The Smokey Yunick File

FULL NAME ...Henry "Smokey" Yunick 

BORN:............ May 25, 1923, in Neshaminy, Pa.  

DIED............... May 9, 2001 in Daytona Beach

RACING ACCOMPLISHMENTS Was brought into racing by early NASCAR star Marshall Teague, a fellow Daytonian.  

 Credited with 57 NASCAR wins as a crew chief.

Built the cars that Herb Thomas took to two championships (1951, '53), and also served as Thomas' crew chief .

Fielded two Daytona 500 winners (Marvin Panch, 1961; Fireball Roberts, 1962).

Regularly fielded Indy 500 cars between 1958-75 ... Didn't have an Indy car in 1960, but worked on team that took Jim Rathmann to victory.  


 Variable-ratio power steering

Extended-tip spark plug

Hot-vapor engine

Power brakes from residual power-steering pressure

"Silent" tire

Credited for championing the use of fuel cells after the death of Fireball Roberts.  

ALSO Elected to many Halls of Fame, including International Motorsports Hall of Fame and National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame  

Spent 30 years visiting South America in search of oil and gold  

Pioneer in the search for alternative energy sources, which resulted in his hot-vapor engine as well as experiments with solar panels and windmills at his garage  

Longtime and popular columnist for Popular Science and Circle Track magazines

Henry (Smokey) Yunick, a Hall of Fame Stock car and IndyCar builder, engineer, and inventor, needs little introduction as this month's host of Scrapbook. He's the guy in the Western hat. Yunick, 76, built Stock cars for leading NASCAR drivers for 22 years and open wheel cars for the Indianapolis 500. Yunick and his wife, Margie, are working on two books, the first expected to be published next year. He is also developing gasoline, diesel fuel, and lubricants of the future in the "best damned garage" in (beloved) Daytona Beach. Yunick tells it like it was and is, which means his language has been edited. "When my book comes out, I'll probably have to leave the country," he says.


Smokey Yunick; the Legend and the Stories; Best Damn Garage in Town  

Henry “Smokey” Yunick, one of auto racing’s most brilliant mechanics and innovators, died in 2001 at the age of 77.  He was born in Neshaminy, Pa., and settled in Daytona Beach Florida in 1946 after serving as an Air force bomber pilot in World War II. 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 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. Yunick was the chief mechanic for Herb Thomas, who won Winston Cup championships in 1951 and ’53.  

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.

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.”  

His open-wheel creations made 10 appearances at the famed Brickyard between 1958 and 1975. He won the Indy 500 in 1960 with Jim Rathmann. 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.


Hot Rod  

It appeared that Herb Thomas was going to win the ? Southern 500 in my Hudson Hornet. Pure Oil (now Union 76) had a big plywood check, showed me where to stand and how to hold it for postrace photographs. With 10 laps to go, the Hudson threw a rod through the side of the block onto the side of the track, within 50 feet of where I was standing. Buck Baker won the race and Herb finished fifth. I really felt bad until I got a good laugh--a fan who didn’t like Hudson, Thomas, or me, ran out, picked up that hot connecting rod, and burned his hands. 

Ten years ago today, one of the true Only-in-America stories came to an end with the passing of Smokey Yunick, who died at 77 after losing a battle with leukemia. Born on a Pennsylvania farm; died in his adopted hometown of Daytona Beach. In between, there was enough adventure and accomplishment for several lifetimes.

You probably shouldn't expect any official hoopla, because Smokey wasn't big on officials -- and vice versa. This was a man, after all, who ended up in Daytona Beach due to an ongoing battle with a boss in New Jersey who insisted on keeping a garage-bay door open -- Smokey hated the cold and recalled visions of Daytona during World War II training flights, so he packed his trailer and pulled it south.  

And for 50-plus years, he stayed here, except for those occasions when he'd load a race car and pull it to places like Darlington, Atlanta, Indianapolis or simply across town -- either to Daytona's old beach-road course or, beginning in 1959, the mammoth new Speedway where his purpose-built cars set speed standards with Fireball Roberts in the cockpit.

But you couldn't pay the rent by just racing in the 1950s and '60s, so through the years Smokey's Garage -- the self-proclaimed "Best Damn Garage in Town" -- was also a truck dealership, mechanic shop, alternative-energy lab and Detroit manufacturers R&D outpost. It was also where Smokey penned columns for the magazines of true enthusiasts -- Popular Science and Circle Track. Its where, for 30 years, he planned trips to Ecuador, where he battled the jungle and the Amazon in search of gold and oil. 

