The 21 car has a new sponsor for 2006
Concord, N.C.--Wood Brothers Racing has been absent from victory lane inNASCAR's Cup Series in recent years, but the organization is notstanding still while the motorsports world races by.
A lot of change has taken place within the company during recent months.Last August the team announced a partnership with Tad Geschickter toform Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. By late November the operation wasrelocating from its shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, to a buildingformerly occupied by a plastics plant in Harrisburg, approximately 30minutes south. The spacious new shop is located five minutes from Lowe'sMotor Speedway.
Also new to the team is driver Ken Schrader, 50, a veteran Cupcompetitor who replaces the retired Ricky Rudd, the team's previousdriver. Wood Brothers announced the hiring of Schrader and the additionof sponsor Little Debbie (the snack company) at Homestead in November.
Wood Brothers/JTG Racing will be active this season, more so than atany time in the Woods' 50-plus years in the sport. The organization willfield a Nextel Cup car for Schrader; a part-time Cup car for Jon Wood,son of team co-owner Eddie Wood; two Busch Series teams, one for Woodand one for Stacy Compton; and a pair of Craftsman Truck Series teamsfor rookies Bobby East and Marcos Ambrose, who is from Australia.
A tour of the new shop was part of the third day of the NASCAR NextelMedia Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"This is way different than anything I've ever been around," said EddieWood. "We've always had just one Cup team, other than in the earlyyears. In the mid-sixties, we ran three cars at selected races, but thatwas then, and this is now. We've had Late Model teams, Hooters Cup, FordFocus Midgets, even Go-Karts, but nothing like this.
Ken Schrader will be behind the wheel of the Wood Brothers' 21 car in 2006
"Six, seven weeks ago when we moved into this shop, we didn't even havea truck built. Now there are seven or eight. We had three or four Cupcars completed, maybe a couple of Busch cars done, and that was all. Nowwe have just completed all three tests at Daytona. There's tons of workyet to do, but from where it was six, eight weeks ago, it's just amazingto me. I don't know how it all happened. It just happened."
Wood said that 150 people are employed by Wood Brothers/JTG Racing.Michael "Fatback" McSwiam carries the title of race director. Theoperation is structured so that each of the fabricators and mechanicsworks on all three types of race vehicle--Cup, Busch and Truck. The onlyemployees dedicated to specific teams are the ones who travel to theraces.
"In today's world it is sometimes hard to get good crew members, so bymaking everybody a part of everything, my hope is that they will learnfaster," said McSwaim. "A guy who works on a Truck team can also spendtime on Cup cars and Busch cars and hopefully it will expedite his moveup to the Busch or Cup series and make our program stronger."
Wood Brothers Racing, founded by Glen and Leonard Wood, has 97 wins inNASCAR's top division, good for fourth all-time. The team washeadquartered in the Woods' hometown of Stuart, Virginia, untilrelocating to Mooresville in recent years.
GORDON TEAM WORKING TOWARD TURNAROUND
Jeff Gordon is looking to bounce back from a rough 2005.
One of the biggest storylines carried over from last season involves theperformance of Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Although Gordon won four races, he failed to qualify for the Chase forthe Nextel Cup title and finished 11th in points, one season afterfinishing third in the inaugural Chase.
One area needing improvement was the team's performance on intermediatetracks, an area that has already been addressed, according to Gordon.
"We really started (to improve) in the final 10 races last year," saidGordon. "Our mile-and-a-half downforce program really had some greatgains towards the end of the year. We had a real strong car at Homesteadin the final race of the season. I feel like it started then and that'sdefinitely a part of our focus. We seemed to be really strong on thesuperspeedways (winning at Daytona and Talladega) and strong on theshort tracks (with consecutive wins at Martinsville).
"It was a combination of just trying to make some changes to get mefeeling comfortable, and we went to Atlanta last year for a test andchanged some things with the bodies. We came back from that test and didsome things in the wind tunnel and went in a much different directionthan we had been going and really seemed to pick up. So we're justgoing to take it from there. We'll have a good opportunity to find outhow much we've improved with our first downforce track, California,early in the season (one week after the Daytona 500, on Feb. 26)."
Late last season the team also replaced crew chief Robbie Loomis, whoresigned from Hendrick Motorsports to return to Petty Enterprises. SteveLetarte was promoted from car chief and will continue in the role ofcrew chief this season. Gordon and Letarte worked together in the finalraces of the season.
"Once we didn't make the Chase, I think that was a great opportunity forus to really get our 2006 season started," said Gordon. "I made acomment at the end of last season that that was our 10th race of the2006 season, and we would be starting race 11 at Daytona, and I stillbelieve that. We were able to get a jumpstart by not being in theChase."