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Racing Legend Smokey Yunick Dies - May 9, 2001
Article courtesy of THE DAYTONA BEACH NEWS-JOURNAL; Thursday, May 10, 2001, (section A: page 1); Godwin Kelly

DAYTONA BEACH - Henry "Smokey" Yunick, one of auto racing's most brilliant mechanics and innovators, died early Wednesday morning at his home after a year-long battle with leukemia. Yunick, 77, was born in Neshaminy, Pa., and settled here in 1946 after serving as an Air force bomber pilot in World War II. His first glimpse of Daytona Beach was from a pilot's seat in a B-17. After one look, he decided to call this area home once his tour of service was complete.
In 1947, he opened an automobile repair shop on Beach Street he dubbed "The Best Damn Garage In Town."

He closed the garage to the public in the mid-1980s but continued work on his research and development projects. Yunick quickly became a major player in the racing community here, boasting several big victories on the old beach-road course before winning both the Daytona 500 as a car owner and the Indianapolis 500 as a mechanic.

His black Pontiacs with gold trim twice claimed the Daytona 500, with Marvin Panch in 1961 and Daytona native Fireball Roberts in '62. Yunick's cars won four of the first eight Winston Cup races at Daytona International Speedway. Turning the clock back even further, Yunick was the chief mechanic for Herb Thomas, who won Winston Cup (then known as Strictly Stock) championships in 1951 and '53. According to the Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia, Yunick had 61 starts as a car owner, scoring eight career victories. He won more than 50 times as a crew chief, chief mechanic or engine builder. He scored 49 victories working with Thomas in the early 1950s. Yunick was especially fond of bending the NASCAR rule book. In 1968 during Speed Weeks, NASCAR officials pulled the gas tank out of his Pontiac after they thought his car was getting excessive fuel mileage. After passing a rigid inspection, Yunick got in the car-- with the gas tank lying on the ground -- fired it up and drove back to his space in the garage area, leaving NASCAR inspectors dumbfounded.
"Smokey looked and saw where the NASCAR rule book wouldn't define something and he'd make his own improvisations," said Bobby Allison, who made a couple of starts in Yunick-prepared cars. "There's that gas tank story. The gas tank was the right size but he made the fuel line so it held a couple of gallons of gas. So he was able to drive away without the gas tank. I don't want to say he didn't step outside the lines, but he was really smart about those things."
Racing was fun for Yunick. Building a car from the ground up to assault Indianapolis Motor Speedway was his absolute first love.

His open-wheel creations made 10 appearances at the famed Brickyard between 1958 and 1975. He won the Indy 500 in 1960 when the car he prepared carried Jim Rathmann to Victory Lane. In 1959 he brought a car with the engine turned upside down. He called it the Reverse Torque Special. The car finished seventh. In 1964 he showed up at Indy with the strangest machine ever to turn laps at the 2.5-mile track. It was his "sidesaddle" car wheeled by Bobby Johns. "The whole car was built out of backyard kind of stuff," said Yunick.
Yunick worked with some of the greatest race car drivers in the 20th century, including Hall of Famers Tim Flock, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Curtis Turner, Bobby Unser, Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts and Paul Goldsmith, who captured the last Daytona Beach-road course race in 1958.
"We've lost one of the greatest mechanics to ever work in our sport," said Ray Evernham, who fields two stock cars in Winston Cup.
Tired of what he perceived as politics in stock-car racing, Yunick stopped fielding a Winston Cup entry in 1970 after a heated argument with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. Even though the two racing giants lived in the same town, they hardly spoke to each other for the next 20 years. France died in 1992.

Yunick battled health problems over the last few years. He was admitted to Halifax Medical Center more than two weeks ago for treatment of pneumonia. He had recently started chemotherapy in hopes of sending the leukemia into remission. The treatments failed. A steady stream of family and friends visited his hospital bedside until he went home on Tuesday. He died at 1 a.m. Wednesday with his family around him. "I feel like hell," he told the News-Journal in a hospital interview on April 27. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Yunick was easy to recognize. Most of the time he would be dressed in a bright white overalls and a cowboy hat as he chewed on a corn cob pipe. "Smokey was quite a character," said Tony George, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "That's what racing needs today, more characters. He will be missed."

Yunick had no formal education but was considered one of the top minds in automobile engine design. He helped develop Chevrolets original small-block engine in 1955. The basic blueprints of that design are still used in racing to this day. He also did research and development on hydraulics, fuel intakes and engine mileage. He built an engine in the 1970's that he boasted could go nearly 100 miles on a gallon of regular gasoline. He also was interested in creating other gadgets. During the energy crisis in the mid 1970s, he built a windmill and solar panel over his shop hoping to generate enough electricity to power his business.

Yunick was never afraid of a microphone or stating his honest opinion. "He never wanted for words, whether it was a cuss word or a nice word," said Ray Fox, who worked with Yunick in the 1950's before starting his own racing operation. "He was one heck of a guy."
Motorcycle racing was Yunick's first foray into the speed business. At 16, he had a short career but earned his nickname by piloting a motorcycle with an engine that smoked. A fellow competitor who had trouble remembering Yunick's first name simply called him "Smokey."

