Hes Still Smokin

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I've written a good many column inches through the years on Smokey Yunick, and upon his death in May, there was the predictable surfacing of the dark humor found inside a press box - I was asked by several cuddly cohorts how I'd ever find anything to write about now that my meal ticket had pulled behind the wall for good, leaving me with so many less-interesting and less-candid surrogates.

Well, no worry necessary. As promised, Smokey's three-volume autobiography - 1,068 pages worth - has arrived. And its no-holds-barred honesty isn't just great entertainment, but one helluva resource guide for those wanting historical info (and maybe some dirt) on nearly everything and everybody in the automotive world during the past half-century.

We now know what it was Smokey had been writing on those legal pads through the past several years of his very full life.

With its eight-pound bulk, the work may be tough to pick up, but it's even tougher to put down. You can blindly turn to any page of any volume and be entertained by Smokey's storytelling gifts, his spare-no-feelings approach and, yes, colorful use of the English language - complete with the spelling and grammatical errors he insisted not be touched by any editor.

Open to pages 170-171 of Volume Two, which details Yunick's years building race cars (title: "All Right You Sons-a-Bitches, Let's Have a Race"), and we find him in the middle of describing each of the 50-plus drivers he worked with through the years.

On his fellow Daytonan Fireball Roberts: "Soon as he got couple of drinks in him, he'd get very friendly and invite the whole motel to his room. We never got credit for it, but (Joe) Weatherly, (Curtis) Turner, Fireball, (Paul) Goldsmith and myself, with about five other drivers, invented lady race car fans. Well, I credit quite a bit of the development of these social customs to Fireball."

Page 116 of the third volume, from a few pages on the race fans: "In Daytona they put a ticket scalper in jail, but they let the motel-restaurant-bar-parking and all other race related goods and services rape-rob-scalp. The mayor, the commissioners, and all elected city, county and state officials including the governor and sometimes the president sit in air conditioned suites at the track, drinking free booze and getting fatter eating free food."

Page 2 of the first volume ("Walkin' Under a Snake's Belly"), writing about the final years of Bill France Sr., the NASCAR founder and Smokey's longtime nemesis: "I doubt Bill's kids know that in the last two years of his life he would come to my shop… One day he said, 'Smokey, I'm lonesome. We all worked so hard to get this thing going. I lost sight of some things, like friendship. Let's go to the islands and go fishing and chase some (girls).' Well, I had to turn away from him. I damn near cried."

It's not all racing. Volume One is full of entertaining stories from Smokey's wild and often unclothed days as a bomber pilot in World War II. And there are also fun-filled trips, from 1960 forward, to the jungles of Ecuador in search of gold and oil - amazing tales, complete with tips on automation, farming and bathing with piranha.

The third volume is actually two books in one - "Li'l Skinny Rule Book," which deals with his Indy 500 years; and "Eatin' an Elephant," which covers his many and varied automotive inventions at that sprawling Daytona Beach garage on Beach Street. In fact, the sign outside his longtime shop serves as the overall title for the set of books - "Best Damn Garage in Town."

There truly is a little something for everybody, especially if you like your history served with a little dirt.

And it's delivered in a rather unique style. Through the past several years, right up until his death mid-May death, Smokey would write his remembrances on legal pad, then wife Margie would transcribe them on a laptop computer.

Along with the raw grammar and language, some stories repeat themselves - occasionally with a slight variation from the first telling several chapters earlier. He admits in the early pages that others might remember things a little differently. It's very much like sitting on the porch with an ol' dude who has an endless supply of stories to tell… and no need or intention to spare anyone's feelings (from Lee Iacocca to A.J. Foyt to even his own personal failures as a mechanic, father and three-time husband).

The Yunick family is still trying to arrange availability on Amazon.com, as well as bookstores. Price: $95 for paperback edition; $250 for hardcover and numbered collector's editions, which include slip case and signed collector's certificate. Right now, your best bet for ordering the book is through the website set up by his daughter Trish, who did a massive amount of the leg-work in getting the book published - www.smokeyyunick.com.

Margie Yunick, who spent countless days, weeks, and months pounding on a laptop while moving Smokey's words from pad to computer disk, said recently that her late husband never was much for notes or cards or the typical niceties some husbands aim at their wives. But, she eventually realized, in its own way, "the whole book was kind of a love letter."

And she laughed when reminded of a particularly honest account of Smokey's adventures with a large group of Polish nurses during a lull in his WWII duties. The nurses, Smokey writes, were quite adventurous.

"Sometimes," he adds, "I wonder if my Margie isn't part Polish."

While Tony Stewart can be the best quote on the circuit these days, I doubt anyone will ever get anything this good out of him.

The book, like the author, truly is a piece of work.

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