Martinsville Speedway, the smallest track on NASCAR’s Cup circuit, holds a big place in the hearts of the Wood Brothers, whose home base is just 30 miles away in Stuart, Va.
For seven decades, the Woods have been competing in races at Martinsville, where the team’s current driver Paul Menard and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew will be competing in the STP 500 on Sunday.
The team’s founder, the late Glenn Wood, made his first start in the series now known as Monster Energy Cup on the half-mile at Martinsville in 1953, in a Lincoln numbered 21.
Although Wood never won a Cup race at Martinsville as a driver – he did have two victories as a car owner – it was one of his best tracks. He won four poles there including three in a row from the fall of 1959 through both races in 1960.
He finished second once, in 1959, and third twice, in 1960 and 1961. He led 615 laps in 14 career Cup starts on the famed paper-clip-shaped track which has been on the Cup schedule longer than any other venue.
Some of Wood’s best Martinsville runs came in one of his favorite cars – a blue 1958 Ford, which carried the number 16.
Wood did visit Victory Lane in Modified races at Martinsville. His son Eddie Wood, now 66, said the first races he can recall attending at Martinsville were in 1960.
“I remember watching my Dad win the 100-lap Modified race in the Backseater when I was eight years old,” Wood said, referring to the car his dad and uncle built which had the engine set back so far that Glen appeared to be sitting in the back seat when racing it. “And he finished third in the Cup race the next day behind Richard Petty and Jimmy Massey.”
Massey drove the No. 21 that day, while Wood ran a 1958 Ford numbered 24.
Eddie Wood has been a regular attendee at Martinsville races since that day, which means he’s been on hand for more than 100 Martinsville Cup race weekends.
For the Wood family, Martinsville race weekends back in the day were more like family reunions, with tables of food spread out at the track for friends, family and competitors.
Wood admits he often skipped the home-cooked meals in favor of a legendary treat from the track’s concession stand. “I usually ate Martinsville hot dogs,” he said, adding that he still eats plenty of Martinsville dogs every race weekend. Like most folks, he purchases two at a time. “They’re like eating potato chips,” he said. “Once you start it’s hard to stop.”
But for the Wood Brothers and their race team, there’s much more to Martinsville than hot dogs and memories from a bygone era.
There’s the desire to perform well, from the start of practice on Saturday to the checkered flag on Sunday.
“It’s an enhanced weekend, so Saturday is going to be really busy with two practices, a truck race and qualifying,” he said. “Then once the race starts on Sunday it’s important to stay on the lead lap and not get behind.
“Taking care of the brakes isn’t much of an issue any more because they’ve improved them so much, but you want to protect the front end and not risk damaging the grille, the radiator, the oil cooler or the brake ducts.
“If you can do all that, you can end up with a good finish.”
Qualifying for the STP 500 is set for 5:10 p.m. on Saturday, and the race is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.