’s always been special to us. Curtis and Bruton were partners, and Bruton was just extremely great to Glen when Glen would run races for him at Concord on the dirt track and all that. But Bruton has always been a great friend of the Wood brothers.”
Since Thompson’s victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway 57 years ago, Wood Brothers Racing drivers have earned five more victories at the venerable quad-oval – in addition to Michael Waltrip’s victory in the 1996 Monster Energy All-Star Race.
A victory by Ryan Blaney in the Bank of America 500 would be the team’s first points-paying triumph here since Kyle Petty won the 1987 Coca-Cola 600. This weekend will be Blaney’s last chance to win at Charlotte for Wood Brothers Racing, as the talented second-generation driver is set to join Team Penske next season in a third Team Penske Ford.
“There are three race tracks where I really wanted to win for the Wood Brothers, and it’s Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington,” said Blaney, whose father, Dave, won a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Charlotte in 2006. “We almost got it done at Daytona for the Wood Brothers, and hopefully we can step it up here and make that happen. That would be pretty cool.”
If Blaney does somehow prevail in his final race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Wood Brothers Racing, it would be fitting, given the Wood brothers’ rich history with the track – a history that goes all the way back to the very beginning.
“That would be one of the greatest things to happen to us this year,” Glen Wood said. “Getting a win with Ryan at Charlotte would be special. The success we’ve had at this track has been pretty good. And the fact that ‘Speedy’ Thompson won here and it was our first race together makes this place a little more special.”
As a salute to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Charlotte race as a full-time driver, adult tickets to the Bank of America 500 are available as a two-pack for $88 and include a Dale Jr. bobblehead while supplies last. All adult tickets are good for admission to the Oct. 7 Brad Paisley concert presented by Wrangler and Nationwide at zMAX Dragway. For tickets, camping packages and upgrades, fans can call the ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or shop online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
CMS PR (CMS Archives photo)