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Cooler Heads Will Prevail at Bristol – Eventually

When NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit rolls into Bristol Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Food City 500, it’s a safe bet that no matter how cool the air temperatures may be there will be some hot tempers in the pits and on the track during the race. Even the most laid-back, low-key people in the sport have been known to use some language that would make a sailor take pause when the cars are running in Thunder Valley.

Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood is known to use some rather salty language at times. His mother Bernece, being the proper, Southern mom that she is, steadfastly maintains that her son didn’t pick up that bad habit until he went off to college. However, Eddie confesses that he learned his first bad words hanging around his dad’s race shop and got in trouble for trying one out during the first day of school, while he sat in Mrs. Fain’s first-grade class.

On the other hand, the Woods’ former driver Morgan Shepherd, the driver who now campaigns a Nationwide Series car with “Racing for Jesus” on the hood, is known for never uttering inappropriate words. And that made for an interesting exchange during the heat of battle at Bristol back in the early 1990s.

Shepherd was driving the Woods’ No. 21 Ford and running among the leaders when he radioed in that he wanted a spring rubber removed from the left rear. With the cars circling the track at lap times well under 19 seconds, Wood feared the time lost pulling the rubber would put them a lap down. And he really didn’t think that was the adjustment the team really needed to make. “We were running in the top five, and Morgan kept on about the rubber, so when we stopped under green, I said ‘OK’ and we took the rubber out. I was worried that by taking it out the car would be too loose,” Wood recalled.

The stop wasn’t as time consuming as Wood feared, and he initially was relieved about his decision. Then Shepherd radioed in a brief update: “I’m too loose.” That’s when Eddie Wood let Bristol get the best of him. “I went off,” he said. “The car did exactly what I was afraid it would do. I started cussing, threw my stopwatches, jumped up and down. I told Morgan I should have known better than to go along with that change. I yelled and screamed for two laps without ever letting off the [talk] button.” When he finally ran out of steam, Shepherd responded, in a voice as calm as a Sunday morning in the country. “Now Eddie,” he said. “I needed that rubber out. It’ll be ok.” And it was. Within five laps, his lap times had begun to improve. “In the end, he was right and I was wrong,” Wood said. “I should have known, because very seldom was he ever wrong on the chassis set-up. He did it by the seat of his pants; he knew how to make it work.”

Wood said that Shepherd, despite his humble beginnings, also was an eloquent speaker and represented himself and his team in a special way during his two appearances on stage at the annual Awards Banquet, then held in New York City. “Back then, the speeches weren’t pre-arranged and rehearsed like they are now,” Wood said. “They just got up and talked. “Morgan really spoke from the heart about how much he appreciated the sport, and his sponsors and his team and how fortunate he felt to be able to race in NASCAR.”

Today, when the Woods are at the track with their No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion and Shepherd is there with his small self-owned, mostly unsponsored Nationwide Series car, he can occasionally be seen leaving the Woods hauler with a shock or a spring in hand. It’s a sign that even in the sometimes dog-eat-dog world of NASCAR racing, loyalty and friendship are still alive and well. And that cooler heads eventually prevail, even after a race in Thunder Valley.

The Wood Brothers and their Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion return to action on April 16-18 with the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.