For good measure, Smokey's Garage also became home to "The Best Damn Bird Shop in Town" -- it was run by daughter Trish. The sprawling compound was a definite local landmark, and its stature was only enhanced by Smokey's mode of arriving and departing from the office each day -- the shop was on the west bank of the Halifax River, his house just across the way on the east bank, so he would helicopter to and from work.

 He'd chopper to work early in the morning, chopper home early evening for a bath and dinner, chopper back to the garage after dinner, chopper home again about midnight or later.  

As if that wasn't noisy enough, there were the late nights when Smokey would hook a racing engine to his dynamometer and rattle all the nearby neighborhoods. Or when he'd take a late-night test drive in a newly built or rebuilt stock-car, flying up Riverside Drive toward Tomoka State Park at nearly 150 mph.  

Thoroughly different times and a thoroughly unique guy.  

It shouldn't be shocking that Smokey didn't remain in auto racing -- either NASCAR or his beloved Indianapolis 500 -- much past the age of 50. He came at it from an innovator's perspective -- "If I build something faster than you, I win." But the biggest racing organizations are businesses, in the business of attracting fans through close competition, so sometimes an advantage had to be reined in.  

Smokey couldn't stand that, but then again, Smokey never had to run an entertainment business. He pushed the boundaries many times and in many ways. For Indy, in 1964, he built his "capsule car," with the cockpit beside the engine instead of to the front or rear of it -- got the idea from seeing a German fighter plane that chased him during WWII.  

He practically invented the need for NASCAR templates by once arriving for a race with a scaled-down Chevelle. He lived by the credo, "if they don't say you can't do it, you can."

 He's a big reason the rulebook is so thick today. His head-butting, particularly with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., must play a part in why you don't even find Smokey's name on the list of nominees for NASCAR's Hall of Fame in Charlotte. He's credited with 57 victories as a crew chief, including two championships with early legend Herb Thomas, and early domination at Daytona International Speedway, where he helped build the Fireball Roberts legend.  

Smokey was one of the 20 original inductees in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame when it opened in Talladega in 1990. It's one of many Halls of Fame that honored him through the years.  

Of those who knew him at his best (and worst), Ralph Johnson may have the clearest -- and freshest -- memories. Johnson, a retired mechanical engineer who turns 80 this week, split much of his working life between Detroit manufacturers and Smokey's Garage, where Johnson not only helped build race cars and develop automotive technology, but once built a motorcycle from scratch.  

"I loved the man, pure and simple," says Johnson. "I liked his work ethic. But they weren't all good times, believe me."  

Johnson not only witnessed Smokey's impatience with authority, but with anyone whose own visions didn't see eye to eye with his own brand of genius.  

"If you read the book (the three-volume "Smokey's Garage"), you know," says Johnson. "On one page I'm a hero, and on the next page I'm a dirty rotten sonofabitch because I disagreed with him or I crossed him or I said something wrong. But ... whatever. I'll never say a bad word about the man."  

Johnson, who finished his working career at Crane Cams five years ago, still finds himself working alongside Smokey on certain nights when he puts head to pillow and closes his eyes.

"I'll tell you this -- it's gospel," Johnson says as he begins to tell of his recurring dreams. "It wasn't two nights ago ... I don't want it to happen, but it does. I worked all night with the man. I can tell you almost everything we did, including the arguments. I do it all the time in my dreams."  

Johnson then laughs -- "There's no way to shake him."

Snippets of Smokey Yunick's Life  

Smokey's Greatest Hits News-Journal columnist Ken Willis went back through his Smokey Yunick files -- some gathered in person at the garage, others taken from Smokey's writings -- to put together this collection.  


For better and worse, Smokey seemed to hold nothing back in his three-volume autobiography -- "Best Damn Garage in Town" -- which he finished just before his death in 2001. For example, a little remembrance of racing superstar and fellow Daytonan Fireball Roberts ...

"Soon as he got a couple of drinks in him, he'd get very friendly and invite the whole motel to his room," wrote Smokey. "We never got credit for it, but (Joe) Weatherly, (Curtis) Turner, Fireball, (Paul) Goldsmith and myself, with about five other drivers, invented lady race car fans. Well, I credit quite a bit of the development of these social customs to Fireball."  


