I first met Smokey Yunick a couple of years ago. He'd come into a pool supply store I worked at here in Daytona Beach, and pick up chlorine for his pool. Wearing an old "muscle shirt" type t-shirt and a cowboy hat, Smokey was just a happy go-lucky old man. No one would have ever guessed this unassuming, jovial fellow, was a racing legend. But I knew his name a long time ago, when he was the crew chief on a car which won the Daytona 500 in 1961, I believe.

Smokey moved to Daytona in 1947, after his stint in WWII as an Air Force bomber pilot. He opened up an auto garage and dubbed it, "The Best Damn Garage In Town." He quickly became a major player in the racing community by winning several big races on the old beach-road course here in Daytona. He went on to win both the Daytona 500 as a car owner and the Indianapolis 500 as a mechanic. His black Pontiac twice claimed the Daytona 500, with Marvin Panch in '61 and Fireball Roberts in '62.

According to the Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia, Yunick had 61 starts as a car owner , scoring eight career victories. He won more than 50 times as a crew chief, chief mechanic or engine builder. His open-wheel Indy creations made 10 appearances at the famed Brickyard between 1958 and 1975. He won the Indy 500 in 1969 with Joe Rathmann as driver. In 1959, he entered a car with an upside down engine and called it the Reverse Torque Special. It came in seventh. Smokey was inducted into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

One of the last times I saw Smokey, I said, "Smokey, I've got to have your autograph; could you sign something for me?" He replied,"You don't have one of my posters?, I'll bring you one and sign it for you." He did, and I framed it. It's a picture of one of the Chevettes he raced, and an inset of Smokey in his cowboy hat.

Smokey Yunick died Wednesday, at the young age of 77, here in Daytona Beach.

Source: Godwin Kelly, Motorsports Editor; The Daytona Beach News-Journal