Woodro Josey: “The Baron of Byron, GA” and His Drag Racing Wizardry
Class Wins at major events such as the NHRA Nationals were many for Woodro Josey.
Story by Jim Hill
Don’t let Woodro Josey’s quiet, country demeanor and soft Southern accent fool you. Just like Clint Eastwood’s Josey Wales movie character, Woodro’s justifiably earned reputation is well known among elite racers. Unlike “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, Woodro Josey’s formidable reputation comes from being one of drag racing’s premier racing engine builders and a razor-sharp competition driver. And that came from years of honing those skills on drag strips large and small, humble and grandiose.
Very few non-racing folks can tell you where the quiet, small-town of Byron, Georgia is located. But those who know the cutthroat level of competition found in drag racing’s Stock and Super Stock classes know class racing requires more attention to detail than any other form of drag racing. To achieve success on the national drag racing stage an engine builder must explore every rules-allowed option. That means crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” with pinpoint accuracy. Along the way, if he uncovers some obscure gray area of the official technical rule book, he must decide if and how to explore the careful incorporation of this potential advantage, all without arousing the suspicions of an eagle-eyed tech inspector. Incurring the wrath of one of the sanctioning “tech Nazis” is only one of the hazards. The real challenge is keeping key secrets for gaining even a couple thousandths edge out of sight of the keen observation powers of fellow competitors. After all, it’s those guys you’re trying to beat. There’s no reason to tip them to a carefully researched and discovered advantage, not even a tiny one!
Such skullduggery is all a part of what really serious racers call “getting competitive”. It occurs in all forms of racing, and wherever clever minds seek an edge over their competition. Circle track racing legend and master “interpreter” of racing rule books Junior Johnson once succinctly noted: “When the tech guys are busy lookin’ at the front end, we’re busy workin’ on the back end”. Drag racing wizards such as Woodro Josey adhere to the same credo.
Woodro Josey and his wife of 51 years, Linda, enjoy the quiet life in their Byron, Georgia home. Byron is a blessedly small Georgia town known mainly for its very busy forest products industry. Stock Class drag racers know Byron as the home of Woodro’s small but deadly-efficient engine building and race car shop. Woodro’s small, under-the-radar operations were known for being a sort of “Skunk Works” where big-time racing advancements came from attention to the tiniest of details.
Crowning a many-decades career as a driver, engine builder and tuner was Woodro Josey’s induction into the 2015 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame. The Henderson, NC recognizes the efforts of those involved in drag racing.
Where Woodro’s home town Byron’s measures its economic engine’s success in board-feet, Woodro measures his in increased horsepower and pounds-foot torque increases within a desired engine speed range, National Records set, major event class and Stock Eliminator wins. In those more definitive terms, Woodro Josey’s list of personal accomplishments are the stuff of drag racing legend.
Although he’s recently retired from actively racing and building customer engines, Woodro remains an iconic figure. He is especially known for his skills in making the electronic fuel injected, LT1 V-8 engine perform at power output levels General Motors engineers never expected, or intended. Those specialized skills have earned him the status of being the LT1 “guru of horsepower”. It’s an honor he acknowledges, but Josey’s engine building and tuning skills far exceed those stifling parameters. This is a man well versed in precisely assembling a race engine suitable for a variety of configurations and manufacturer marques, and seeing his handiwork exceed even his own lofty expectations.
Although Woodro’s reputation today revolves around modern GM V-8 engines, he launched his drag racing career in 1962, running his ‘62 Ford daily driver. Woodro’s first legal drag strip runs came at the Camp Wheeler Dragway, near Macon, Georgia. It didn’t take long for Woodro to determine that “street and strip” meant nothing but problems and losing. To resolve that conflict he bought and prepared a ’56 Ford sedan and began modifying it for the sole purpose of competitive, track-only drag racing. The ’56 Ford was followed by a ’66 Ford and then a ’68 Mustang. After that Woodro switched marque allegiance with a small-block Chevy powered ’65 Chevelle. The Chevelle was followed by a series of Gen I Camaros, and even ’72 Dodge Dart. With each vehicle Woodro learned a little more about engine building, tuning and being seriously competitive in one of racing’s most ultra-competitive eliminator brackets.
Following his successful yet relatively unrewarding exploration of Chrysler products, he returned to the GM products with first an LT1 powered 1995, then a ’97 and finally a ’98 Pontiac Firebird. Each car and its engine combination served as an experimental laboratory for his by then well-known and growing customer engine building business, Woodro’s Machine Shop.
During his lengthy, storied racing career, Woodro Josey has quietly accumulated a list of achievements enviable by any drag racer. As a measure of that success he began actively setting and re-setting class records in both IHRA and NHRA racing. Chipping away at records is not at all an ego trip for Woodro, rather, it’s a tangible way to measure the success of his engines, chassis and tuning capabilities.
In IHRA Woodro Josey set 12 IHRA National Records, all in Stock classes, and at tracks across the southeast.
In NHRA Woodro’s first National Class Record came in 1974. Since then he has managed to accumulate an amazing 62 different NHRA records. As if official class records weren’t enough, Woodro boasts 32 different class wins at major NHRA events, in both Stock and Super Stock. Sometimes merely winning the class at a major event can be like winning a war. But the real test comes after a class win, when a class winner lines up for his eliminator bracket.
Woodro Josey’s win-loss in that rarified air had produced an enviable list of achievements. Woodro won Stock Eliminator at the 1978 IHRA Dixie Nationals, in Commerce, GA, Stock at the ’96 Gatornationals, and a runner-up in Stock Eliminator at the ’94 Gatornationals and Southern Nationals.
Racing “at home”, in NHRA’s Southeast Division 2 can be like running a major national event. The level of competition is as intense as it gets. Accepting that challenge, Woodro won NHRA Southeast Division Stock Championships in 1979, 80, 88 and 1989, and ran in the NHRA World Finals in Ontario, CA in 1979 and 1980. In 1979 he was named NHRA Southeast Division’s Top Sportsman Driver, and 1979 Stewart-Warner “Man of the Year” plus “Mechanic of the Year” at Warner Robins Dragway, Georgia.
Another career high point for Woodro Josey came in 1998 when he was inducted into the NHRA Southeast Division Hall of Fame. Woodro’s name is now permanently entered on a plaque at Don Garlits International Museum lf Drag Racing, Ocala, FL.
Woodro ran his last race in October, 2011, at the Reynolds, GA Silver Dollar Raceway. Due to health issues he shut Woodro’s Machine Shop in March 2012. Closing his engine machining and assembly operations capped 32 years in the business. To further distance himself from the temptations of returning, he sold his last race car in October 2012.
Woodro and Linda Josey now spend their time relaxing in their home in Byron, and it’s certain that Georgia’s always on their minds. (Apologies to Hoagy Carmichael and Ray Charles, also well know for genius in their respective fields of songwriting and performing!) It must be noted that recent developments have lured Woodro back closer to the flame. Should a few of those closely guarded cards fall in the right direction Woodro may once again be found behind the wheel, turning wrenches and programming laptops on a premier ride offered to the storied old pro.
The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame salutes its 2015 inductee Woodro Josey.