NEW MADISON — A look into Larry Wood’s shop gives you an idea of what is on his mind.
The innovator has old tools over-filling antique cabinets that take up great space, with high-tech machines in-between. Wood, is a retired machinist with Dana Corp., in Richmond, Indiana. For fun, he builds race cars in his New Madison shop. It is his first love, as he explained to his wife Linda.
“When we first got married, I said you are number three in line,” he said. “The race car comes first, the dog comes second and you come third, because the race car and the driver were both here before you. Well, the dog died so she did move to number two.”
Wood has been up and down the highways for many years, hauling his race-cars to different races.
“I call it windshield time,” he said. “But, I’m getting tired.”
Since high school, he has been building his love for race cars. A local enthusiast gave him the bug. Wood started out building drag racing cars, went to a late model dirt and then into sprint cars that he has been building and racing for 35 years.
“I love just coming down here and tinkering with the cars, making the parts and seeing how I can improve,” he said.
He manufactures about 35 percent of the cars in-house.
“If you have two guys that know what they are doing and everything is laying there, in about six hours you can put one together,” he said.
Dennis Johnson and Billy Wagner, both of Greenville help Wood in his craft, along with his son, Larry Wood Jr. They buy and assemble the frames, rear-end, tires, wheels, hubs, spindles, steering and part of the drive line. They build their own radiator trays, bars, bumpers and front axles. They fabricate a lot of miscellaneous pieces that are not for sale, Wood said.
“I can’t buy a piece that might fit just exactly like I want it,” he said.
Wood is building two cars and they are both for his boy to race. One, D-2 midget, is coming together, and the other is all over the floor in parts. Wood’s son had never showed interest in driving, until about six years ago. Before that he always hired his drivers. He never drives.
“I’ve always said I can make the car go faster from the pit area than I can behind the wheel,” he said. “A driver is about 80 percent of the total team. There is a difference between a driver and someone who just wants to race. If you don’t have a good driver, you’re not going to get to the front. My equipment is always good enough that I never have any trouble finding a good driver.”
Racing season usually runs from the first of April, until the end of September. His next race will be at the Montpelier Motor Speedway, in Montpelier, Ind., April 1. Wood’s son will race both cars at different races and in different classes. According to Montpelier Motor Speedway Owner/Promoter/Manager Harold Hunter, the racing season usually brings in big crowds. He is running the midgets in the first race. He said the Montpelier track had run down to nothing. He and his wife bought it, resurfaced the track and treat people the way they want to be treated, he said.
“It’s a family track – we have bunches of kids that come we keep it family oriented,” he said.
They have also rebuilt the midget crowd. According to Hunter, no other track around ran the midgets and they were just about extinct. When Wood decided to have his son drive, he devoted all of his time to the midgets. A midget is a small sprint car with a four – cylinder motor instead of a V-8.
“The midget, is how a lot of the young stars get started – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, a bunch of them,” Hunter said. “We’ve had them from Oklahoma and California, they have been there every week. We run the midget races about 10 times a year. We usually get really good crowds and good car counts.”
Wood has been in thousands of races, he said. Most of them have been in the Midwestern states, including: Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Iowa. While many provided plenty of excitement, Wood’s favorite race is the Kings Royal at the Eldora Speedway, in Rossburg Ohio.
“It is the most prestigious race in the country,” Wood said. “There is a lot of competition. If you beat them, you’ve beat somebody.”
Wood and company won the final night of Speed Weeks at Eldora, not at the Kings Royal, but at Eldora. Speed Weeks are seven races on seven nights at seven different tracks, Wood explained.
“It’s a job to do, because after every race you have to maintenance the car which means tearing half of it apart, cleaning and servicing it, putting it back together and going down the road to the next race.”
In 2007, they came from twenty-first to third to win Speed Weeks. Other major races Wood won, include Ohio Sprint Speedweek, in 2007, with driver Shane Stewart and the Ohio State Championship, in 2004, with driver Kenny Jacobs. When asked if his cars are built with any type of secret speed mechanism, Wood said there are no secrets.
“If you have a secret and you tell someone your secret they won’t believe you,” he said. “If you told a guy to tie a mailbox behind this car and drag it around the racetrack, he wouldn’t believe you – even though you do it, and he sees it. Even if it makes it fast, he won’t do it because he figures you are lying to him.”
According to Wood, the car design has changed very little.
“A midget is 1950s technology and they haven’t changed much,” he said. “They are still four shocks, four tires four torsion bars and the frames are basically the same. They have made them safer, because in the old days you didn’t have a roll cage, but the car itself is basically the same.”
Wood invests roughly $25,000 into each car, not including labor. His investment comes back to him at the race. If his car makes the show through series of heat races, he gets paid. Hopefully at the end of the night, he makes enough to cover expenses, such as pit passes, fuel for the truck and the car and maybe a tire.
“If you win a big show, you can make $10,000 in one night,” he said.
But that is the least of why he builds the cars. Wood loves the ability to take all the little parts and pieces, put them together, set them up, put them on the race track and see how fast they go, he said. A lot of it is trial and error. The honor lies in all of the hard work.
“That’s the way I’ve always been,” he said. “If you’re going to do it, do it to the best of your ability and don’t be afraid to try things. I’ve tore up a lot of stuff. I’m on my third set of motor mounts on this car right now because I just can’t get them the way I want them. I just keep changing. If something doesn’t fit right you modify it to make it fit.”
Wood also had collected many funny stories over the year.
“One time we were going to Florida, back when we had an open trailer,” he explained. “We were going down the highway and we had a ‘56 Ford Pickup truck with a six – cylinder in it and a three speed. We’re going down the road and I’m driving the truck. It keeps getting slower and slower and pretty soon, I’ve got the throttle to the floor and I’m running about 30 mph. I can’t get it to go any faster and I thought, man, there is something wrong.
“I kept looking in the mirror and I couldn’t see anything; it was dark,” Wood said. “Finally, I pulled off and the race car had fallen off the trailer. The rear wheels of the race car were on the ground and the motor plate had hooked on the back of the trailer, which kept the car from falling off the trailer. It was in gear, so it was turning everything over and the motor was turning over. We shoved the car back on the trailer, strapped her back down and away we went to Florida. This was back in the old days – good racing back then.”
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