Woods' legendary team No. 21 is hurting. The Air Force sponsorship that had buttressed his one-car effort had been lost just a few days before. He had a few lines on a few dollars to begin the 2009 season -- "we'll be here," he said -- but didn't know how he'd do it in such pressing economic times that the monster teams with good parking spots had begun to fire employees, merge into larger clumps to protect themselves.
But just as the Woods' forward thinking and innovation in making pit stops faster and more efficient changed racing decades ago, their plan to assure the very survival of one of NASCAR's cornerstone teams might again prove revolutionary. It's not genius, not even original in the slightest, but necessary, Wood said, and it might take NASCAR back to its future.
With ever-increasing portions of team budgets being allocated to payroll hundreds of employees just within the race shop, the day of the specialist, Wood said, is gone at his operation. No one need apply unless they are versatile. "That's the way it used to be," he said. "It's where I'm headed."
Wood said he used to be able to find versatile employees before his team moved from its ancestral home in Stuart, Va., a few years ago to be closer to the hive of talent and technical expertise centered in the Charlotte area. Once there, he said, it became harder to find versatile employees. So the sport became bloated, he said, and now it's suffering a painful "correction," according to his brother,
Wood said the concentration of teams in Charlotte, and the explosive growth the sport enjoyed from the '80s until just a few years ago, bred a generation of the non-versatile. "The reason the thing probably got out of hand was so many people, with budgets and salaries, there was so many teams," he said. "Everybody needed people to do the work, so that guy could do that, that guy could do that, so you go hire the guy. Now things are different and I think owners are going to be looking for guys who can do more than one thing. I knew we are."
Schools that prepare students for careers in NASCAR are adapting to the philosophical shift, said
Three-time Sprint Cup champion
In a series hindered by "one-upmanship," Waltrip said, Hendrick's competitors soon began stock-piling employees in an attempt to mimic Evernham's results. Evernham formed his own race team but has since sold majority interest to
"Ray Evernham started a lot of this by being so detail-oriented with the pit crew and every piece of the car," Waltrip said. "Ray did a lot of that coming from IROC because that's what they did in IROC. So he brought that to Hendrick Motorsports and I think Ray really created a lot of the stuff we see today. But you don't need specialists, you need generalists.
"You go to a test and Hendrick Motorsports pulls in a bank of 20 computers and 20 men with white aprons sitting at each one of them. [Team owner]
But if Eddie Woods sees them, he's liable to put a wrench in their hand.