When it comes to racing Chevrolets, there are a few names that instantly bubble up to the surface – notables among the Bowtie fraternity. Henry “Smokey” Yunick is undoubtedly one of those individuals. His impish, mechanical way of thinking dictated there were three interpretations of the rule book. In Smokey Yunick’s mind, the rule book determines what you must do, states what you shouldn’t do, and has many yet-unwritten pages containing items it doesn’t say you can’t do. It was his insistence that life outside the box was the shortest route to the Winner’s Circle that brought many racers and executives to Smokey’s “Best Damn Garage In Town.”
Smokey Yunick And Racing
Smokey’s first foray into racing was at the handlebars of his two-stroke motorcycle. The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America recalls an interview Smokey once had, “I worked on my motorcycle and I was racing on a half-mile track,” he said. “I didn’t do a very good job as it was smoking like a SOB. The guy had forgotten my name, so when I got to doing pretty good he started calling me ‘Smokey’. One of the guys I worked with was there when he called me Smokey. When I got to work the next day, he kept calling me Smokey…Before you knew it everybody was calling me that. The nickname stuck.”
After getting out of the military as a pilot during World War II, Smokey moved to Holly Hill, Florida, and opened his garage with the slogan, “The Best Damn Garage In Town.” The doors to Smokey’s shop were always secure, to hide the creative secrets brewing amid the tools and Smokey’s mind. Even so, a list of 51 drivers carried those creative secrets to wins in a variety of racing venues including the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR.
Being in the formative years of NASCAR gave Smokey the upper hand, as there were many yet-unwritten pages of those rule books. This gave his creative mind free rein to go down avenues that tech inspectors hadn’t even thought to tread yet. Some of the most notable rule-book interpretations include stories about Smokey’s “empty fuel tank”, an Indy car with a side pod, and of course, the 7/8-scale 1966 Chevelle that was raced by Curtis Turner.
Smokey Yunick had deeply-cemented opinions that he would share openly at will. This helped him to forge his own path through life and endeared him to fans and readers of his columns for various publications. It did not endear him though, to those in charge of NASCAR, or Jim Rathmann, one of his drivers in particular.
The Smokey Yunick Memorial
The Motor Racing Heritage Association Inc. (MHRA) of Daytona Beach, Florida recently erected the Smokey Yunick Historic Marker in Holly Hill, Florida. The entity is committed to the “preservation and promotion of the history of racing on the World’s Most Famous Beach”. The marker commemorating Smokey’s accomplishments is located just steps away from where his shop once stood. The marker is located on Smokey Yunick Way in Riverside Park, 135 Riverside Drive in Holly Hill.
The marker contains images of Smokey with his trademark hat, as well as some of the cars he helped get to the checkered flag first. The bronze plaque was designed with help from founding NASCAR Hall of Fame Director, Buz McKim.
The MHRA had an official dedication of the marker on August 24, 2023, and the schedule of the event included period race cars, celebrity speakers, and more. Now, fans of Smokey will have a durable marker they can visit to help keep his legacy alive. You can read more about Smokey from someone who knew him best in this story, where we interviewed his daughter, Trish Yunick.