The Wood Brothers’ 1963 car owners championship will be celebrated on Sunday at Darlington Raceway as Matt DiBenedetto’s Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang is carrying a paint scheme based on the 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie Fastback that won the only NASCAR Cup Owner Championship – so far – in the Woods’ 70 years in the sport.
Sunday’s race will be the start of DiBenedetto’s first Playoff appearance, and the Woods’ second. Today’s championship format is much different than back in ’63, when the title was based on a season-long points race with the better-paying races offering more points.
Then, as now, the key to winning championships was to consistently finish near the top of the scoreboard, and in 1963 the Woods did just that.
Using a 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie Fastback that was versatile and durable, the Woods made 23 starts, scoring three wins, 16 top-five finishes and 20 top 10s. Joe Weatherly won the driving title, and did so by competing for nine different owners.
Some of the details of the 1963 campaign have been lost to time over the past 57 years, but many were chronicled by Greg Fielden, the Dean of NASCAR historians, in his book series "Forty Years Of Stock Car Racing." That set of hard-back books, known to many simply as the "Blue Books," is regarded as the encyclopedia of early NASCAR racing.
Over the course of the ’63 season, the Woods employed five drivers – Marvin Panch, Tiny Lund, team founder Glenn Wood, Fred Lorenzen and Dave MacDonald.
After skipping the first two races of the season, both of which paid small purses of $1,000 to win or less and therefore few points, the No. 21 made its season debut on Nov. 22, 1962 at the quarter-mile Tar Heel Speedway in Randleman, N.C.
Team founder Glenn Wood, driving a 1962 Ford Galaxie, won the pole and led the first 173 laps before a blown tire sent him coasting into the pits. With no hope of contending for the win, at that point he did not return to the race and was credited with 15th place. Jim Paschal won the 50-miler in a Plymouth fielded by the home-town team – Petty Enterprises.
Next on the schedule for the Woods was the road course at Riverside, Calif., where 28-year-old Fred Lorenzen, NASCAR’s Golden Boy, was hired to drive the then-new 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie Fastback.
Lorenzen, from Elmhurst, Ill, rolled the No. 21 in practice, but the Woods, with help from the Holman-Moody team that was Lorenzen’s regular employer, made repairs, and he salvaged a 22nd-place finish.
Lorenzen earned $530, his first payday of a season that saw him go on to win six races for Holman-Moody and earn $122,245 for the season. In doing so, he become the first NASCAR driver to earn more than $100,000 in a single season.
Dan Gurney, who would go on to win four times at Riverside for the Woods, won the 1963 Riverside 500 in Lorenzen’s regular ride, the No. 28 Holman-Moody Ford.
From there it was on to Daytona, where Panch, the Woods’ regular driver, was severely burned in the crash of a Maserati sports car he was testing.
Glenn and Leonard Wood picked Lund, who had used his brute strength to help free Panch from the Maserati, to drive the No. 21.
Lund, who received a Carnegie Medal of Honor for his part in saving Panch, delivered for the Woods in grand fashion, finishing sixth in his qualifier, which paid points in those days, and winning the 500, the first of five Daytona 500 triumphs for the Woods.
Lund continued on in the No. 21 while Panch recovered, and showed the talent that the Woods saw in him prior to his storybook win at Daytona.
He finished fifth at Atlanta, and qualified second at Bristol and led 82 laps before mechanical issues relegated him to a 14th-place finish.
At Martinsville, he qualified fourth and finished second to Richard Petty.
Moving on to North Wilkesboro, he started second and finished third behind Petty and Lorenzen in a rain-shortened run.
And in his final appearance in the No. 21, in the spring race at Darlington, he qualified second and finished fourth.
Panch returned for the 26th race of the year, the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he qualified third, led 18 laps and finished seventh.
At Atlanta, he won the pole and finished third after leading 11 circuits. Returning to Daytona for the first time since his fiery crash, he qualified eighth, led five laps and finished third.
Wood took over driving duties on July 13 at his one of his favorite tracks – Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. He started from the pole but fell to 14th place after being involved in a multi-car crash on the fifth of 200 laps.
Despite the difficulty of passing on the tight, quarter-mile track, Wood worked his way through the field, took the lead from Ned Jarrett on the 107th lap and drove away to score the win, with only Jarrett and him on the lead lap at the finish.
That race also saw the return to racing of Lee Petty, who was seriously injured at Daytona in 1961. He finished fourth, his best finish in his five-race comeback before retiring after the Watkins Glen race the next season.
Panch returned for the Northern swing and finished sixth at Old Bridge Stadium in New Jersey and third on the road course at Bridgehampton, New York.
Back at Bristol, Panch started and finished fourth, then Wood took the wheel at Bowman-Gray, qualifying on the outside pole and finishing third behind Junior Johnson and Richard Petty.
Panch drove at West Virginia International Speedway, a 3/8-mile paved track in Huntington, and finished ninth after qualifying fifth.
He followed that up with a strong second-place finish in the Southern 500 at Darlington. He led 123 laps before winding up second to Fireball Roberts.
Panch scored another second-place at Martinsville in a race dominated by Lorenzen, then broke into the win column on Sept. 29 at North Wilkesboro. He started third, and despite feeling ill, led 131 laps including the final 49 in a row to beat Lorenzen to the checkered flag by six seconds. It was Panch’s first win since taking a Daytona 500 qualifier in 1961 while driving for Smokey Yunick.
In the National 400 at Charlotte, Panch put the No. 21 on the pole, a familiar spot for the Woods at that track, led the opening lap then finished third behind Junior Johnson and Lorenzen.
Dave MacDonald, then a 27-year-old sports car stand-out, drove the No. 21 in the season finale at Riverside in his only drive for the Wood Brothers. He led a race-high 92 laps before losing high gear with 30 laps remaining. Still he held on to finish second and help secure the owners title for the Woods.
Sadly, MacDonald made just seven career NASCAR starts. He scored another runner-up finish on the road course at Augusta, Ga., on Nov. 17 1963, a race that was a part of the 1964 season. He ran that 510-mile race in a Holman-Moody Ford. MacDonald was one of five of the top six finishers in that race to lose his life within a year. He and fellow driver Eddie Sachs died in a fiery crash on the second lap of the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
Fireball Roberts, Billy Wade, Jimmy Pardue and Joe Weatherly also died from injuries suffered in race car accidents within a year. Roberts and Weatherly perished in races, while Pardue and Wade, both young rising starts like MacDonald, were killed during tire tests.
MacDonald, who achieved some of his greatest successes driving Ford Cobra Roadsters fielded by Carroll Shelby, is credited with 52 victories and 75 top-three finishes in 118 starts across several forms of racing.
The NASCAR Owners Championship Trophy, appropriately in the shape of a cup, is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It bears the name of Ray Lee Wood, one of the original Wood Brothers and a tire changer on the 1963 team.
Team owner Glenn Wood explained in an interview several years ago that he listed his brother as car owner for financial reasons.
"You had to buy a different license for the driver and car owner, so instead of buying two in my name I put one in Ray Lee’s," Wood said. "I saved ten dollars by doing it, but ten dollars was a good bit of money back then.
"It was my car, but it’s his name on the trophy."