The throwback paint scheme that Ryan Blaney’s No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion will sport in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway gives team owners Eddie and Len Wood a chance to recognize some of the most fun times of their decades in NASCAR.
The No. 21 Ford Fusion will carry a red, white and blue paint scheme reminiscent of the 1987 season when Kyle Petty was their driver and the team’s Ford Thunderbird carried the colors of Citgo and 7-Eleven.
“That was a really special time for Len and me,” Eddie Wood recalled.
A collaboration between the Woods and the Pettys, who had been competitors – but friends as well – for years, seemed risky for those who weren’t close to either family.
But it was the right move at the right time for both.
It started with the 1985 season and continued through 1988.
“Kyle had been running with sponsorship from the Southland Corp. of Dallas, which owned Citgo, 7-Eleven and Chief Auto Parts,” Wood said. “Things were changing at Petty Enterprises, and he needed somewhere to go.
“And we needed to be running all the races.”
To mark the union of a Petty and the Woods, a mock wedding was held in the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“There were people who said it would never work, but it worked perfectly,” Wood said.
Petty, who like the Woods’ current driver Ryan Blaney, was relatively young when he took over the car, just 24 years old. Len Wood was 28 and Eddie was 32.
“Kyle was younger than us, but he’d always been around, so we didn’t have to build a relationship,” Wood said. “It was already there.”
The three young men, all members of established racing families, had the times of their lives. They traveled together to the races and to wind tunnel tests, and Petty spent a good bit of time at the Woods’ shop in Stuart, Va.
The relationship produced good results on the race track too. In their second year together, Petty got his first career win, at Richmond International Raceway. He is one of several drivers, including team founder Glen Wood, Tiny Lund, Dale Jarrett, Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne, to get his first Cup win in a Wood Brothers car.
“Hopefully we can get Ryan Blaney his first Cup win too,” Wood said.
Petty also won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1987 (then known as one of the Triple Crown races), joining a list of drivers who scored multiple wins for the Wood Brothers. That list includes Glen Wood, Speedy Thompson, Marvin Panch, Dan Gurney, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, AJ Foyt and Neil Bonnett.
From 1985 to 1988, Petty scored 19 top-five and 48 top-10 finishes. He finished in the top 10 in points for three straight years.
The 1987 season turned out to be their best, with the win in the Coca-Cola 600, five other top-five and 13 top-10 finishes and a seventh-place finish in the championship standings. Petty also finished 14th in the Southern 500 that year.
Just as the Woods and Blaney today benefit from their relationships with their friends at Motorcraft and Quick Lane, the team was helped in the Petty era by Larry Brittain, the senior vice president of marketing for Citgo.
It was Brittain who made the decision to put the iconic No. 21 back on the Woods car for 1987 after it carried a No. 7 to match sponsor 7-Eleven for the two previous seasons.
“The first thing Larry Brittain did when he took over was to put the 21 back on the car,” Wood said.
Wood said that during their time together, and in the years since, he’s been impressed with what Petty has been able to accomplish, both on and off the track.
“When he was with us, Kyle used to build his own aluminum seats,” Wood said. “He won a total of eight Cup races. He’s a talented singer and guitar player. He’s done great work with the Victory Junction Camp and the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, and he’s an excellent TV commentator.
“Kyle can do anything he wants to do. He’s that talented. We’re happy to have his name back on our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion for the Southern 500 at Darlington.”