NASCAR Driver takes to the skies
By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on May 11, 2007 1:49 PM
Jon Wood knows first hand, you're only as good as the rest of your teammates.
He has learned that over an 11-year racing career that has taken him from go-karts in Virginia to his No. 21 Air Force car in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Wood -- who normally works with a team of mechanics and pit crewmembers -- witnessed a different team in action on Wednesday morning as he was one of the celebrity guests at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Wood took a ride in a KC-135R Stratotanker to watch a mid-air refueling mission. It was an experience unlike anything the driver has ever been a part of.
"It was different," said Wood. "Every time I've ever flown in anything that the Air Force offered it has been super fast and adrenaline packed. This was more of a technical, learning experience.
"It was something you see on TV and usually it ends in some catastrophic ending," he said. "Anytime you mix fuel with airplanes and fueling them up at full speed something goes wrong, but these guys proved it's anything but that."
The mission went off without any problems, a credit to the teamwork of the crew.
"It's an orchestrated group of events that takes place," Wood said. "Everyone has a role and if one person in that sequence of events should fail -- everything fails. Everybody has an equal amount of responsibility."
Wood is the son of Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood and the grandson of the team's founder Glen Wood -- who is one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.
In addition to driving the No. 21 Air Force car during a few Nextel Cup events, the 25-year-old Wood is a full-time NASCAR Busch Series driver of the No. 47 Clorox Ford.
So far, the 2007 season has not gone quite as planned for Wood and his team as they have only one top 10 finish and an average overall finish of 26th place in the Busch series.
"It's been everything except a season full of luck or everything that you want," said Wood. "On a positive note, we have had relatively good race cars. It's just always something seems to go wrong -- nothing of my doing, just a lot of bad luck."
Wood's one shining moment this season was racing in his first career Nextel Cup race back on March 11. Wood took the wheel of the No. 21 Air Force Ford and finished 29th in the 43-car field at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wood shoulders much of the credit and blame for his team's success as one of the team's faces. It's much like a pilot who is the face of a particular mission -- but it's the people who you don't see that can also make or break you.
"One guy couldn't do the whole thing," said Wood. "Pilots get the same sort of attention a driver would, but ultimately it's the people behind the scenes that makes those planes able to fly -- just like the people behind the scenes make the cars go fast. It's all about teamwork."
Being part of the Air Force team is something Wood takes a lot of pride in. Being the driver of the Air Force car is a goal he's been eyeing for years now -- a goal that has finally been realized.
"It's a very good partnership that I've had a lot of fun with," he said. "The unique thing about being part of Air Force racing is it's different than having a corporate sponsor because you're not trying to sell a product, you're showing respect for the people that don't necessarily get all the recognition and glory that a lot of other athletes receive. In all reality, any members of the Air Force or any of the other armed forces are the true heroes.
"A lot of times, those people do go unrecognized," Wood said. "It's all about protecting our freedom and making it possible for us to race every weekend."
Wood is scheduled to be part of a special race fraternity on Memorial Day weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord when he will be one of nine drivers to race a car painted to honor the armed services during the Coca-Cola 600 and Carquest Auto Parts 300. Drivers who will be behind the wheel of the cars -- in addition to Wood -- include Casey Mears, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ward Burton, Mark Martin, Shane Huffman and Denny Hamlin.
"We tested at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Monday and Tuesday and that went very well," said Wood. "I'm optimistic going into that race knowing we have good equipment and good cars."
Wood doesn't believe in setting a specific goal for an upcoming race for fear of putting them too high or too low. Wood instead focuses on making sure he and his team gives it their best.
"Every week you're at the mercy of the guy who's behind you," explained Wood. "It's an action packed sport, full of testosterone. You've just got to be able to look back on every week and say 'I did everything I could do to make that weekend successful.'"
Regardless of the finish, Wood is happy to honor the men and women of the Air Force.
"I'm just glad that I am the driver of the No. 21 Air Force car," he said. "It's a cool feeling."
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