Legendary Wood Brothers turns to building young talent

The Wood Brothers are an icon of NASCAR racing.

The organization has won races in seven different decades with nearly two dozen of the sport’s best, including Ralph Earnhardt, David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Dale Jarrett, A.J. Foyt, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott, just to name a few.

Its most recent incarnation could also be one of its most important and lasting – molding NASCAR’s stars of tomorrow.

The Wood Brothers’ move to a part-time operation in recent seasons in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series has changed its focus to becoming a de facto driver development program.

Trevor Bayne was just 20 years old when he began running for the Wood Brothers in 2011 and stunned the sport by winning the Daytona 500 in just his second series start.

This season, 21-year-old Ryan Blaney, already a winner in two of NASCAR’s national series, will take the helm of the legendary No. 21 Ford.

The youth incursion may be unusual for one of NASCAR’s oldest teams but it’s a role the team embraces.

“It’s working well. You know, we don’t race every week so that’s a good foundation to race some rookies and help develop drivers,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “That’s kind of our role right now.

“Hopefully, we’d like to expand that at some point and get back running full-time. At the same time, we’ve been fortunate enough to have the help of Ford Motor Co. to keep us around.”

While the driver development aspect tends not to yield consistent results on the track, it has provided one of the team’s memorable moments in Bayne’s Daytona 500 victory.

The Wood Brothers have now won 98 Cup races across seven decades and the addition of Blaney, the son of NASCAR and open-wheel racing veteran Dave Blaney, has the potential to create more.

“Ryan practiced in our car last year at Michigan, so we got to know him a little better,” Wood said. “Ryan has already been successful in the Truck series and now the Xfinity series.

“He’s already won race at such a young age, which has been a great benefit to him. There is a lot of potential with him. Ryan seems very mature beyond 21 years old. He understands race cars – he grew up around them – and he’s raced all his life.”

There are other new aspects to the Wood Brothers in 2015.

The team now has a technical alliance with Team Penske (it most recently was aligned with Roush Fenway Racing) and with that alliance comes a new crew chief, Jeremy Bullins.

Not only is Bullins a familiar face around the Wood Brothers shop (he worked with the team from 1999 to 2002), but he’s also a familiar face to Blaney.

Bullins served as crew chief of Team Penske’s No. 22 team in what is now called the Xfinity Series that won the past two owner’s championships. In both seasons Blaney was among the drivers who were used by the team.

According to Bullins, the team will benefit from the experiences the driver and crew chief have already shared.

“You learn how to communicate over time, to know what he means when he says things about how a car is handling,” Bullins explained. “He’s pretty calm most of the time, but you can tell if the car is really loose or really tight. He’ll get a little more vocal.”

Heading into the 2015 season, Blaney has 12 planned races with the Wood Brothers beginning with the Daytona 500. Wood said additional sponsorship opportunities could still develop to add races to the team’s schedule this season.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest,” he said.