NASCAR racing has changed a lot since the Wood Brothers won on the road at Watkins Glen in July of 1965 with Marvin Panch at the wheel of the team’s 1965 Ford. But some things will be the same this weekend when Paul Menard drives the Wood’s No. 21 Menard/Dutch Boy Paint Ford Mustang in the Go Bowling at the Glen.
For one thing, when the Monster Energy Cup Series runs on road courses, it’s still a challenge for drivers to remain on the asphalt for the entirety of the race.
Leonard Wood, long-time crew chief for the Wood Brothers, remembers a couple of off-road excursions by Panch at the old road course in Augusta, Ga., the second of which led to Wood saying, “Oh no, not again!” a remark heard by several including driver Larry Frank.
Then when the circuit arrived at Watkins Glen, driver E.J. Trivette ran off the track not twice, but three times in practice. That gave Panch, who had been told of the “not again” remark, the opportunity to ask his crew chief, “Will you forgive me for Augusta now?”
Wood tuned Panch’s No. 21 Ford prior to the race, changing the rear springs to tighten up the handling, and staying on course wasn’t a problem.
Panch started third after qualifying was cancelled and took the lead after 13 laps.
The challenge after that was an overheating engine, a problem later traced to a faulty pressure cap on the radiator that was allowing water to escape.
“Marvin was long gone, so when the engine started getting hot we gave him the “easy” signal,” Wood said. “And he got faster. We won the race by taking it easy.”
Despite “taking it easy” Panch, who led 53 of the race’s 66 laps, was well ahead of runner-up Ned Jarrett, the only other driver on the lead lap at the finish, and Wood got to celebrate in Victory Lane with his then-six-month-old daughter Beth.
The rest of the top five that day – Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough and Tiny Lund – all shared something in common with Panch, who died on Dec. 31, 2015, in that they were Cup winners for the Wood Brothers.
The Watkins Glen victory was Panch’s eighth and final one as driver of the No. 21, and the final victory for any Cup driver at Watkins Glen until 1988, as the track was dropped from the schedule after the 1965 race.
When the Cup cars returned in 1988, all the drivers in the field signed the green flag and presented it to Panch, who was the Honorary Starter for that race.
His daughter Marvette has since given the flag to the Wood Brothers, who display it at the team’s museum in Stuart, Va.
The weekend schedule at the Glen includes two Cup practice sessions on Saturday followed by qualifying at 6:40 p.m. Sunday’s 90-lap race is set to start just after 3 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on NBCSN.