Wood Brothers Racing is recognized for turning the racetrack pit stop into a race of its own. But the art of the pit stop was also advanced by another family whose contribution remains just as important and alive today.
In the 1950s, Howard Hurd was an independent tool distributor selling Ingersoll Rand pneumatic tools to mechanics and construction workers in and around Havana, GA. Every year the family journeyed to Daytona for the NASCAR race, and they traveled in the only vehicle Howard owned; the tool van. In those days most of the racers owned only one vehicle too. They drove it to Daytona, deposited the family and luggage on the beach, ran their race and then drove it home Sunday night.
According to Howard's grandson Jimmy, there were several crashes in the 1957 race, and drivers had no tools to repair their cars for the drive home. When they discovered Howard's tool truck among the other spectators on the beach, they bought almost everything he had. Jimmy said it covered the cost of the vacation that year, and Howard made sure he was ready for business the following year.
Bill France Sr., one of the founders of NASCAR, saw all this happen, and when he saw the van in a prominent spot on the beach the following year, he stopped to talk with Howard. Jimmy says Bill France personally invited Howard to bring his tool van to the race track France was to opening the following year, Daytona International Speedway. "In 1959 he brought the van, parked it in the garage, and we've been here ever since."
The right tools
Of course, being in the right place at the right time is only part of the story. In a 500-mile race, the pit crew's tools and techniques play a crucial role. In 1959, they changed tires with a four-armed lug wrench; weighted and polished so the mechanic could spin lug nuts as fast as humanly possible. In 1962, Wood Brothers Racing began using a pneumatic impact wrench they bought from Howad Hurd. "I still have some of the original invoices," says Jimmy. "They asked my grandfather to tweak these things up a little bit…That's when they started kickin' a** down on pit road." Jimmy says the Wood's car could enter the pits a lap down and leave pit road in first place. When other teams learned about their 'tweaked' impact guns, Jimmy says "everybody started buying 'em. They're the original air guns, and we're one of the first distributors in the southeast."
That tool is the Ingersoll Rand Thundergun, and it's the only impact wrench used in NASCAR pit stops. According to Jimmy, there's no rule or special business deal involved: they all use the Thundergun because it's the fastest tool that NASCAR tire changers have found. Jimmy Hurd (now in his 28th season) took over the business from his grandfather, so the Hurd family has been the only source of race-prepared Thunderguns from the beginning.
Jimmy says the success lies in the air motor's speed. "We use a high-tech air motor that revs pretty fast (up to 18,000 rpm). Nut-to-nut it has to make a quick (speed) recovery because it's the rpm making it all happen." Though modified for race duty, Jimmy says it has all the same parts of the stock impact gun. "The weight (of the spinning anvil) is what actually breaks the nut loose and the rpm takes it off. Going on, the rpm dictates the torque. They're not driving it on all the way. That lug nut is spinning so fast, that's what makes it tight."
A quick look at the socket makes this easier to understand. It's a six-point socket, but unlike those in your toolbox, the flats between them are hollowed out, leaving literally just six rounded-off nubs. It only takes a little bit of torque to make the socket slip on the nut, so the socket basically just shoves the nut around.