When it comes to back seat driving, Glen Wood was among the best.
But Wood’s back seat driving didn’t involve nagging the one behind the wheel. He did his back seat driving from the back seat.
If you’ve been to the Wood Brothers Racing Museum in Stuart, Va., or saw races back in the day at Martinsville Speedway or Bowman Gray Stadium or Starkey Speedway you know where this story is headed. If not, here’s the story of one of the first examples of the Wood Brothers ingenuity when it came to preparing winning race cars.
Back in the old Modified days, where rules were much more liberal than today, teams got more rear grip and thus more acceleration off the corners, by moving the engine rearward in the car. Glen Wood and his brother Leonard kept moving the engine back in their 1937 Ford until the driver was sitting in the back seat of the car.
“We wound up putting the engine further back than we aimed to, to get everything to fit right,” Leonard Wood said. “It put the driver in the back seat. We put a long steering shaft on it and took a Ford Falcon steering wheel that was deep dished to get it back a little more.”
Today’s Modified cars also have engines located rearward on the frame, but the bodies are shifted back so the driver doesn’t appear to be sitting in the back seat as Wood did.
The Woods’ Modified was powered by a 361-cubic-inch engine taken from Glen’s 1958 Edsel. It was bored out to 370-cubic-inches with three Stromberg carburetors using methanol, instead of gasoline.
“Those Stromberg carburetors are the best you could get for burning methanol,” Leonard Wood said.
With Glen Wood driving, the back seat car was all but unbeatable on the short tracks around Virginia and North Carolina. It won eight in a row at Starkey Speedway near Roanoke, countless features and a championship at Bowman Gray and a big Modified race at Martinsville Speedway, where the Sprint Cup Series will be racing this weekend.
Glen Wood said the back seater was quite the innovative car in its day.
“When I first got in it after Leonard fixed it up, I thought, ‘If I can drive that, I can fly an airplane,’” Glen Wood said. “But after I got used to the distance between where I was sitting as compared to where you usually sit, it was fine. And I had to get used to getting close to other cars. You’d think you were closer to them than what you were, but you had to be close to them to do any good.”
The car had so much rear weight that it wasn’t uncommon to see the left front wheel off the ground at speed.
“If you put a little wedge in it, it would pick up the left front wheel a foot high,” Glen Wood said. “I have carried it halfway down the straightaway.”
But when Leonard Wood recalls the back seat car at Martinsville, it’s not a race that first comes to mind. It’s a practice session in which he did a little back-seat driving, so to speak.
Glen Wood decided the car needed a heavier right front spindle like they’d been running on the rough dirt tracks. Leonard had other ideas.
“I didn’t see why he needed that heavier spindle on a smooth asphalt track, so I got in the car and Glen took me for a ride around the track,” Leonard Wood said. “Well that thing with those big slicks and all, was getting such a good grip in the corners that it felt like it was going to throw me out the right side window.”
“I’m trying to get him to stop, but he can’t hear me. I’ve had enough right off. Finally he pulled in, and I said, ‘Glen, I think you do need a stronger spindle.”
“I mean the force it was putting on that right front spindle felt like it was tremendous. I had to hold on tight or it would have thrown me right out the window.”
Glen Wood said he doesn’t remember many of the details of his 1960 Modified win at Martinsville. But it was a victory at Martinsville, where he always ran strong but had one thing or another keep him out of Victory Lane in Convertible and Grand National races.
“I led a lot of them and was on the pole for about half of them, but somehow they all eluded me,” he said. “But that was one of my favorite tracks, along with Bowman Gray Stadium.”
A replica of the back seat racer, complete with the actual Stromberg carburetors on the original car, along with other cars and memorabilia from the Wood Brothers’ 60 years of NASCAR racing are on display at the Wood Brothers Racing Museum on Performance Drive in Stuart, just 30 miles west from Martinsville, Va.
Museum hours are 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. this week and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, and most days, Glen and Bernece Wood will be there to greet visitors. Admission is free.