 Smokey's mechanical legend was built on everyday passenger-car innovations, but auto racing made him a star. And though his NASCAR efforts are best known, each year he'd build an Indy-style racer and make the May pilgrimage to Indianapolis, where he would strap in a driver and hope to make the 500.  

"Back in the old days, I would've pulled my car to Indianapolis with a rope if I had to," he said. "That was the ultimate, to stand there on the starting grid on race day at the Indianapolis 500, and pull up your pants and say, 'OK you mothers, let's have a race.' I always thought if you could run Indianapolis, you could finally say, 'I am a racer.' "  


In 1960, Smokey said he was called in to "rescue" Jim Rathmann's efforts for the Indy 500. Smokey always claimed Rathmann hired him as "co-chief," and that he did all the work of a crew chief, including race-day strategy which resulted in Rathmann's win. Yet all the glory and post-race prizes went to the man who was listed on pre-race paperwork as the car's chief: Takeo "Chickie" Hirashima, a Japanese-American who was an Indianapolis 500 fixture for nearly three decades.  

Hirashima was (and still is) credited with being the winning crew chief from that 1960 Indianapolis 500. Smokey never got over it, and said all his efforts to have Rathmann "correct the injustice" never paid off. In Smokey's autobiography, he used one chapter to detail his memories of all 51 drivers who drove for him over the years. The chapter's title: "50 Good Drivers and One (@$$#*!&).  

"They will have to bury him in waterproof clothes and goggles if I outlive him," Smokey wrote of Rathmann.


Smokey Yunick's Stories

Face in the Crowd  

I was hired by Chevrolet in 1954 to get the Chevy V-8 engine in condition to win Grand National (now Winston Cup) races. I worked first for Ed Cole, who was vice president of General Motors and general manager of Chevrolet. He was a very nice guy. He said his engineers were young and inexperienced, and that he’d like me to talk to them from time to time. He says he hoped I didn’t mind his saying that my language and speaking ability needed some help. He enrolled me in a Dale Carnegie course to teach me how to speak and conduct myself. In a short time, management called General Motors and told them that I was incapable of being taught and that they would refund the cost of the course. Nevertheless, I agreed to speak to about 2,000 young engineers.  

Former IndyCar driver Mauri Rose, a Chevy engineer at the time, told me not to worry, he'd help me. He said the key is just to look at someone, anybody, in the last row of the audience and talk to him personally. Scared to death, I got up there and started searching for somebody in the back row to focus on. All of a sudden, I saw Mauri. He had his fingers in his ears and his tongue out making faces. The first line of my first speech was, "Oh, you lucky SOB!"  

Say Cheese  

Mauri Rose was very knowledgeable about tires. I sent him searching for tires that would be better than anybody else had in the ? Southern 500. Two months later, Mauri called from a junkyard in Akron, Ohio. I asked why the hell he was at a junkyard. He says he thought he had found tires I wanted. He added that a Firestone engineer had told him that the best tires for us had been made under the name Super Sport, for Briggs Cunningham to run at Le Mans. Cunningham took 25 of the tires, but opted for Dunlop. Firestone was so disappointed, they sold the remaining 175 tires to a junk dealer. The junk man had tried but couldn’t sell the tires, so he planned to burn them. He wanted $1.50 per tire. I told him I’d pay $1. He says no. I told him to burn them and hung up. However, Mauri got them for a buck apiece.  

After we got to Darlington, we found we could run low pressure in the tires, and it looked like we had an edge. If we had a problem, we could play turtle and outlast the faster cars that were blowing tires. A Firestone rep came to me and asked if I'd sell car owner Carl Kiekhaefer (who had four cars in the race) 75 of my tires. I told him hell would freeze before I sold any tires at any price to a competitor. (NASCAR founder) Bill France Sr. was next to ask on Kiekhaefer's behalf. I said no. He said in that case, he had no choice but to ban my tires. I told him in that case, I'd go home. He left, and a couple of Firestone management wheels came to me. One of them says he could break my career if I didn't sell Kiekhaefer some tires. I got really pissed, explaining that Firestone had discarded the tires, sold them to a junk dealer, and I had bought them eight hours before he was to burn them. I told them I had been hassled three times and asked them to leave me alone.  

