This week there has been some interesting stories about NASCAR drivers receiving fines from NASCAR for open criticism. The new 'have at it boys" attitude does not apparently extend to the sport itself. Interestingly enough, one of the loudest critics of the sport was Smokey Yunick. He was stubbornly vocal especially in the later years of his career when he felt that NASCAR was compromising the safety of the drivers for the spectacle of the sport. He was also fairly critical of Big Bill France, "Billy" France, and any number of men, teams and organizations affiliated with NASCAR.
Smokey was not a man to lay down and let anyone walk all over him. The full extent of his ability to engineer a car beyond what NASCAR and the big manufacturers of the day saw as top of the line will probably never be completely known. Much of his career in NASCAR can be summed up with this quote from The Best Damn Garage : "Was this car a 'cheater' Smokey? You're goddam rite (sic) it was...but not by NASCAR's pulbished rule book for 1968." (271)
I won't give away all the stories that his autobiography has to share. It is an honest and angry exploration of the sport. Smokey doesn't sugar coat anything, the simplified and familiar stories that we all know come to light a little differently. He is also very honest about his own "innovations"in the sport. He really did use an inflated basketball inside a gas tank to make it seem like he was running a smaller tank than he was. Smokey really did scale a car down to 7/8ths the size it should have been. He was also well known for swapping parts, changing engine elements and restructuring entire engine systems, just because NASCAR's rule book didn't say he couldn't.
My favorite story is also fairly well known. I think that you just can't beat driving away from NASCAR inspection after they have confiscated the gas tank. Smokey is the reason that today's NASCAR inspection has frame templates to measure the give and take that each team is looking to use in the rule book. NASCAR's inspection process added "secret marks" and assigned specific parts to each team because of Smokey's ability to find the golden loophole.
I wonder if NASCAR will have the guts (after scanning The Best Damn Garage, I'm really tempted to say "the cajones") to someday add Smokey to the Hall of Fame roster. I don't think they will. There is no way in my little column that I can really show you what an impact Smokey has had on NASCAR. I am certain that if NASCAR were to acknowledge that Smokey Yunick should be included in the Hall of Fame, they would have to acknowledge that there was someone getting the best of them, every single race until 1970, when Smokey retired.
The Best Damn Garage in Time; My Life and Adventures by Smokey Yunick is one of the best histories of NASCAR I have ever read. Skip NASCAR for Dummies and some of the sugar coated histories out there and get to the real history of stock car racing. You won't be disappointed.