Out there in the world of die-hard, old-school racers and race fans, the buzz is all about spoilers, wings and Madhouse. Madhouse is a 13-episode series on the History Channel that chronicles a season of Modified racing at the historic Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Stadium, which has been hosting races since NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and long-time promoter Alvin Hawkins ran the first event there in 1949, features a flat quarter-mile paved oval around a football field and a grandstand packed with avid fans. The latest generations of Stadium racers are the stars of the Madhouse shows, which have attracted 1.3 million viewers despite a late Sunday night time slot. On Facebook, the Fans of Madhouse page now counts nearly 16,000 followers. The modern-day heroes at Bowman Gray include the Myers brothers, Jason and Burt, as well as Tim Brown, Chris Fleming, Junior Miller and Jon Boy Brown.
But back in the 1950’s, the Stadium had another set of stars – Glen Wood, Curtis Turner, Pee Wee Jones, Perk Brown and the original Myers brothers, Bobby and Billy. It was at Bowman Gray that Glen Wood the race driver was at his best. From his first win there in 1951 until his last start in the early 1960’s, he won 29 events across a variety of circuits that included the series now known as Sprint Cup, the NASCAR convertible circuit as well as Sportsman and Modified. At the time he retired, Wood was the Stadium’s winningest driver. Wood said that racing at Bowman Gray had just as loyal a following in his day as it does today. It was even true for the folks on the Woods’ side of the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
“When I started racing down there it was a Saturday night thing for half the county,” he said. “Even today, people who come to our museum who were old enough to be around in that time say, ‘I saw him run that car down there.’” Wood started racing in 1950 but waited a year to try his hand on the big stage at the Stadium. “At that time I didn’t think I was good enough to run with the bunch that was down there,” he said, naming off future Hall of Fame drivers like Tim Flock, Curtis Turner and Frank Mundy. He made his first appearance a year later and almost immediately added his name to the track’s list of winners.
Wood said that on the night that he got his first Bowman Gray victory, he battled brake problems on his 1938 Ford Coupe all through practice. Finally he and his brother Leonard discovered that an exhaust pipe had broken and was blowing hot air on the master cylinder, boiling the fluid. The brothers directed the exhaust safely away from the braking system, and Wood started the race and soon found himself in the lead. As the laps wound down, Jimmy Lewellen closed the gap and appeared poised to take the lead and the win. “There were just a couple of laps to go,” Wood said. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t let him do that.’ So I hugged the inside and never let him get on the inside. It was kind of hard to pass on the outside there.” And as any Madhouse viewer can attest, it’s still hard to pass on the outside at the Stadium. But Wood figured a way to do it.
“I had a car at one time that I could go down the backstretch and wait ’til they let off, then go past them and be beside them as we went in the turn. Then you could turn as they turned. I could hug up beside that car – not banging each other, just together. Then you’d get on the straightaway and sort of get separated. “I passed I don’t know how many that way.” It might come as a surprise to Madhouse fans, but Wood said he didn’t anger the masses or his fellow drivers when he outran them regularly at Bowman Gray. And for that matter, most weeks it really wasn’t that much of a madhouse. “Most of the time everybody was sort of friends,” he said. But, he added, when it’s tight short-track racing, even the most mild-mannered can lose their tempers – at Bowman Gray and elsewhere. “That was a madhouse they had down at Martinsville on Monday,” he said.