Well, Herb Thomas won the race in my Chevrolet. The Firestone people came to me with photographers for pictures. I told them they'd given me such a rough time that I wasn't going to pose for any pictures. They said the entry blank specified that I had to. So I went to my personal car, put on a pair of bib overalls, and tied a red bandana around my neck. I painted two front teeth black with shoe polish, put on a floppy straw hat and told the Firestone people I was ready to take pictures.  

Iron Fist  

In the early ?s at a short track, Herb Thomas drove my Hudson Hornet to a runaway victory. Lee Petty finished second and Curtis Turner third. Turner charged that the scoring was crooked, and he and Petty argued. After the race, we were in the Hudson dealer’s garage. The argument got heated, and Lee finally swung at Turner. Just behind where Curtis was standing was a wall made of plywood with a bunch of hooks on it. A piece of iron that weighed 65-70 pounds was hanging on a hook that was 7-8 feet off the floor. When Lee swung, Turner ducked, and Lee’s fist hit the wall. The hook holding the piece of iron collapsed and a piece of iron hit Turner in the head, knocking him unconscious. While we were dumping water on him trying to revive him, he woke up and said, "Damn, Smoke, that SOB can hit."  

Famous Gas Line  

This story has been told countless times, but not very accurately. I don’t know whether it’s worth wrecking the myth that surrounds it. Most versions have me driving my ? Chevelle race car out of Daytona Speedway while the gas tank was laying on the ground. There was an argument over fuel, and I did drive the car from the track to my garage with no gas tank. Whether or not I had a gas tank didn’t matter, because that car had an illegal 11-foot fuel line with a 2-inch hole in it that held 6 gallons of gasoline. I could have driven to Jacksonville 90 miles away with the fuel in the line. The incident prompted NASCAR to change the fuel line opening to 3/8 inch.

Another Gasser  

Two weeks before the ? Firecracker 400 at Daytona, Bill France Sr. stopped by my house and asked why I hadn’t entered a car in the race. I told him I would never run another race car with a steel fuel cell, that I had Firestone make for me a 22-gallon rubber cell and would run it or not race in NASCAR again. (Fireball Roberts, Yunick’s close friend and former driver, was mortally burned after his metal gas tank erupted in a crash at Charlotte in 1964.)  

France said OK, he would have the chief technical inspector change the rule. I said that wasn't enough. I told him to put up an 8x12-foot sign in the inspection area that read, "The first 10 cars will have their gas tanks removed for measurement and observation after the race." Finally, he said it was a done deal.  

I took my Chevelle to the track for Curtis Turner to drive. The sign wasn't on the wall. I went to France's office and told him if he didn't put the sign up, I was leaving the track--so he put it up.  

The race started--Turner got the lead and had to stop for fuel. The other fast cars kept on trucking, and we dropped to 13th. I knew they had 28-gallon tanks. Turner charged back to finish fourth. Sam McQuagg won the race in Ray Nichels' Dodge. I went back to the inspection area, and the sign was gone. I told the technical inspector the gas tanks were supposed to be inspected. At that point, guys who had finished in front of us offered me $2,000-5,000 to shut up about pulling gas tanks. I refused on both counts. After threatening to whip the chief inspector, I went to France again. He said Chrysler had already approved the newspaper and magazine ads, that the wire services had the story and he couldn't change anything. I told him that's what I expected.  

The next day, France sent over a check for $1,500 with a note saying the check would take care of the flap at the track. I told the guy who brought it to wait. I took the check, soiled it, put it back in the envelope, and told the guy to take it back to Big Bill. About an hour later, here came Big Bill. He was furious. I threw a 4-pound hammer at him and just missed from 25 feet. He was gone in a flash.


"Don’t Stall It"  

At a dirt-track race in Savannah, Georgia, in 1953, I had two Hudson Hornets for Herb Thomas and Dick Rathmann. Thomas won the pole, but Dick was having problems. I kept telling Dick he was lifting too late in Turn 3. Finally, he gave me his helmet and said to show him. We climbed in the car. He had no seat, helmet, or harness. I told him to touch me when we got to the point where he lifted going into (Turn) 3. We went into the turn wide-open, and he never touched me. We spun around the biggest telephone pole I’d ever seen and left the door handle on the driver side sticking in the pole. The only thing Dick said was "Don’t stall it."  

