The date was July 4, 1947. Red Byron won the first race ever at Martinsville Speedway. Among the 9,000 fans in attendance was an almost 22-year-old and his 13-year-old brother from nearby Stuart.
NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen and Leonard Wood were sitting on the backstretch that day; just two fans, not knowing the sport they were watching would shape their lives.
“I remember it was as dusty as…” Glen Wood said, before Leonard chimed in.
“You couldn’t see the cars hardly,” Leonard said.
According to Glen, it wasn’t exactly what Martinsville Speedway Founder H. Clay Earles had in mind.
“He had advertised it was going to it was going to be so nice, and people came there from church with their suits on and all of that,” the now 90-year-old said. “You went out of there with red face. You had red hair and everything.”
Of course, the dust is no longer an issue, as the track was paved back in 1955.
There must have been something in the dust and dirt that got into the brothers’ blood. They formed Wood Brothers Racing in 1950, with Glen as the driver and 15-year-old Leonard as the chief mechanic, and have been racing in NASCAR’s top-series ever since.
“My dad’s first ever start in a NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup Series) event was in 1953 there at Martinsville,” Eddie Wood, Glen’s oldest son and team president said. “So, it’s a special place for us. It’s special that Martinsville Speedway is still there.”
The Wood Brothers are no strangers to success at Martinsville either, although it’s been awhile.
Both Cale Yarborough and David Pearson won a race at Martinsville driving for the Wood Brothers.
Buddy Baker, Donnie Allison, Curtis Turner and Dale Jarrett are among the greats to turn laps at Martinsville for the team, but when asked who the best to ever drive the famed No. 21 was, Leonard didn’t hesitate.
“He’s sitting right there,” he said, while pointing to his brother. “When I started out I was 15 and I never imagined I’d be the crew chief for the world’s greatest drivers, David Pearson, AJ Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Parnelli Jones, Buddy Baker.
“All of those wins were very rewarding, but there is nothing like sitting there and watching your brother win.”
While Glen didn’t have the wins at Martinsville he had at other tracks (he only won once, in 1960), he did sit on the pole four times and have five top-10 finishes.
“You always want to run well at home, but it seems we didn’t win as much at home as we did at other places,” Glen said.
In recent years the team had scaled back to running part-time, which kept Martinsville off of their schedule. However, back to running full-time in 2016, the STP 500 will mark a homecoming of sorts for the team.
“It’s a really big deal,” Eddie said. “It’s home and it just never really sounded right when everybody was racing there and we weren’t there. We’re really looking forward to it.”
It’s been five years since the Wood Brothers fielded an entry at Martinsville Speedway. Their last hometown start came in 2011, with Trevor Bayne behind the wheel.
“I could tell it was a special place for them when we were up there for an autograph session and the museum that was supposed to end at 8 o’clock and didn’t end until midnight,” Bayne said.
This time it will be Ryan Blaney holding the steering wheel. He too has experienced Stuart and has a feel for what racing at Martinsville means to the Wood family.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I know the Wood Brothers are very much looking forward to racing so close to Stuart.
“I’ll go up there just to check out the museum itself. You always find new things that you didn’t notice last time.”
Blaney, who is part of a heralded rookie-class, has two top-10 finishes through the season’s first five races. Should he breakthrough and pick up his first career Sprint Cup Series win at Martinsville, he wouldn’t be alone in celebrating.
“We’d sure love to win this thing or at least finish well for the fans around here,” Glen said. “They come in here and they’re just all hung-up about us running Martinsville again this year. It would be nice to run well down there this year and if it happens to be in front, it would be great.”
Leonard agreed, but also talked about what a win would mean going forward.
“For your hometown fans, you always want to win at home,” he said. “A win puts you in the Chase, so a win would be big time no matter where we won it with Ryan, but it would be very rewarding to get a win at home, at Martinsville.”
The Wood Brothers return to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 race weekend April 1-3.
The weekend starts with Virginia Lottery Pole Day on Friday and continues with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday.
The STP 500 Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, April 3.
Tickets start at $55. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (877) RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.