There's nothing fancy about 65-year-old Larry Wood, pictured in front of his 2006 Eagle (w
It's been an Open Wheel career that has lasted off and on for some 50 years. But driving was never a part of Larry Wood's magnificent effort, he was and still is a mechanic and crew chief, but most notably, an owner and builder.
This "Old School" guy does it pretty much on his own with hard work, a mind that that can analyze any problem, unbelievable fabrication skills, and most importantly, a great love of the sport. While back in the day Larry Wood was one of many just like him, today the Larry Woods of the world are quickly disappearing from the racing landscape.
The New Madison, Ohio native lives right in the middle of Sprint Car country just a short hop from Eldora Speedway. Through the years, he's crewed, wrenched, and owned non-wing 410 Sprints along with 305, 360, and 410 Winged Sprints at dozens of tracks.
Another Wood innovation with a homemade race tire washer. It takes about 15 minutes to do
During the late 1950s and through the early '60s he worked with midwest legend Chick Hale and his early Super Modifieds. He has plans to restore one of those old Modifieds if he can find the time.
Wood even dabbled in NHRA national drag racing and finished Second in the 1967 Spring Nationals with a mod Vette.
"Learned pretty quickly that was not the game for me. With my winnings from that event, there wasn't enough money to pay my motel bill. It was back to the dirt tracks for me," he quipped.
Wood's career has been 99 percent dirt, with just a couple exceptions where he has fielded non-wing pavement Sprint Cars at the famous Little 500 at Anderson (IN) Speedway. But don't get the idea that Larry just runs with local guys. Hardly, during those numerous decades, he's run with the World of Outlaws, USAC, All-Stars, NRA, Midwest All Stars, and others. With participation like that, you would probably figure that there is a sizable sponsor hanging around to pay the bills. That would be a false conclusion. "I have never had a sponsor, I do it myself with my own money and sweat. I am not a rich man, but with the way I do my business, I have been able to keep putting competitive race cars on the track," the 65-year-old explained.
Here's the washer with a tire in place. Note the motor that powers the roller to the back
For the past 20-plus years, the concentration has been on the Sprint Cars. So how does a low-budget guy like Wood compete with drivers who are carrying $35,000 engines when it's clearly obvious he couldn't afford such an investment.
"I build my own, and doing it the way I do, they end up costing me about $15,000. And the engines I build are competition with about an 800-horse capability," he explained.
So Larry, how do you do it?
"Right off the bat, I start off with both used aluminum blocks and Brodix heads along with various other used parts. I fabricate my oil tank and even my own bolts which also helps."
Wood looks for reliability in his engines more than power. "I can usually run an engine all season without having to tear it down. Heck, one of my 410 engines is 14 years old and it still runs strong with annual rebuilds."
A master fabricator, Larry designed this special lock washer...
That particular engine was under the hood at Larry's greatest accomplishment, winning the 2007 All Star Sprint Speedweek title with Shane Stewart (Larry's favorite driver) behind the wheel.
Through the years there have been a number of Top 5s and many Top 10s. In a recent race at Waynesfield(OH) Raceway Park, he finished Second against a tough field. No doubt about it, he had the oldest car and oldest engine!
That power Larry might miss when compared to the high-dollar mills he makes up for with methodical tuning of his powerplants.
He explained, "I carefully tune my engines to be consistent with the particular track.
...to keep Dzus fittings from pulling through the fiberglass panels.
"The fuel system is the most important engine component when considering the trade-off between power and reliability. With a high-speed track like Eldora, you have to adjust the fuel pressure and jetting to sustain a constant wide-open throttle. With a short track, the system must be flexible and be able to deliver power when getting back on the throttle.
"I do a lot of my work at Dick Hickernell Engine Service, but I do most of the assembly at my shop."
"Shop" would be putting it mildly, as Larry has about 3,000 square feet to place a multitude of vintage machine tools that he has accumulated over the years. "The milling machines date back to the 1970s while some of the lathes go back to the 1940s. No CNC or CAD here, I feel very comfortable working with those old machines," he said.
This special aluminum bar with its four adjustment holes allows longer radius rods to be u
The building is a former grain elevator which he has converted to a shop where he has accomplished his amazing tinkering all done in the old school way, of course. He does a vast majority of his work by himself. "I like doing it that way."
