Editors Note: Smokey Yanick's...
Editors Note: Smokey Yanick's contributions to racing are legendary, as are much of his writings. Periodically, we'll crack into his vault to bring some of his best stuff. Courtesy of the Smokey Yunick Collection
Reprint From Circle Track November 1988
The late Buddy Shuman was a wonderful guy. It's a damn shame he asphyxiated in a motel fire in Hickory, North Carolina, in 1955. At the time, he was car owner to both Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly, and was working for Ford. He'd been a liquor runner (he was one of his own best customers) and a champion driver in Modifieds, and he had a limp-maybe from the time he was supposed to have pulled on a chain gang.
Shuman was a wild man, and I liked him a lot, even when he was chief technical inspector for NASCAR, making the two of us natural enemies. Buddy cracked the whip for Bill France, NASCAR's founder. Once he ruled that your car was "outside the spirit of the rules"-a catch-all phrase that France had put in there-then your car didn't race. I suppose nobody's cars ever were "outside the spirit for the rules" more often than mine.
All NASCAR's early tech inspectors had to work with were the basic parts catalog books of Hudson, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Ford, and so forth. This was during the '50s, when NASCAR liked to imagine that it truly was the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing - no modifications allowed, nothing but stock parts, period. But it took Buddy Shuman a while to discover what really was going on. When he tech-inspected your car and discovered the correct parts number on, say, a camshaft, it was so enchanting to him that it didn't dawn on him to wonder whether or not the cam-shaft itself had come out of the parts book. Very few of them did. And I know damn well that I wasn't the only engraving artist at work. Almost everyone ground his own cams-and often his own crankshafts, too-and then hammered on the appropriate parts number. No problem. It was Buddy who had the problem.
One of my farewell NASCAR...
One of my farewell NASCAR starts, with Bobby Unser at the '69 Daytona 500. Courtesy of the Smokey Yunick Collection
Staying on top of all that must have been a terrible, impossible job. Buddy was far from dumb, and sometimes, after he belatedly found out somebody had slipped something past him, he'd get mad and decide to crack down. He cracked down on me at the fifth Southern 500 at Darlington, Labor Day 1954. Herb Thomas was my driver, a Hudson Hornet was our car, and Herb and I had been having such a successful season that everybody in NASCAR was suspicious as hell, Buddy most of all. Trick camshafts had him almost paranoid.
Word was out even before I rolled the Hudson into line at the dirty little hole they called the Darlington inspection station that this time a parts number alone wouldn't satisfy Buddy. He'd brought along his own camshaft-checking machine. In fact, he even had his own secret camshaft expert doing the checking. Not only that, the secret expert even had a secret room. He was standing eavesdropping inside it, just out of sight, while Buddy and I exchanged pleasantries and I unbuttoned my little Hornet. Then, when Buddy carried my camshaft back to the secret room, I could hear the secret checker warning him: "No, no, don't believe him. The sumbitch is screwing you again." And Buddy soon returned to ask me additional questions. At last, the secret checker himself came out of the secret room to ask me about the camshaft. I immediately recognized him as a guy who worked for Carl Kiekhaefer.
Now, everybody in NASCAR knew exactly what I thought of Kiekhaefer and his militaristic racing team. I even had Kiekhaefer's picture reposing in a place of honor in my garage in Daytona Beach. It was in the men's room, hanging over the john. So I really didn't think it was in "the spirit of the rules" for Buddy to have made one of Kiekhaefer's guys his camshaft expert, but I didn't say anything. I just expected the worst, anticipating the secret expert to tell me the camshaft had failed the test. Instead, after long deliberation, the secret expert informed me that it had gone through his testing machine and checked out as stock and legal. Now, since I'd ground the damn thing myself, and it was radical as hell, that was quite a surprise to me. But I damn sure didn't argue with him. I just asked him what made him so sure it was legal. "Oh, it's definitely the right cam," he said airily. "And now I've even put my secret mark on it. You won't be able to change it if you want to."
I always looked grouchy. But...
I always looked grouchy. But I was having a hell of a good time. Courtesy of the Smokey Yunick Collection
I didn't want to. I just wanted to get out of the inspection station with a clean bill of health and go qualify for the race. Unfortunately, things didn't work out like that. Buddy Shuman next decided that something I'd done to the engine block wasn't in the spirit of the damn rules. He wouldn't let me race.
If I could lead my life all over again, I'd probably spend it hunting oil instead of racing. Not even racing can compare with what it feels like bringing in the big well. But the race I wouldn't exchange for anything-the race I enjoyed more than any other-except maybe Indianapolis-was this NASCAR racing of the '40s and '50s.
It was fun because of all the crazy sons of bitches: Red Vogt, the Flocks, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts, Herb Thomas, Bob Welborn, even Buddy Shuman. It was fun like racing will never be again because it was before restrictor plates and big money. Money? We'd probably have raced without getting any. It was fun, too, because in the beginning we had hardly any rules getting in the way. So long as you didn't get gored by that "outside the spirit" rules clause, everything was dandy. Actually, it stayed fairly dandy even when Bill France, looking for respectability from both the public and manufacturers, began beefing up his rule book and making Buddy Shuman insist that our cars truly be "Stock" cars.