AUDIO/FEATURE: Recapturing Glory; Wood Brothers And Ryan Blaney Hoping New Partnership Leads To Cup Success

Jacob Seelman Audio, Carolinas Racing, Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images photo —

Decades ago, when the name “Wood Brothers Racing” was brought up in conversation, drivers were instantly on alert knowing that the famed No. 21 car, most often with their striking red and white Ford/Motorcraft colors on the side, would be a threat to win no matter who set foot behind the wheel.

The list of drivers who have visited Victory Lane with the Woods reads like a “Who’s Who” of NASCAR — Glen Wood, Speedy Thompson, Tiny Lund, Marvin Panch, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Morgan Shepherd, Elliott Sadler and most recently, Trevor Bayne in the 2011 Daytona 500.

Seventeen drivers. 98 victories, including five Daytona 500s, four Coca-Cola 600s and four Southern 500s.

The team is officially the oldest in NASCAR history (verified this year by the Guinness Book of World Records) and has had more success than most any other next to Petty Enterprises and Hendrick Motorsports.

But, over the last two and a half decades, the group synonymous with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has only four checkered flags at NASCAR’s top level. Two of those have come since the turn of the millenium, and since Bayne’s miracle on the beach in 2011 — the team has been shut out of Victory Lane.

Co-owner Eddie Wood spoke of the history of the team on Thursday, and also said he hopes that the team’s newest hire — 21-year-old Ryan Blaney — is the spark that can rekindle some of the team’s nearly forgotten magic and lead them back to Victory Lane, adding to the group’s 65-year history in the sport.

“It’s an honor, I guess, to have done this as well as we’ve done it for so long,” Wood said during the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Technocom. “My dad and his brothers, the first race they ever went to, on the way home they burned the car to the ground. There was a group of people there that were kind of second-guessing our dad…and I think that kind of made him mad. So, that gave him enough incentive to go do it again, and I think they won their second or third time out.”

“Just to still be in the sport is humbling and we owe all of our partners at Ford — they’re a huge part of what’s kept us going.”

With the team’s continued relationship with Ford comes a new technical alliance with Team Penske for the 2015 season and a new driver in Blaney, who the Woods hope can be the next driver that they develop into a potential superstar in the sport.

“Nowadays, our role with Ford Motor Company is to help develop younger drivers,” Wood explained. “Over the past four years, we’ve tried to do that with Trevor Bayne, and we had success at the Daytona 500 with him in 2011. When he moved on to the full-time deal (with Roush Fenway) for the 2015 season, we were looking like ‘Who’s the next guy?’ and Ryan’s name kept popping up, like he’s the guy we need.

“With choosing Ryan, because he’s a Team Penske driver it made perfect sense for us to switch the alliance over to Penske since he was in their system. Ford helped us through the whole process.”

Wood circles a milestone on the wall as one he hopes Blaney can help the team achieve — 100 wins, just two away from where the team currently sits after more than six decades of competition.

“I think (Ryan’s) been a winner pretty much everywhere he’s been — we lack a couple of wins to get to 100 so maybe he can fill the trophy case out for us.”

Blaney will have a major asset working alongside of him — hoping to help achieve Eddie’s goal — in crew chief Jeremy Bullins. The duo won together in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Team Penske and have a solid chemistry at the race track that will only serve to lessen the young driver’s Cup learning curve.

For Bullins, the opportunity made sense, and allowed him a homecoming of sorts, after starting out with the Wood Brothers during his early days in the sport.

“For me, it’s special in a lot of ways,” Bullins said when asked about going atop the pit box for the Wood Brothers. “One, to be able to continue our relationship with Team Penske — having good teammates to work with in the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Joey Logano). But for me personally, the Wood Brothers is where I started; these guys gave me my first opportunity.”

“To come back here as the crew chief and be able to lead the team is a great opportunity. I’m really looking forwad to 2015 — Ryan and I have worked together since 2012 so there’s a relationship there. We feel like we’re in a position to be able to build on that history and be successful.”

Blaney now finds himself almost in an alternate parallel to the track his father Dave and uncle Dale grew up racing on — both competed on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and battled the “King of the Outlaws”, Steve Kinser, while Blaney’s new team fought tooth and nail with the “King” in NASCAR, Richard Petty.

“It’s easy to get Dale and Dave mixed up, they’re only about a foot apart,” Blaney quipped in response to moderator Lenny Batycki, who juxtaposed the two in his opening remarks.

But, all humor aside, the young driver steps into a seat with a heritage in the sport like no other, and says he is learning from that heritage every time he works with the team in advance of the 2015 season.

“It’s been a great experience getting to know everyone at the Wood Brothers, getting to meet Len, Leonard and Eddie. I’ve been to their museum a couple of times in the last two weeks and I’ve learned something new both times I’ve went there. It’s just a great history lesson,” Blaney added. “This family legacy is pretty unique to me, you know; I come from a long family of racing and the same with the Wood Brothers so it’s kinda neat and something we can share. I think that’s going to create a really great bond.”

Great bonds often lead to great success, and for Blaney, success isn’t just the goal — it’s a must in his mind and the team’s.

“Myself, the Wood Brothers, Jeremy, all we want to do is win and do well,” Blaney emphasized. “That’s all we care about is racing hard. I think this alliance with Team Penske is going to put us to that next step of where we need to be and to that next level.”

“We’re really happy to bring the Wood Brothers along for that and just excited to be a part of this great organization. I can’t wait to get going; I think it’s going to be a great season for us and like I said — I’m just waiting for Daytona and the rest of the season.”

That rest of the season may shape up to be more than Blaney and the Woods originally anticipated. Eddie Wood said on Thursday that the team plans to run 18 races (half of the Sprint Cup schedule); with twelve of those sponsored by Ford/Motorcraft.

“Our normal commitment is with Ford Motor Company and the Motorcraft brand,” Wood said, “and we’re going to run our twelve races for them like we have the last few years. We’ll run the speedways and the faster mile-and-a-half tracks, but we’re excited to say that we have been working really hard with our new alliance with Team Penske and we’ve tentatively added six races to our schedule.”

“We’re really excited about that because we’ve been working really hard to expand our schedule. You want to race every week and it kills you when you’re not there but we’re really thankful that we’ve been able to do that.”

Race Chaser Online has learned via special contributor Trey Stafford that the six additional races will be sponsored by longtime Team Penske supporters Snap-On, SKF and PPG, with the potential of more sponsors to be added to the mix at a later date.

The six added tracks are scheduled as follows according to Eddie Wood: the first Loudon race in July, Kentucky Speedway in July, the Bristol night race in August, the Southern 500 at Darlington, the Chase opener at Chicagoland and the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte in October.

So, with a new challenge, new team, new rejuvenation and a passion to win that rivals any of the drivers the Wood Brothers have employed over their storied history, could it be another young star that thrusts the most storied team in NASCAR back into the spotlight?

“I hope so,” Blaney says. “Like I said, I want to win and this team wants to win. It’s just a matter of making it happen on the track.”

Listen in to additional audio from Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins during the 2015 NASCAR Media Tour presented by Technocom below.

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Audio with Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney on bringing crew chief Jeremy Bullins over for 2015:

Audio with Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney on the history of the Wood Brothers and the 100-win mark:

Additional audio with Wood Brothers Racing crew chief Jeremy Bullins:

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