Beer Power  

One time we were at qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Driver Jim Hurtubise had a car he built himself. It was the old-style construction, with torsion bars and straight front axles. Everybody else had independent suspension. In fact, he had two cars--one he had wrecked and the other that wasn’t ready. To hold your place in the qualifying order, you had to keep a car in line. When the track closed, the position you held at that time was the same one you got the next morning. That gave Jim all night to prepare his car. He put the car that wasn’t ready on the line. Somebody challenged the legality of the car, which was sponsored by a beer company. The hood was raised, and there were four cases of beer holding up the exhaust header. There was no engine in it. (The car and beer are in a racing museum in Bedford, Indiana.)  

Ruse Foiled  

One time I was at Concord (North Carolina) Speedway with a Chevy and driver Paul Goldsmith. Fireball Roberts was driving for rival Holman and Moody, Ford Motor’s Stock car stable. Fireball, who lived in Daytona Beach, was learning to fly his own plane and didn’t make the race because of bad weather. John Holman was carrying on about not being able to race Fireball’s car. I told him I’d drive it, and he said, "OK." (Yunick drove in several races).  

When I got ready to qualify, Fonty Flock advised me not to drive because the track was so full of holes and so slick I'd bust my tail. He said if I insisted, to let him lead me around the half-mile dirt track. We did that for 10 laps, and I was able to qualify.  

Goldsmith wanted to know what he was going to do for a pit crew. I told him not to worry, that at about the 10th or 12th lap of the race I was going to crash that purple Ford through the fence just before entering Turn 3, then I'd return to his pit.  

Shortly before the race started, Ralph Moody (Holman's partner) tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I'd be upset if Ralph Earnhardt (Dale's dad) drove Fireball's car? Moody had figured out my ruse--to wreck the car because it was a Ford. The kicker is that about three quarters through the race, somebody spun Earnhardt through the fence at exactly the same place I'd planned to wreck. I asked Earnhardt what took him so long to wreck.


How Not To Cheat In NASCAR  

The late Smokey Yunick, the greatest rule-bender in motorsports history, described slipping past NASCAR inspectors as "walking under a snake's belly." And that was long before the rule book became the airtight list of guidelines it is today. Cheating is a time-honored racing tradition, but it rarely makes as many headlines as it did at this year's Daytona 500. Six Nextel Cup teams got collared—including the cars of Michael Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne—resulting in five crew chief suspensions, 500 total points docked from drivers and owners and $250,000 in fines.  

When most tricks gain just 0.1 seconds per lap, is cheating worth the risk? It can be, when the difference between starting first and 35th is less than 0.3 seconds. Where exactly are the gray areas in which scofflaws have been nabbed while looking for speed? Grab a lug wrench and read on.

 01 - Rules of the Road

The Nextel Cup rule book is surprisingly gaunt—an easy-to-digest 184 pages about the width of a bumper sticker. Those who wrote it equated brevity with no wiggle room. Those who read it have a different philosophy.  

"A competitor interprets the rules with a different set of eyes," says crew chief-turned-team owner Ray Evernham. "You look for what isn't covered or what isn't as specific as it could be. Those are the places where you can find an advantage. You aren't breaking rules. The stuff you're doing just isn't covered."

 02 - Room of Doom

Yunick used tricks like putting a basketball in an oversize gas tank for inspection and then deflating the ball before the race, or building a car exactly seven-eighths the size of the stock model. Now Cup cars inch through NASCAR's techinspection line at least three times each weekend and are pored over by 50 yellow-clad inspectors wielding more than 30 templates to measure exteriors. The first check takes up to 10 hours, but officials promise speedier lines once the Car of Tomorrow debuts in March, thanks to nine radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that chat with computers to confirm chassis legality.  

03 - Fireworks

The first place a team might look for extra speed is the very spot where power is cooked. But the engine is also the first place NASCAR looks. Teams juice horsepower by redirecting microscopic air paths around the carburetor or, when they're really desperate, adding extra sparks to the combustion chamber through fuel additives. That once meant stowing a bottle of nitrous oxide beneath the driver's seat. Modern solutions are more exotic and harder to sniff out. Such was not the case when Michael Waltrip's Toyota was busted after a gel in the fuel lines left an unusual smell trailing from his exhaust following Daytona 500 qualifying.  

04 - The Highs and Lows

Teams want their cars to slip through the air as slickly as physics will allow, which means getting low to the ground. That's no easy task when trying to meet minimum and maximum heights above the ground and at the roof's tallest point. Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, was suspended from last year's Daytona 500 when the No. 48 Chevy was caught with a device that lifted the rear windshield three-quarters of an inch, just enough of a bubble to roll the airflow more smoothly over the roofline and away from the rear spoiler.