Despite failing health, Yunick continued to frequent racetracks across the country, with his wife Margie by his side, as a spokesman for an oil additive. Most recently Yunick was working on two projects. The first was writing a book dealing with his life and racing exploits. The three-volume work will be released July 6. "The people who knew how things really were in racing's early days were all gone," said Yunick, explaining why he wrote the tell-all trilogy. He penned numerous magazine articles during his long career. He had the ear of Detroit's automakers and even found time to do some consulting work for NASA.

His other recent project was leading a charge for improved safety measures in racing. Yunick was preparing a round-table discussion of safety issues with some of the industry's top names at a conference in Indianapolis in November.

Yunick was in the first group of 20 men inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Survivors in addition to his wife include three sons, Smokey Jr., Holly Hill, Sam, Jacksonville, and Steve, Ormond Beach; a sister, Renee Walker, Rockwell, Texas; and nine grandchildren. Donations may be made to the Stewart-Marchman Treatment Center. Ormond Funeral Home, Ormond Beach, is in charge.

"Smokey" Yunick dies at 77  Saturday, May 12, 2001 . . . . Smokey's sendoff will be full of memories . . . MY TWO CENTS By KEN WILLIS

Anyone expecting your typical flowers-and-tears sendoff today will likely leave Smokey Yunick's funeral disappointed. "We've got a couple things planned," was the promise/warning from wife Margie, who greeted visitors and accepted condolences Friday during visiting hours at Ormond Funeral Home. Today, the funeral home will likely grow cramped due to a turnout of Smokey's friends and admirers, who will gather for the 1 p.m. service to say "adios" (his usual parting words) to Yunick, who died at 77 this past Wednesday after a fight with leukemia.

Friday, the place was bulging at the walls with memories, laughter and a few tears. The tears, of course, were due to our loss, not Smokey's, because Smokey Yunick left nothing on life's table. Few have ever jammed as many lifetimes of experiences into one earthly visit. From flying fighter planes in World War II, to building race cars, to trolling the Amazon for minerals, to inventing and refining and testing nearly every type of mechanical device ever imagined at the "Best Damn Garage in Town" -- forget what those Coors commercials tell you, you would never find a more original American than Smokey Yunick. Every day, of course, we lose men from Smokey's generation -- your father, your neighbor's father, an uncle. But when someone as unique as Smokey Yunick moves along, Father Time's cold hand stings a little more. Probably due to all he accomplished at race tracks and in mechanical test labs, the rest of us are reminded of how many of our own wishes and goals -- in comparison -- are still dangling out there.

And that, maybe more than anything, is why so many people will miss Smokey. He reminded us that,if so motivated, you can get a lot done. "I've been amazed," said Margie, noting the national media attention Smokey's death garnered. "I guess maybe I was so close to him, I didn't notice it."

Bridge Tender

The funeral home lobby, as well as the altar area, are loaded with reminders of Smokey's many sides. In the lobby, there's a large picture taken on the new Seabreeze bridge spans a few years ago. Back in 1998, Smokey noticed the debate over what to name the new high-rise spans. "By God, it's bad luck to leave a bridge unnamed," he said at the time. So Smokey took it upon himself to name one span after his dog Junkyard, and the other span after his other dog, Goofey. He went so far as to have authentic street signs printed with the dogs' names, and attached each to a light pole on each span. "Something had to be done," he said through a half-smile.

The Department of Transportation, however, had other ideas, and removed the signs within a day. But not before Smokey could pose with both dogs in front of their respective signs. He signed each dog's name on its picture, and included a paw print from each. From that, you learn that if this guy did something, he didn't go halfway. You also learn that, at times, he wasn't quite marching in formation with the rest of us.

'I better be dead'

Much of Smokey's playful nature also resides in Margie Yunick, who not only has sneaky ideas for today's funeral, but grand plans on where to put Smokey to rest. Smokey's cremated remains will be divided into three urns -- one for Margie, the others for two of the kids. Margie plans to spread some of the ashes in a few different victory lanes along the racing trail. Some others, she promises, will be scattered at a few speak-easies within shouting distance of those tracks.

During his running days, you see, he was often found in one place or the other.

But today will be for remembering a life lived fully. The chapel includes the expected array of flowers -- including arrangements sent by Dan Gurney, Bud Moore, Benny Parsons and Ray Evernham. There's also a mini-museum of Smokey artifacts: His well-worn hat, reading glasses, stopwatch, boots, and championship rings. And there's an early preview of the three-volume autobiography due to hit stores in July. The three titles: -- "Walkin' Under a Snake's Belly." -- "All Right You Sons 'a Bitches, Let's Have a Race." -- " 'Lil Skinny Rulebook & Eatin' Elephant."

