By admin | January 19, 2012
By Richard Allen
To many NASCAR fans who have been around for a long time or for those who have studied the history of this sport, the greatest battles in racing history are often thought to be those to have taken place between Richard Petty and David Pearson during the 1970s. Those two competitors are perhaps most noted for their last lap crash and finish in the 1976 Daytona 500 but there were a number of other times in which they battled to the end of big races.
As a matter of fact, Petty and Pearson finished first and second to each other an unbelievable sixty-three times. Pearson out dueled Petty in thirty-three of those top-2 finishes. In a number of those duels, the two drivers were piloting machines prepared by Glen Wood and Dale Inman.
This Friday evening, Wood and Inman will enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame together as members of that shrineâ€™s third class. Much like it is fitting that former rivals Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip go into the Hall of Fame together, the same can be said for these opposing team leaders.
Glen Wood, one of the famed Wood Brothers, began his racing career as a driver, and a successful one at that. The Stuart, Virginia native won races on tough old tracks such as Bowman-Gray Stadium and the Richmond Fairgrounds. But over time it became apparent that it would be best for the brothers to prepare cars for other drivers. So he and his brother Leonard along with the rest of the family set out to become the top crew in the sport.
Aside from Pearson, such iconic heroes as A.J. Foyt, Marvin Panch, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney drove for the Wood Brothers. Also, young drivers such as Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, Elliott Sadler and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne have sat in the seat of car number 21.
While preparing their Ford and Mercury machines to be steered by those drivers, the Woods came to realize that less time in the pits could provide their team with an advantage. As a result, they set about perfecting what would eventually lead to the modern day pit stop. And they also mastered not only faster pit stops but pit strategy as well. Using those faster stops and better strategy led to the teamâ€™s first Daytona 500 victory in 1963 when substitute driver Tiny Lund outlasted the opposition on fuel.
The team became so renowned for the efficiency in the pit area that the Ford Motor Company asked them to service the car to be driven by Jim Clark in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Clark won that race due in large part to the efforts of his extraordinary pit crew.
But of all their victories, it is probably the 1976 Daytona 500 that Glen Woodâ€™s team is most noted for. As that race drew to its conclusion it became apparent the checkered flag would fall on either Pearson or Petty. As the two current Hall of Fame drivers exited turn four of the 2.5 mile track on the final lap, Petty looked to have Pearson cleared after having executed a pass in the preceding set of turns. However, there wasnâ€™t quite enough room between the two and they made slight contact which sent both cars spinning wildly.
As the number 21 Mercury and the number 43 Dodge sat motionless in the infield grass time seemed to almost stand still. Finally, Pearson fired his car and slowly but surely sputtered across the finish line to claim the win as the hapless Petty watched the race slip from his grasp.
What proved to be one of Glen Woodâ€™s finest moments turned into one of Dale Inmanâ€™s most agonizing. The car he had prepared had looked as if it were headed for victory lane less than a half-mile from the finish line only to skid to a stop in the dirt literally feet from the end.
However, there were many other instances in his career in which Inman was able to celebrate. As a crew chief, the cousin of â€˜The Kingâ€™ counts his wins in the hundreds and needs the fingers on both hands to add up his championships.
Inman was responsible for preparing the cars that took Petty to almost all of his 200 wins and his seven championships. And more, he added even more wins and another championship while heading up the crew for Terry Labonte in the mid-1980s.
Of course, it was with Petty where Inman built the reputation that would lead to him becoming the first person with the label of crew chief to be inducted into the Hall. The championships along with seven Daytona 500 triumphs and a season in which his driver piled up 27 wins can be counted among this pit bossâ€™s seemingly endless list of records.
Inmanâ€™s cars rarely trailed anyone, but the cars of Glen Wood were among those able to beat the famous number 43 on occasion. It seems all together fitting that these two men will enter the Hall of Fame on the same night being that they are in part responsible for some of the battles that built the sport of NASCAR racing into what it is today.
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