Wood Brothers Racing–1968 Firecracker 400 Was Smooth Sailing For Cale Yarborough But Quite The Adventure For Kenny Martin

1968 Firecracker 400 Was Smooth Sailing For Cale Yarborough But Quite The Adventure For Kenny Martin

June 30, 2015
The Wood Brothers, Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team return to Daytona International Speedway this weekend for the Coke Zero 400, a race the Woods have won eight times.

The Woods also have five victories in the Daytona 500, and every one of those Daytona victories has its own unique set of circumstances.

Some wins were hard-fought, like David Pearson’s triumph in the 1976 Daytona 500, when he managed to keep the No. 21 running despite a last-lap crash with Richard Petty. Pearson limped his battered racer across the finish like to score a victory in a race still regarded by many as the most spectacular superspeedway finish of all time.

Others, like Tiny Lund’s victory in the 1963 Daytona 500, came because the Woods had the best pit strategy. In that race, the Woods never changed tires and stretched their fuel mileage to score a victory that was one of the more heart-warming stories in the history of NASCAR. Lund was picked to drive the No. 21 after he helped rescue the Woods’ regular driver, Marvin Panch, from a wrecked, burning sports car just days before.

Then there were some wins like Cale Yarborough’s in the 1968 Firecracker 400 that were essentially devoid of drama. In that race, Yarborough took the lead for good on Lap 43 and was two laps ahead of second-place Lee Roy Yarbrough in Junior Johnson’s Mercury when the checkered flag flew. That race saw just two caution flags for 14 laps, and the average speed was 167.247 miles per hour. The race, which began at 10 a.m., was over two hours and 23 minutes later.

While Yarborough enjoyed a relatively uneventful drive at Daytona, Kenny Martin, the Woods’ gas man and truck driver at that time, wasn’t so lucky on his trip back home.

His trip turned into quite an adventure, although it started out fairly smoothly, as Martin, now 77, recalled.

In that era, the No. 21 team hauled their racer on a cab-over Ford truck with a ramp bed on back. For this particular trip, Grover Adkins, Glen Wood’s partner in a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, caught a ride back with Martin.

“We got loaded up and headed home a little after 1,” Martin remembered. “It was really hot, like it always is in Florida on the Fourth of July. We got about 50 miles up the road, and a tire blew.”

Martin steered the truck onto the shoulder, got out a bottle jack and started to jack up the truck. But between the asphalt that had been softened by the heat and the weight of the car on the back of the truck, he was having no luck.

“When I pumped the jack, instead of the truck going up, the jack went down into the asphalt,” he said.

Adkins somehow came up with a solution. “He had eagle eyes,” Martin recalled. “He climbed over the fence beside the interstate and found a two-by-six board about four feet long. How he found that I don’t know.”

The board was the perfect solution to the sinking jack, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter.

“The next thing we know the other tire blew out,” Martin said. “So there I sat with two flat tires.”

Martin caught a ride to a truck stop, and a road service crew came and replaced the two tires. Two hours later, Martin and Adkins were back on the road.

But their troubles were far from over. Just above Savannah, the alternator went out on the truck.

Lucky for the unlucky duo, the alternator and battery on the Daytona-winning Mercury on back of the truck was the same as on the hauler. The problem was the hood of the race car was tucked under the rack holding spare racing tires, so the hood would only come up part of the way.

“I was skinnier back then, so I slithered under there and took off the alternator and got the battery too,” Martin said. “It took a while to do that.”

Eventually, they were back on the road and had made it to Cheraw, S.C. Just as they were crossing a bridge, the tires that had been replaced back in Florida came loose.

The lip of the ramp bed on the truck kept the tires from coming completely out from under the truck, preventing a disaster, but Martin and Adkins were in another fix.

“Here I am again with the jack under the truck,” Martin said.

This time, help came in the form of journeyman race driver Clyde Lynn, who had finished 22nd at Daytona in his own No. 20 Ford.

Martin and Lynn worked on the damaged threads on the studs of the wheels, and removed one lug nut each from the other three corners of the truck, using those borrowed lug nuts to replace those that had come off.

“We finally got going,” Martin said. “I’d stop every 20 or 30 miles and check the lugs. It was the next morning before we got as far as Greensboro.”

Adkins bailed out at that point and had someone meet him and give him a ride to his home in Danville. Martin continued on alone to the Woods’ home base in Stuart, Va.

Without consulting anyone on the race team, Adkins immediately ordered a new hauler.

“We might have been due to get a new one, but our troubles weren’t the truck’s fault,” Martin said..

After that truck was retired from race track duty, the Woods and Martin converted it into a parts truck. Eventually it was sold to Yarborough, who wanted it to use on his farm.

“Cale and one of his hired men came to the shop one day to pick it up,” Martin said. “Just as they were pulling out of the parking lot, a tie-rod end fell off.

“I think that truck was jinxed.”

The “jinxed” truck is long gone, but five decades later the Wood Brothers continue to be contenders each time the Sprint Cup circuit races at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway. In May, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion were in the hunt for the win at Talladega in the closing laps, and he finished a Cup-career-best fourth.