Smokey will, no doubt, continue entertaining us for some time. "Boy, I better be dead when this thing gets printed," he said a couple years back. "Because the (mess) is really gonna hit the fan."

He'd love every minute of it. Too bad he'll miss it. Adios.

Sports columnist Ken Willis may be reached by e-mail at ken.willis@news-jrnl.com.
Who Was Smokey? 
  • Grew up on a farm in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania
  • Flew B-17s for the Army Air Force in WWII
  • Flew for the Flying Tigers
  • Driver, mechanic, crew chief for stock cars in 1950s and 1960s
  • Won two Grand National (Winston Cup today) Championships
  • Won Indy in 1960
  • Worked in Ecuador for 30 years in oil drilling and gold mining
  • Wrote for Popular Science and Circle Track magazines
  • Founding Member and Director of Embry-Riddle University
  • Honorary Doctorate in Aeronautical Engineering, Embry-Riddle Engineering
  • Professor Emeritus, Daytona Beach Community College
  • S.C.O.R.E Judge, for three years, one of ten judges picked to
    examine annual alternate energy expo submissions from Amercian
    colleges and universities, related to alternate energy

  • Member of Society of Automotive Engineers
Patents & Inventions
  • Variable Ratio Power Steering
  • Hot Vapor Engine
  • Silent Tire
  • Smoketron Engine Testing Device
  • Movable Race Track Crash Barrier
  • Oil filling through oil filter
  • Extended Tip Spark Plug
  • Power brakes from residual power steering pressure
  • Water bypass system for “V” engines
  • Reverse cooling system
  • Centrifuge Type Oil Refinery (Ecuador)
  • Two Time NASCAR Mechanic of the Year
  • Mechanical Achievements Awards – Indianapolis Motor Speedway &
    Ontario Motor Speedway
  • Engineering Award – Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Inventor of the Year – 1983
  • Presents the Annual Smokey Yunick Lifetime Achievement Award
    at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Hall of Fame Inductions

  • National Racing Hall of Fame
  • International MotorSports Hall of Fame
  • Legends of Auto Racing Hall of Fame
  • Stock Car Racing, Daytona Hall of Fame
  • Darlington Motor Speedway Hall of Fame
  • Legends of Performance – Chevrolet Hall of Fame
  • TRW Mechanic Hall of Fame
  • Living Legends of Auto Racing – 1997
  • Stock Car Racing Magazine Hall of Fame
  • Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame
  • Voted #7 on list of Top 10 athletes of the Century
    by Winston Salem Journal, Oct. 1999

  • University of Central Florida, President’s Medallion Society
  • Rotary Club of Oceanside – Daytona Beach

Race Record

  • 1951-1954 – 39 Grand National Wins after 1954
  • won Raleigh - August 20, 1955
  • won Darlington - 1955
  • won Palm Beach - December 11, 1955
  • won Wilson, N.C. - March 18, 1956
  • won Langhorne - September 23, 1956
  • won Greensboro - April 28, 1957
  • won Lancaster S.C. - June 1, 1957
  • won Raleigh - July 4, 1957
  • won Daytona Beach - February, 1958
  • won Atlanta - July 4, 1959
  • won Daytona Beach - February 12, 1960
  • won Atlanta - July 31, 1960
  • won Daytona Beach - February 24, 1961
  • won Daytona Beach - February 26, 1961
  • won Daytona Beach - February 10, 1962
  • won Daytona Beach - February 16, 1962
  • won Daytona Beach - February 18, 1962
  • won Daytona Beach - February 22, 1963

    39 + 18 = 57 Stock Car/Grand National races
    one Indy race win - 1960
    58 Career Race Wins


Smokey with grandson Casey Yunick, a stock car driver himself, at a personal
appearance Smokey made not too long before his death. A Yunick autograph is
much sought after. Notice Herb Thomas 92 car top right.

The Cars!

Smokey showed his mechanical prowess with a variety of car makes. Top and Middle
pictures are a very well done 1/18 scale diecast reproduction of a 1969 Ford Torino
driven by Joe Leonard, who also drove Indy cars for Smokey.
Below is one of the last NASCAR style cars Smokey worked on. Myth?

The “Infamous” 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle that set fast time at Daytona before Big Bill
bumped this creative Chevy. Contrary to common belief, the Chevelle was NOT a 7/8 scale car, however, every square millimeter of surface area was brought down to the smallest size. Note the rear spoiler on this clean 1/18th diecast repli-car. The real car still exists in a museum. Curtis Turner was the pilot. Because of this rebuff by France, Smokey never made another attempt to race Daytona.

Yes, they raced convertibles at Daytona. And they brag about the side-by-side racing of today....
Try this on an 10 inch wide treaded tire!

A fabulous model of the Famous 1962 Pontiac Catalina that won the 1962 Daytona 500 Pole & Race.

Banjo Mathews and Smokey Yunick

Obituary 1          Obituary 2          Pictures          Cars

Drivers:  Fireball Roberts        Marvin Panch

Check Out Smokey's Outstanding Website - Click Here!

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