DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Speaking officially to the media for the first time since the announcement on Tuesday of NASCAR’s new Sprint Cup Series Charter system for 2016, and the revelation that their team would not have a charter to utilize throughout the season, the Wood Brothers explained that they would not have changed their approach to the past seven years (in which they have only run part-time at NASCAR’s top level) and that they are content with where their No. 21 team sits entering Daytona Speedweeks.
Team leaders Eddie, Len and Jon Wood addressed their standing on the situation, as well as the outpouring of support they have received from fans and supporters, in a half-hour long press conference at the Daytona International Speedway on Friday afternoon.
“It’s really overwhelming, the amount of response that we got [in regards to not having a charter], between social media, phone calls and emails from all our fans supporting us,” Eddie Wood said. “It really makes you feel good because you never really know what’s out there until [an event] triggers those guys to speak up. They’ve really been supporting us and I’d like to thank all of them. It’s really amazing.”
Due to the fact that they did not compete in every race between 2013 and 2015, the Woods were not among the 36 teams who received a Charter guaranteeing a starting spot in each Sprint Cup Series event, but Jon Wood says the team and the Wood family is “OK with that.”
“We can’t go back and change anything that we’ve done [in the past],” Jon Wood said. “We’re sitting up here to convey that’s there’s no problem. You can’t really blame anyone for the way [the Charter deal] went, because everyone wants what’s best for themselves. We’re just in a different situation. You can’t look back and say what you could have done different … we’re just where we are now. If you’re here to race, you’re not going to get pushed out.”
While they could have simply taken on a minimal role to appear and start each race over the past three years to collect a Charter, Len Wood explained that there was no way that Wood Brothers Racing could make the decision to do that in good conscience, knowing what the team has done in its past history.
“It would have been an embarrassment to our family … if we just showed up to receive a check,” he said in defense of going part-time with the No. 21 team. “Had we done that, it wouldn’t have been fair to our sponsors — and especially Ford Motor Company, who’s stood behind us as long as they have. We try to perform every time we show up [at the race track], and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
He then added that despite the fact that the team had been bitten by rain in 2015 and failed to qualify for several races, that as long as they could make it through the first three events of the season and secure the points they needed to earn, he is not worried about being able to make every race on the schedule.
“I think with our performance over this past year, qualifying into these races shouldn’t be an issue as long as we perform like we know we can,” Len Wood added. “With the rainout situation last year, if they’d have used the [practice] speeds [to set the fields], we were in the top 10 all three times that qualifying got rained out, but I don’t forsee that as being a problem now.”
“Now, if the car don’t crank, or if [Ryan Blaney] goes out and hits a wall or something, then we’ve got a problem (laughs). But if you’re fast enough every week, if the performance is there, then that shouldn’t be an issue.”
“And I think that’s the encouraging part with the new structure,” Jon Wood added. “Not only were things done differently for the Charter cars, but they were done differently for the non-charter cars as well. Instead of whatever they used to base it on, it’s more on performance now. The fastest four cars make the race, or the fastest four cars in practice if [qualifying] is rained out. There’s no shenanigans anymore. It’s black and white.”
The Wood Brothers are making their first full-time season since 2008 possible this year with the help of Ford Motor Company and a technical partnership with Team Penske. And while they may not have a charter, not only is Eddie Wood confident that the team will be “just fine” in the long run, he also believes that 2016 is just the beginning for this business model as an evolution of the sport.
“I’ve talked with all of our sponsors, and they’ve said that we’re gonna be okay. The way this Charter deal is structured, if you do what you’re supposed to do and what you’re capable of, it’ll all work out. We’ve been racing a long, long time … and seen a lot of change in this sport. This whole charter thing is probably going to take a life of its own. No one knows a year from now, two years from now what this thing is going to look like. Things are going to happen that nobody even thought of, just like everything else in life.”
“Down the road we’ll look at maybe getting an existing charter. There are pathways for us to do that. But right now we’ve got everything in place to be able to go and run this season, and we’re excited about that.”
The trio also explained that with the advent of the Charter system, they have officially resigned from the Race Team Alliance.
“We were putting them in a bad spot, honestly,” Eddie Wood explained. “It was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, with our approach being different than theirs, and the fact that we’ve known most of the owners our whole life. We made the decision that was best for us and our interests in the end, just as they did on their side of things.”
Despite that, however, the team says they are not going to let the current climate keep them from going out and making a run at their most successful season since 1994 — when they finished sixth in the standings with Morgan Shepherd. (The team’s best-ever points finish was third in 1974, behind the driving talent of three-time Cup champion David Pearson.)
“We’ve come too far to change our racing personality or our approach, at this point … and I think Ryan Blaney said it best on Twitter,” Len Wood said of the driver of the No. 21 Ford. “What are the Wood Brothers going to do now? We’re going to go race. That’s starts with the Daytona 500.”
Speaking of ‘The Great American Race’, the 58th annual Daytona 500 goes green on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET, with live coverage on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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