In a class by itself
Wood Brothers Racing makes its 100th start at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway this weekend. The team, based in nearby Stuart, Va., has competed in 91 Winston Cup, four Convertible and four Grand National 200 races there.
Glen Wood's memories of the track and what it has meant to his team over the years are below, along with #21 Motorcraft Racing driver Ricky Rudd's assessment of the current track configuration and what it takes to run successfully at Martinsville.
Glen Wood's enduring memory of racing at Martinsville: Well, it is probably when I won the race there and they took it away from me. But, I firmly believe that I won that race. There was a scoring mix-up and they gave the win to Rex White. What was happening was that his scorer was backing up the scoring so that when he came by on the backstretch instead of across the start/finish line he was scored there. And of course he came by back there before I came by on the front stretch, and the scoring showed that he finished the race first, or that he came by first. Of course, it didn't show where it was on the track. It was just set down that way. The scorer tried to do it again the next year and got caught. That time it was for second and third. When it came to the final run down that year it showed that I went across the line first, but the scorecard didn't show that. Anyway it was a jubilant day turned sour later. I had the checkered flag and trophy and everything. I think it may have been the next day before I found out they gave the win to Rex.
The most exciting memory? That is hard to say. We won races there with (David) Pearson and (Cale) Yarborough. But, oddly enough, we didn't win many races there, and it was our home track. I liked to run on it myself better that about any track we ran on. I sat on the pole I don't know how many times over there (five of 18 career Grand National and Winston Cup starts), and then something would happen. We never could seem to get the whole thing together there like we did at other tracks. But I won several there in the Sportsman Modified class. That little '37 car that we took up to Dearborn to the Ford Centennial Celebration; there is a picture somewhere of me taking the checkered flag in that. That was a good day. Some things stand out and you never forget them.
What the track means to you and NASCAR: Well, I like it because I used to run on it in my early days, in the early '50s while it was still dirt and then after it became asphalt. It opened up, I think in '47 or '48, and I didn't start running until 1950. But we ran over there in '50, '51, '52 and '53 when it was dirt. I think it was '54 or '55 when they paved it. And, of course, I ran then too. And I ran well most every time we ran there in the convertibles. It was just a track I liked. I ran well in the modifieds, too. We just haven't won there as much as you might think we would have. It's just a tight track. I guess it was Clay Earles that wanted to pave it, and Bill France didn't want them to. He thought it would ruin it. Well, it didn't. It was just a different type of racing than when it was dirt. On dirt you can sling it sideways, but on pavement you can't do that. If you slip sideways, somebody is under you. Right now, it may be the oldest track in NASCAR. Darlington was after Martinsville. It is probably the oldest-running track in NASCAR, and that means a lot.
Ricky Rudd: Martinsville is a track by itself. It doesn't compare to anything we do. It's two drag strips with parking-lot type corners at each end of it.
To run well there, you have to have a car that sticks and has a lot of grip in the middle of the corner. But, at the same time, you've got to have a car that gets good forward traction. On that concrete you fight wheel spin, especially with all the horsepower we've got. You've got to be careful with the engine combination because it can have so much acceleration that it shakes the tires loose. So you've got to work on forward bite.
Brakes used to be a big issue, but the last few years they haven't been as big of a factor as they were years ago. You can pretty much abuse them all day, driving every lap pretty hard. Three years ago you had to conserve, but the brakes have gotten so much better, you can run them hard all day long.
The big thing about Martinsville is track position. You can pass cars there unlike a couple of years ago before the track was ground. Before that, the fast way was around the bottom. It's made for better racing with the ground racetrack. It equalized the lanes. The bottom lane used to be faster than the outside lane. When they ground the racetrack surface the bottom lane deteriorated on the exit of the corner to the point where it evened the two lanes up. Now a guy can be on the outside and a guy can be on the inside and run side-by-side for many laps because the inside lane works better until you get to the late exit of the corner. And the way the surface is ground we've lost forward bite and the outside lane gains momentum. So it's made for some good racing.
Track position is still important, but not as big a deal as it was before the track was ground.
All of the short tracks are different. Martinsville is a tunable racetrack with the concrete, but it responds to changes. At some tracks, you can make a lot of changes and it should be making a difference to the way the car drives, but it really doesn't. Martinsville is not one of those tracks since it generally responds.
The thing you hear the drivers talking about is that 'It's pushing in the middle. It's loose in the middle.' Most of the time, you hear people say, 'It won't turn in the middle,' and 'it's loose coming off.' That seems to be what we fight most of the time there, but it is adjustable. The driver has to be careful what he asks for. Sometimes you can get a car too loose there if you're not careful. You get it where it turns in the center of the corner really well, but then you can't get the throttle to exit the corner, so that's not doing you any good. It's a fine line getting the car to turn in the middle and not be loose off.