The Master of the Madhouse

Throughout its history, the NASCAR series now known as Sprint Cup has parked its cars on Easter Sunday. But back in the day they did run at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Mondays, including the day after Easter, and it was on one of those post-Easter Monday races that Glen Wood scored his first Cup win.

That April 18, 1960, triumph was just a part of an amazing string of success that Wood enjoyed that year in his 1958 Ford Fairlane. Wood proved then, as his team has shown over and over through the years, that it’s possible to achieve great results while running a limited schedule. But Wood’s success in 1960 would be hard to top.

In just nine starts, he had three wins, two third-place finishes and a fifth. He won four poles and started on the outside pole two other times. His average start for the season was 2.6 and his average finish was 6.8. But those stats pale in comparison to the numbers he put up at the historic Bowman Gray Stadium. He ran three races that year on the flat, quarter-mile oval. He won them all, and he led every lap of all three races. In one race, he even outran several sports car entries, including two MGs, a Triumph and a Corvette. In his final Stadium win that season, he lapped the field even though only one driver, G.C. Spencer, dropped out of the race. After his third Stadium triumph, the press labeled him the “Master of the Madhouse.” And that was 50 years before the History Channel began telling the Madhouse story to a nationwide TV audience.

Indeed he was the Master. When Wood retired from racing at the Stadium, he had 29 wins in the Modified, Sportsman Convertible and Cup divisions, more than any other driver up to that point. “I sort of grew up on it,” he said. “I liked the flatter tracks. If you got your car handling good, you could beat people without trying too hard.”

The handling advantage was achieved due to the ingenuity of Wood and his brother Leonard, his chief mechanic. Their dominant car raced most of the time as a convertible, but for Cup races the team simply bolted the top back on. It was a simple process, Wood said. “You just sawed the top off down close to the body and right over the windshield,” he said. “We had it so you could bolt it right back on.” The car also was lighter than many of its competitors, because the Woods usually built their race cars from a passenger car that had been burned. Back in the days of truly stock cars, one that had been burned was considerably lighter – and thereby faster – because the fire consumed the heavy soundproofing material that had been sprayed on the insides of the body panels. But the real advantage to that ’58 Ford was under the hood. It was a Leonard Wood special. While most teams at that time ran Holley or Carter carburetors, the Woods ran a four-barrel carb straight off the assembly line – at least it that’s where it started, before Leonard Wood worked his magic on it.

“Somehow Leonard fixed it so that when I was coming through the turn, it was pulling just from two barrels, instead of having the four barrels come in all at once which would make it try to spin the wheels,” Glen Wood said. “Just as it got on straightaway, the other two barrels would come in. You could feel it lunge forward when they did. “They just couldn’t beat that car over there.” They couldn’t even pass it, as 600 straight laps led in 1960 can attest.

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.