Smokey: Engineer & Racer


Throughout his career, Yunick designed and built numerous revolutionary race cars. For instance, his 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, driven by Curtis Turner, had a profile that looked entirely stock but was faster than anything on Daytona’s high banks. Yunick had lowered the roof and window openings and raised the floor to lower the body closer to the ground. After the changes were discovered, NASCAR began using templates.

Another simple but effective innovation were the coiled two-inch fuel lines that allowed an extra five gallons of fuel outside of the fuel tank. There was also the time in the late 1960s, he came to Daytona with stock rear wheel openings during qualifying for better aerodynamics. After winning the pole position, he used a cutting torch to round out the wheel areas as required by NASCAR so tires could be changed. He cited, “The rules say that I can cut out the rear fenders, but it doesn’t say when I can cut them.”

Dale Inman, who won eight NASCAR Cup Series titles as a crew chief, remembers Yunick as hard working and dedicated to getting the job done.

“He would come to the race track wearing a white uniform and at the end of the day, he would have a bandana around his head and be as dirty as he could be,” Inman said. “He won some races and always had pretty good backing from the factories. He was an innovator and he always had good drivers in his cars.”

Jeff Hammond, a winning crew chief with Junior Johnson and Roush Fenway Racing, still thinks of his days of knowing Yunick.

“When you think about Smokey Yunick, it’s always about the creativity he had in his mind,” Hammond said. “I met Smokey through Junior Johnson. I was in awe of him because of his legend and it was instantaneous. When I was around him and listening to him talking with Junior, I could see they were in a different world. They could talk about the inner workings of a Holley carburetor as if they were talking about ABCs. It was that easy for them. They could understand something so well without ever having it in their hands.

“Smokey not only did it in NASCAR, he did it every form of motorsports,” Hammond added. “I was so blessed to have a time in my life where I could personally say I knew him.”

When asked to recount his racing career in a few words, Yunick spelled out a simple philosophy about what he set out to accomplish in life.

“All I want to do is feel good about myself,” Yunick said. “There are a lot of people in this world that don’t like me. I don’t care. We are all entitled to an opinion. When I look in the mirror and I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done, and I know I’ve given everything asked of me and a little more, I feel good about myself.

“All I ever looked for when I was racing was for them to accept me as a racer,” he added. “I wasn’t looking for headlines or riches. Just that I was a racer. I think I raced as hard as a man could race. I like to think I was an innovator who made things happen.”

No doubt, Yunick left his indelible mark on motorsports around the world.