STUART — It has been more than two months since Glen Wood passed away. The founder of Stuart-based Wood Brothers Racing is one of the most-beloved men in NASCAR, especially at his team's home track, Martinsville Speedway.
That was proven Friday night at the team’s museum in their hometown of Stuart, where hundreds of people attended a tribute to the late NASCAR pioneer.
Members of NASCAR, Ford, former drivers, family and friends all gathered and celebrated the life of one of the sport’s most influential and well-respected men. An endless line of friends of the family and fans of the team paid their respects to Glen’s wife, Bernice, and when they weren’t paying respects, they were walking around to see all of the team’s history throughout the museum.
It was a very informal gathering, but the event got started with Kathy Lawson, mayor of Martinsville, presenting the family with a proclamation on behalf of the city. Wood Brothers' president, and Glen Wood's son, Eddie Wood, received the proclamation and then said a few words to acknowledge all of the fans in attendance.
“It’s just a great honor for all you people to be here. It’s just amazing,” he said. “He [Glen] would be overwhelmed.”
Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said Glen may think he didn’t deserve all the attention.
“I know that we’re pushing the envelope with Glen because he’s probably looking down saying, ‘what in the world is all this fuss about and why is everyone making such a big deal?” Kelley said.
Glen Wood made his debut at Martinsville Speedway in 1957. Harlow Allen Reynolds was in attendance for that race. He has been a fan of the Wood Brothers since that day, and he had a reserved seat at Friday’s tribute.
“Glen deserves it,” Reynolds said. “He’s a great person. The whole family is great.”
“When I think of Glen, I think of words like character, class, respect,” NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said. “How I describe Glen Wood more than anything is as a gentleman. … You look for the term ‘Southern gentleman,’ and there’s a big picture of Glen Wood.”
The current Wood Brothers Racing driver, Paul Menard, was at the event, as was former driver Ryan Blaney. Neither spoke to the masses but instead paid their respects to the family, especially Bernice. A couple of former drivers did speak to the fans, including Michael Waltrip. Waltrip drove with the Wood Brothers in 1996-1998.
“From day one it was like I was part of the family, and memories of driving here today just brought me back to 20 years ago when I drove here,” he said. “Seeing all these folks just tells you how special Mr. Wood was and how much he means to the NASCAR community, and I’m happy that when I saw Ms. Wood that she told me … that I would always be a part of the family and that made my heart smile.”
Family was a big word during the night. Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers after racing for his father, Richard Petty, said he felt that same thing as well, even saying that when he would get together for lunch with the Wood family, it would be at Glen’s house.
“I learned to race here,” Petty said. “Here, you drove for the Wood Brothers. You drove for Len and Eddie. You drove for Glen. You drove for Leonard and Kim and Bernice.”
Everyone who spoke Friday night made it clear they never felt like employees of the Wood Brothers. Even people who didn’t race for the team and worked for NASCAR or were just a fan all said they always felt like they were part of the family.
“I think you’re very blessed in life if you have an opportunity to work with somebody and not for somebody,” Petty said. “I didn’t even work with the Wood Brothers. I became part of the Wood Brothers.”
Said Helton: “Everybody that’s in our business … you feel like you’re part of the Wood family. I’ve met a lot of people from Stuart, Virginia tonight that feel like they’re part of this organization, and that’s what the Wood family does to you.”
The family even extended to the cars’ manufacturer. Wood Brothers and Ford have been together since the team's inception, and Edsel B. Ford II was there to show his appreciation.
“It has been a remarkable relationship,” Ford said. “We sincerely appreciate being here. Bernice, we love your family.”
Helton was one of the people who took the lead setting up Friday’s tribute. A lot of thanks were thrown his way, but his thanks went to the family.
“I wanted this industry to have an opportunity to say thank you to every generation of the Wood family for allowing Glen and Leonard and that generation to bring you so deep into the world of motorsports,” Helton said. “It’s special, and we all know why or we wouldn’t be here.”
All over the museum were pictures, cars and other Wood Brothers memorabilia. Fans were awestruck at what they were seeing.
“Everybody in this room knows that behind those photographs and behind those cars, there is a spirit, and that spirit is from the Wood family,” Helton said. “For so many years Glen was the patriarch of that.”
The memories and kind words came to a close with Glen Wood’s grandson, Jon Wood. Jon opened up talking about a story that many fans of the Wood Brothers have heard many times before — the time he took the company van racing in the woods behind the family home. He said he nearly flipped the van over a cliff. He left the van for the night. The next day, Glen Wood found the license plate for the van, but didn’t know it was to the van until the sheriff he called to report it told him so.
Jon got word of that, so, “I crawl my way over to their house.”
Worried about what his grandfather was going to say, Glen says, “How did you keep from turning that thing over?” Jon recalled.
Jon was trying to keep his emotions in check, but after he told the story he wanted to make sure he thanked everyone that showed up.
“We really do appreciate everyone coming out,” he said. “It really is extraordinary to fill this place up the way we have.
“It’s remarkable that caliber of people can come to this thing for my grandpa… You can’t put into words what that means to us.”
The Wood Brothers and the No. 21 Ford will return to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 Sunday afternoon for a 2 p.m. green flag, with their late owner, father, grandfather and friend on their minds.