Leonard Wood: NASCAR’s First Pit Boss
With the upcoming ceremony for NASCAR‘s Hall of Fame, they will be inducting the person responsible for most of the changes that have taken place in and around pit road for the last 50 years. The orchestrated 15 second pit stop we see on television today was the brain child of Leonard Wood and Mr. Wood will take his place in history on February 8th along with fellow inductees in the Hall’s fourth class are NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Buck Baker, Herb Thomas and Rusty Wallace and car owner/builder/driver/crew chief Cotton Owens.
Leonard Wood is 78 years old and is from Stuart, Virginia. He came into racing with his brother Glen, who drove the cars, while Leonard did the rest. In a time before there were manuals and collegiate class rooms full of information on how to build and repair a race car, Mr. Wood had to figure it out by himself. Now, most of the information young people get when seeking a career in racing was developed by Mr. Wood.
When NASCAR was in its infancy, races were primarily run on dirt tracks and race lengths were between 200 and 250 laps. When racing migrated to super speedways and race lengths extended to as much as 500 miles, techniques were needed to service the cars on pit road faster. Mr. Wood always said, it’s easier for my driver to pass cars on pit road, than on the track, so he set out to find a way to get his driver in and out of the pits faster.
In the early years, floor jacks weighing 70 to 80 pounds were used to lift the race cars. They also required a strong man to pump the handle – up to 10 pumps for tire clearance. Wood took apart the jack, inserted larger pistons and – presto – his brother Delano Wood could get the car off the asphalt by pumping two or three times.
He ported and polished the mechanisms in the team’s air guns, allowing lug nuts to be removed and replaced more quickly. Finally, Wood modified the inside of the team’s dump cans so that gasoline flowed faster.
The youngsters in and around the Wood Brothers number 21 Ford still marvel at his ability to fabricate without blueprints, schematics or manuals. If you can describe what you want, he can make it.
Leonard’s brother Glen and former NASCAR star, now ESPN analyst, Dale Jarrett indicated that if the team needed something to run faster, and it wasn’t available, he would build it. He just always had the knack to find, manufacture, and build anything the team needed. A true pioneer in a young sport with little or no support for technical problems.
I’m glad that NASCAR finally has a place like the Hall Of Fame where the stories of the people who started this wonderful sport can be told, and their accomplishment made a part of history. The modern NASCAR fan who wasn’t around in the beginning needs to have a place where they can find information on these older ladies and gentlemen who, like Leonard Wood, were true pioneers in the sport we know and love today.
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