Leonard Wood Builds Tribute Car to 1st 500 Victory
Leonard Wood was a “car guy” from Day One. As a kid, he would carve model cars out of wood and build wheels with axles so they could roll around. Wood has been a lifelong tinkerer. He built a washing machine engine-powered go-kart from parts and pieces he found when he was 13. In the 1940s, he and his brothers -- Glen, Delano, Clay and Ray Lee -- founded Wood Brothers Racing. Glen drove the cars and Leonard handled the majority of mechanical work on the cars.
On Feb. 8, Leonard Wood is to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall-Of-Fame, joining his brother, Glen, in the shrine to all things stock car racing. A 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 XL tribute car will be front-and-center in the NASCAR hall, and serves as a colorful reminder to the historic efforts of one of the first families of NASCAR.
In 1953, the team started running in NASCAR’s Grand National division with Glen at the wheel and Leonard serving a crew chief. The team won its first Grand National race in 1960 at Charlotte Speedway with Speedy Thompson as driver.
The team always had a knack for performing at NASCAR’s larger tracks, and DeWayne "Tiny" Lund delivered the first big track victory at Daytona International Speedway. Lund won the fifth running of the Daytona 500, subbing for injured driver Marvin Panch, who Lund help save from a burning Maserati sports car just a few days before the 500. More impressive was the fact that Lund won the race in an unfamiliar car on a single set of Firestone tires.
“We got the idea to build something last year at Indianapolis when Eddie, Leonard and I saw a Tiny Lund Ford Galaxie tribute car parked in the Turn 4 infield,” recalled Len Wood. “It was a street car but had chrome wheels and wide Hoosier tires. It wasn’t an exact replica but it got us thinking about a tribute car build of some sort.”
After the 2012 Brickyard 400 race, the Wood Brothers started to look around the country for a 1963 Ford Galaxie 500XL. The idea was to build a tribute to their first Daytona 500 win in 1963. It took several months for the Wood Brothers to find a suitable car for the project, but eventually a Galaxie 500 fastback was located at a former pit-crew member’s garage in the area. Eddie and Len made the trip down to Roanoke, Va., to purchase the car and had it shipped back to the team shop in Harrisburg, N.C., for the build.
The car was stripped down to the bare body and frame, just like the racing teams began building race cars in the 1950’s and ’60s. After media blasting, a few rust spots were discovered in the floor pan and body panels. The areas were repaired with patch panels and the body and frame was primed for paint.
Leonard and the Wood Brothers Racing team had built the car in 1963, but the team had a hard time remembering how the suspension and chassis of the car were constructed. A few hours of research on the Internet lead them to a photo of the car at Riverside International Raceway when Fred Lorenzen drove it at the Southern California road course. During practice, Lorenzen had turned the car over on its roof and a photographer captured a few images of the car prior to the wrecker setting it back on four wheels. Leonard used the photo for reference for the suspension and exhaust system on the car.
A 1960’s NASCAR-style roll cage was installed, along with a Ford Galaxie “NASCAR spec” dash insert and period-correct gauges. Ultra-rare Holman-Moody wheels and Firestone tires popped up on Ebay and they were acquired at a price similar to the bill for a set of current Goodyear race tires. While Leonard directed the majority of the fab work, longtime Wood Brothers employee Butch Moricle helped build the front hubs.
“Leonard installed a 427 engine with a high-rise tunnel-port intake and two four-barrel carbs,” said Len Wood. “In 1963, the correct engine was a 427 with a single four-barrel and low-riser intake, but we went with the high-rise setup for now.”
Once the bodywork was complete, the car was ready for paint. The racer replica was painted the trademark Corinthian White and Rangoon Red.
“We could have used the current two-stage paint process, but we went with a period-correct acrylic enamel,” said Wood. After the paint was cured, the search was on to find an “artist” who could hand-letter the race car numbers and sponsor logos. To their surprise and delight, the Woods found out that NASCAR Hall Of Fame historian Buz McKim was a seasoned old-school sign painter, and he was enlisted to handle all the hand-painted lettering on the car.
As a tribute car, no detail was overlooked during the build. Just like the way they added driver names in 1963, Tiny Lund’s name was lettered on 3-inch gray duct tape and affixed over Marvin Panch’s name. Since Panch was still an important part of the team’s effort, his name was left on the passenger-side door of the tribute car.