Always in the thick of things, Yunick stays close to the action from his unique vantage po
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.
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!"
Mauri Rose was very knowledgeable about tires. I sent him searching for tires that would be better than anybody else had in the '55 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.