For some the rules and regulations are there to be lived by. For others they are just the bits that create the gaps where you can do interesting things, nowhere is this more true than for motor racing engineers. We've previously covered the wonderful world of Formula 1 innovation, but today we'll bring you a man who took the principle of doing as much as possible in the gaps between the rules to a whole new level.
That man is Henry 'Smokey' Yunick. Smokey was part of the early NASCAR scene in the USA, as well as running his own garage, the modestly named "Smokey's Best Damn Garage in Town". Yunick was lucky enough to be part of an early wave of innovative mechanic and engineers into motorsports championship as it was still forming. As the rules and regulations tightened up over the years more innovative ways were needed to keep your cars edge in the race. He thought of his innovations as "self defence" against the other teams who were also trying to find their ways to do things to get their edge.
My first encounter with the work of Smokey was an interview being broadcast on TV many years ago about NASCAR, I didn't really know who he was at the time, but his story and sly smile stuck with me. In order to make sure the cars pitted the regulations set a limit on the size of the fuel tank, ever suspicious of the work of Yunick the officials had removed the tank to check it. Reportedly Smokey got in the car and drove it back to the pits. Sure his fuel tank was fine, there wasn't any regulation about the pipes coming from the tank, so the eleven foot of two inch diameter pipe coming from the tank was perfectly legitimate.
Probably his crowning glory was the 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle he built for NASCAR. It far out paced its competition, this immediately brought it to the attention of the officials, they were unable to find anything obviously changed, like engine or aerodynamics. In fact the profile was absolutely spot on, in shape at least. It just so happened that the car was 7/8th the size of the proper production car. The rules were promptly changed.
The Hurst Floor Shifter Special
One of our favourite creations from Yunick was his 1964 entry into the Indy 500. The Hurst Floor Shifter Special is a radically designed racing car. Utilising a catamaran style design the engine sits in its own pod, with the driver occupying a side car. Powered by an Offenhauser engine this car is purely a race car, with almost no consideration being given to the driver, who seems to sit there as an afterthought. Sadly it never did achieve its potential in the Indy 500 after Bobby Johns ended up going backwards into a wall during practice. The vehicle is fantastic as an example of a single minded approach to a racing car, it also happens to look great with the signature black and gold colours along with that fantastic set of ram pipes and the bizzare driver position.
Sadly in 2001 Henry Yunick died of Leukaemia, his legacy is one of inspired mechanics and a selection of books that vary from the reasonable to the ridiculous in price and collectability.
Smokey Yunick's Power Secrets
Best Damn Garage in Town: The World According to Smokey
If you are feeling spendy you might want to pick this one up too:
Restoration & Miscellaneous: Smokey Yunick's Track Tech
For more information and background on a great innovator please read Hot Rod magazine's fantastic tribute to the man.