A Quick Visit With Smokey Yunick

REVISED AND EXPANDED – Here’s familiar photo from the GM media archives featuring Smokey Yunick on the pit wall at the 1962 Daytona 500. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s take a closer look.   



The old black-and-white image above is a bit grainy (probably shot with Kodak Tri-X) but we instantly recognize the character in the white shop uniform and cowboy hat: That’s none other than Smokey Yunick, of course. Smokey’s attention appears to be directed down toward the entrance of pit road, rather than on the job he is performing, so it’s possible to overlook what he’s up to. Hmm, maybe we should zoom in and take a closer look. We might learn something.



Well, how about that. Smokey has his oxy-acetylene cutting torch adjusted for a nice neutral flame, and he’s heating up two one-quart cans of motor oil to about medium well—no doubt for a certain black-and-gold ’62 Pontiac driven by Fireball Roberts that is scheduled to arrive in front of him on pit road any second now.

Back in those days, NASCAR stockers still ran production-style wet-sump oil systems, not the advanced dry-sump setups with reserve tank capacity they use today. Smokey is heating the oil a) so it will flow out of the cans and into the engine faster, saving precious time on pit road, and b) there won’t be even a momentary interruption in lubrication due to low oil temperature.

Let it never be said that Smokey Yunick didn’t give a considerable amount of thought to most everything he did. It’s also interesting to reflect that he knew the engine’s oil consumption characteristics so well, no doubt from many hours on the dyno and the track.

The record will show that the Pontiac of Yunick and Roberts won the ’62 Daytona 500 at an average speed of 152.529 mph. The margin of victory was 27 seconds over Richard Petty, the only other driver on the same lap. Our photo above shows shows several more items of interest: For example, check out the blackboard with pit instructions for the driver. Naturally, this was still some years before two-way radio systems were commonplace in NASCAR. Also note the crewman with the custom utensil to provide Fireball with cold drinks on a stick. Great old photos like these validate the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.


An earlier version of this story appeared on June 16 2012. More great mokey Yunick stories at Mac’s Motor City Garage:: 

The truth about Smokey Yunick’s 7/8 scale Chevelle 

Another look at Smokey Yunick’s Reverse Torque Special 

Another Look at Smokey Yunick’s Capsule Car 

Bookshelf: Best Damn Garage in Town by Smokey Yunick 


6 thoughts on “A Quick Visit With Smokey Yunick

  1. I don’t believe he was heating the oil to get it into the motor faster. 1962 was before the Wood brothers turned pit stops upside down with their choreographed extra fast pit stops. Note the lug wrench next to the leg of the crew member with the drink pole. Pit stops took minutes, not seconds. Some drivers had time to smoke a cigarette.
    He was probably thinning the oil to reduce the horsepower lost when the crankshaft started whipping the oil up. I believe windage trays started being used in the mid to late 1960’s. (probably developed by Smokey or Junior Johnson)
    The drink pole is still being used today.

  2. No room for Smokey in Frances Nascar Hall of Fame. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is a joke.

  3. Smokey lived in the “gray” area of the rules, if they didn’t expressly ban it, he would work right up to the limits. He probably thought more about the little things like pouring in warmed oil than the other guys did, those little things added up to big things. He was for sure a detail minded person.

  4. In the second pic Smokey has done his job and lighting his pipe!
    Yes he was defenitly a thinker and sometimes it got him in trouble.
    As for windage trays if they were legal his engines would have had them. Reading his books make you realise how critical oil control really is. Some factory engines of the day already had basic trays/ baffles built in the pan.
    Warm oil would flow better, almost certainly 50 grade which is very gluggy cold.
    Smokey pushed synthetic oils which flow far better though I dont think that early.

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