 05 - Tell-Tail Sign

Since the rear spoiler became common in the 1970s, it has grown from a quarter-inch sliver to a league-mandated six-inch blade reinforced with metal brackets. On intermediate tracks, this wing keeps the back of the car glued to the ground; on superspeedways, teams do whatever they can to get it out of the airflow—or at least through it. The Evernham Motorsports car of Elliott Sadler came to Daytona with holes drilled through the bolts holding the spoiler in place, passing air through and dumping it into the trunk. The Car of Tomorrow will eliminate the need for spoiler jockeying, thanks to uniform wings issued to teams each race.  

06 - Body Modifications

Team engineers spend hundreds of hours in a wind tunnel with a rule book in one hand and a smoke gun in the other. Why? To see if a 200 mph breeze will reveal any surface that can be smoothed or rounded to suck out excess pools of air. Most teams focus on the window posts, side panels and fenders, where NASCAR templates leave room to breathe. During Speedweeks, Kasey Kahne's No. 9 Dodge and Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Ford were found to have small holes in the rear wheel wells, sucking air out from under the car and leaking it into empty spaces in the trunk.  

07 - Rubber Meets the Road

The only NASCAR no-no bigger than messing with fuel is toying with tires. Goodyear supplies the rubber, distributed each Friday morning along with a list of recommended tire pressures for the weekend. In the old days, it was common to see crew members "soaking" tires back at the hotel, using a solution that softened the rubber and provided more grip. Now even the slightest rumor of chemicals in the paddock brings out a brigade of scientific tests, as happened when team owner Jack Roush accused Evernham of treating Jeff Gordon's tires during his 13-win season in 1998. Nothing was found.   



The summer of 2000 was a bad one for NASCAR. Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin had died after crashing into concrete retaining walls at New Hampshire (Tony Roper, a Truck Series driver, would die the same way that October at Texas). Smokey had been preaching about "soft walls" for several years, and had even gone so far as to design his own crude version, made from plywood and old tires.  

He was leaning on his "moveable kinetic energy barrier" as he talked about the deaths of Irwin and Petty.  

"The only thing operating on nearly 100-year-old technology are the barriers -- the same technology is being used that was used in the first race ever run," he said. "Doesn't that show some lack of responsibility from the people in charge? I figure, as soon as the right guy gets killed, they'll come down here and look at it. I spent enough of my money and time, and tried  

Several months later, Dale Earnhardt hit the concrete wall at Daytona and was killed. Smokey wasn't visited, but the path to soft-wall technology was soon taken -- resulting in the SAFER barrier that lines most tracks today.  


And some more on his own version of a life-saving retaining wall ...

 "I never figured the barrier I built would be the final answer. But when somebody looks at it, I ask them, 'You've seen this barrier and you've seen a concrete wall. If you were driving toward them and had two choices, which would you aim for?' "  


In the late-'90s, there was local debate about naming the twin spans that replaced the old Seabreeze bridge, linking Mason Avenue to the beachside. Smokey took on his own to name the spans after his two mammoth dogs -- Junkyard and Goofey.  

As always, he took it to extremes. He had official street signs made, one with each dog's name, and attached them to poles alongside the eastbound and westbound lanes. He then had pictures taken -- of him and each dog, in front of the sign -- for posterity's sake. The Department of Transportation had the signs removed within a day.  

"By God, its bad luck to leave a bridge unnamed," Smokey explained. "Something had to be done."  


Paul Goldsmith was an accomplished motorcycle racer who, in the late 1950s, began putting together a decent auto-racing career. One day in the mid-'50s he walked into Smokey's Garage to announce his auto-racing intentions.  

Smokey handed Goldsmith a box and asked him to open it for him. It was one of those old gag items with a spring-loaded "mongoose tail" coiled and ready to fly out when the lid of the box was removed. "I caught that thing," recalled Goldsmith, whose reflexes impressed the mechanic.  

"I told him right there, 'You're hired!' " Smokey said years later. "Hell, Fireball (Roberts) couldn't catch the thing ... and he knew it was coming."


For all his work on advancing automotive technology, Smokey hated cruise control. He claimed it was a leading cause of highway accidents.  

"So many of these wrecks are caused by someone falling asleep at the wheel," he said. "And most of these people probably had their cruise-control on. I'd say, 'Wake up fella, you're about to miss one hell of a wreck.' "