Class of 1990
A sly mechanical genius whose reputation as one of the premier mechanics in NASCAR hasn’t diminished over the years, Henry Smokey Yunick was the “Best Damn Race Car Mechanic” who worked out of the “Best Damn Garage In Town,” in Daytona Beach, Fla.
His expertise helped shape the careers of several drivers, among them champion Herb Thomas, who won the Winston Cup title in 1951 and again in 1953 and the great “Fireball Roberts.”
Yunick was born on May 25, 1923, “somewhere around” Maryville, Tenn. When he was 16, he tried his hand at motorcycle racing. The affair was short-lived but he did earn his nickname from it by piloting a cycle that had a habit of pouring out engine smoke. A fellow competitor who had trouble remembering Yunick’s given name of Henry simply called him “Smokey.”
Yunick became a member of the Army Air Corps during World War II and once, while in the air, he admired the view of Daytona Beach and decided to live there. He moved to the city in 1946.
He opened his garage in 1947, the same year he began working on race cars. He worked with Marshall Teague, who assigned Yunick the responsibility of preparing a Hudson Hornet for Thomas for the second Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Thomas won the race and went on to enjoy several successful seasons with Yunick, who soon became the car owner.
Yunick raced Chevrolets for a couple of seasons (1955-56) and then hooked up with veteran Paul Goldsmith and Ford in 1957-58. Together, they switched to Pontiac and stayed with the car through 1962, taking on Roberts and Marvin Panch as drivers, among others. Yunick’s cars won four of the first eight major stock car races at Daytona International Speedway, starting in 1959. Roberts won three of them. In 1963, Roberts won the pole in a Yunick Pontiac, but lost the race to teammate Panch when the engine blew with 13 laps to go.
Afterward, Yunick continued to field stock cars from 1963-68, with the likes of such greats as Banjo Matthews, Bobby Isaac, Darel Dieringer and others driving for him. From 1958 through 1975, Yunick made 10 trips to the Indianapolis 500, with Jerry Karl his driver in his last effort.
Yunick’s ability as a mechanic not only produced winning cars and drivers, it helped bring innovation to technology. Stories about his “sleight of hand” in car preparation abound, but he maintains their telling over the years has embellished them significantly.
The fact remains, however, the man from “The Best Damn Garage In Town” knew racing. And he gave to it far more than he took.