When one digs into the backstory of Matt Wood’s early days, it’s not difficult to see how he ended up entrenched in sprint car racing as a promoter, car owner and steward of the sport.
After all, considering Wood grew up in the shadows of historic Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway — dubbed the Sprint Car Capital of the World — it was all but inevitable he’d play a part in the sport’s history.
“My late pops, Daryl Wood, was where all this started … way back in the day, he was an IMCA promoter in the Midwest. And he used to tell the story that if they had a good night, they had meat, and if they didn’t have a good night, they had grapes,” Wood recalled with a chuckle. “But he started as a promoter and then got into owning sprint cars. There are still pictures of me when I was just a young kid, standing on an old trailer with one of the old supermodifieds in our driveway. Obviously, those turned into what we know today as sprint cars, but back in the day he had those, and I started building a dream.
“All I ever wanted to have was a sprint car in my driveway and now there are days I want them all out of there,” Wood added, his grin growing wider. “From the days that I spent sitting in the wooden bleachers at Knoxville to now … I guess this is all an old family deal that got bigger than I ever believed it could.”
From those humble roots came a desire to succeed that has fueled all of Wood’s future endeavors.
Now 59, Wood owns a successful business in Elk Grove Ford — one of the largest Ford dealerships in the Sacramento, Calif., area — that helps to buoy his successful sprint car and midget racing operation.
That race team, which went through several name changes before settling into its current iteration as Matt Wood Racing, was rooted in family — Wood’s son Cole, to be precise.
“It all started with my son,” Wood noted. “We got going in quarter midgets when he was 6 and he had a tremendous amount of success in quarter midgets. We won (Grand National championships) and did a bunch of things that we wanted to do, eventually jumped up into 600 mini sprints with him, and it was the same process. We won track championships and found success, and that led us to sprint car racing.
“Cole was our driver for many years, but one day he said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to go make a living, because I’m not making any money doing this,’ and I nearly got out of (ownership).”
Wood sold his engines, truck and trailer to car owner Keith Kunz on the opening day of the 2015 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. It appeared his journey was over, though Wood didn’t want it to be.
Two days later, a conversation over lunch thrust Wood back into the thick of team ownership.
“On Wednesday of that Chili Bowl week, Bryan Clauson happened to be eating lunch with us. And I said, ‘Bryan, what are you going to do next year?’ He goes, ‘Well, I’d like to run 40 or 45 winged sprint car races.’ And that happened to be about the number I was looking to do so I could stay involved, and I told him if he’d do it with me, I’d put a team together,” Wood explained. “Literally in 10 minutes, Bryan and I had a deal.
“I always laugh, because the first schedule that he gave me had 80 races or so on it. Bless him, Bryan was an amazing person, but his math skills were terrible,” Wood joked. “So we put our team together and ran that first year … and the next year, we were doing the Chasing 200 tour and already had a deal put together for the following season (2017), because myself, Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and Richard Marshall were ready to go World of Outlaws racing and we were going to take Bryan along with us.”
Those close to the sport know the tragic end to that chapter of Wood’s tale. Clauson was involved in a devastating crash during the Belleville (Kan.) Midget Nationals in August 2016 and died from his injuries.
Once again, Wood found himself at a crossroads in terms of his association with the sport he loved.
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