One of his better ideas was the installation of a service station lift rack which enables him to do setup work underneath his cars while standing up. "And it also enables me to turn the car around so I can push it out with the nose pointed outward," the retired 30-year Dana Corporation employee explained.
His fabrication skills are also very evident on his Sprint Cars. "I fabricate my own bumpers, nerfs, drag links, tie rods, wing trees, and Jacob's ladders."
And if you look closely at the Dzus fittings, you will see a special Wood lock washer installed with them. "Makes the fitting much stronger and prevents it from pulling through the fiberglass panels," he explained.
There is also a unique aluminum vertical bar on the sides of his cars. "It has a number of holes which allow large rear adjustments of radius rod locations. I try to keep the radius rod going uphill toward the front of the car which allows for a longer radius rod and greater forward bite."
Another Larry Wood innovation on his Sprinters is a front sway bar that he designed and built. "It is about 13 inches forward of the front axle. Its purpose is to change the roll center of the car and aids in the driver handling and control."
Larry points to one of the many oil tanks he has fabricated through the years.
By the way, his cars are not new, not even close. The current cars are 2002 and 2006 Eagle models and there sure aren't any plans of replacing them in the near future. "I just keep updating them." he said.
But his fabrication capabilities extend far beyond the engines and cars themselves. He also built his car trailer and the toter on his truck. With Larry, if he has the capability to build anything race-related to save money, he'll do it!
Over the years, Larry has had several dozen chauffeurs drive for him. They range from top-liners like longtime All-Star driver Kenny Jacobs (who won for Larry in 2004) and World of Outlaw driver Brian Paulus, to guys that drive at the local tracks.
When Larry needs somebody to drive his car, he calls them up and about 75 percent of the time answer yes. They know that they will be getting a good, competitive car. It's guys like Larry that local competition love when the travelling big boys come to town. And you better believe they know who Larry Wood is.
Larry also designed special hose crimp collars to reduce the chance of leaking either wate
Larry is into race-related restorations and there are two that really stand out. First, there was a complete totally-accurate recreation of the Sprint Car that World of Outlaw driver Brad Doty was seriously injured in during a 1988 race. And exactly 10 years later, Brad (with the aid of Wood-designed hand controls) paced the same race of his injury.
He also did a stock car restoration of one of the cars from the movie Six-Pack which had been driven by Kenny Rogers. From the woeful starting point, Larry brought it totally back to its movie glory.
When asked his opinion about the state of Sprint Car racing today, Larry had some definite ideas. "It's the cost today that worries me, but I think some rules on the costs of tires and engines would be of huge help. With the tires, I don't think there should be a spec tire. I think that all the manufacturers should provide both a soft and hard compound which would be comparable. That way there could be competition which would bring down the tire bills," he explained.
A view of the front sway bar that Larry designed with a unique device. It is effectively a
"With the engines, I think there should be spec heads and injection systems. Since the engine is basically an air pump that would really level the playing field. Those rules would greatly increase engine reliability and only minimally decrease power."
A modest guy, Larry wants to thank the many who have helped him through the years. His longtime volunteer crew that includes DJ Johnson, Bill Wagner, and his son Larry Jr. who Larry hopes will continue this tradition. "I also have to greatly thank Junior and Janet Holbrook, Banshee Graphics, Ron Sprenkel of Mid-East Machinery Movers, and Jerry Russell at Eagle Chassis.
So what would this innovative guy want people to remember his legacy? "I would like to have them think that I did the most with what I had."
He indeed did it very well, and then some.
Homemade bumpers and nerf bars.
The screen was installed by Larry to keep out dirt and debris.
Another part, a top wing front cap, was built of high-impact plastic that Larry ? takes (w
The replica of the Brad Doty Sprint Car in which he was seriously injured at Eldora. Doty
The restored stock car that had been driven by Kenny Rogers in the 1982 movie Six Pack.
The homemade toter and hauler.
Cutting the wrench flats on bolts on the Bridgeport Milling Machine.
Wood used the lathe to fabricate the special crimp collars for the hoses seen on the previ
On an old box of headers, the following verses were printed. It hangs on the wall of Larry
Wonder what new thing this guy is thinking about?
Shane Stewart driving Larry Wood's car won the 2007 Ohio Sprint Speed Week title.