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"Smokey" Yunick dies at 77
Saturday, May 12, 2001 . . . . Smokey's sendoff will be full of memories . . .
MY TWO CENTS By KEN WILLIS
Anyone expecting your typical flowers-and-tears sendoff today will likely leave Smokey Yunick's funeral disappointed. "We've got a couple things planned," was the promise/warning from wife Margie, who greeted visitors and accepted condolences Friday during visiting hours at Ormond Funeral Home. Today, the funeral home will likely grow cramped due to a turnout of Smokey's friends and admirers, who will gather for the 1 p.m. service to say "adios" (his usual parting words) to Yunick, who died at 77 this past Wednesday after a fight with leukemia.
Friday, the place was bulging at the walls with memories, laughter and a few tears. The tears, of course, were due to our loss, not Smokey's, because Smokey Yunick left nothing on life's table. Few have ever jammed as many lifetimes of experiences into one earthly visit. From flying fighter planes in World War II, to building race cars, to trolling the Amazon for minerals, to inventing and refining and testing nearly every type of mechanical device ever imagined at the "Best Damn Garage in Town" -- forget what those
Coors commercials tell you, you would never find a more original American than Smokey Yunick. Every day, of course, we lose men from Smokey's generation -- your father, your neighbor's father, an uncle. But when someone as unique as Smokey Yunick moves along, Father Time's cold hand stings a little more. Probably due to all he accomplished at race tracks and in mechanical test labs, the rest of us are reminded of how many of our own wishes and goals -- in comparison -- are still dangling out there.
And that, maybe more than anything, is why so many people will miss Smokey. He reminded us that,if so motivated, you can get a lot done. "I've been amazed," said Margie, noting the national media attention Smokey's death garnered. "I guess maybe I was so close to him, I didn't notice it."
The funeral home lobby, as well as the altar area, are loaded with reminders of Smokey's many sides.
In the lobby, there's a large picture taken on the new Seabreeze bridge spans a few years ago. Back in 1998, Smokey noticed the debate over what to name the new high-rise spans. "By God, it's bad luck to leave a bridge unnamed," he said at the time. So Smokey took it upon himself to name one span after his dog Junkyard, and the other span after his other dog, Goofey. He went so far as to have authentic street signs printed with the dogs' names, and attached each to a light pole on each span. "Something had to be done," he said through a half-smile.
The Department of Transportation, however, had other ideas, and removed the signs within a day. But not before Smokey could pose with both dogs in front of their respective signs. He signed each dog's name on its picture, and included a paw print from each. From that, you learn that if this guy did something, he didn't go halfway. You also learn that, at times, he wasn't quite marching in formation with the rest of us.
'I better be dead'
Much of Smokey's playful nature also resides in Margie Yunick, who not only has sneaky ideas for today's funeral, but grand plans on where to put Smokey to rest.
Smokey's cremated remains will be divided into three urns -- one for Margie, the others for two of the kids. Margie plans to spread some of the ashes in a few different victory lanes along the racing trail. Some others, she promises, will be scattered at a few speak-easies within shouting distance of those tracks.
During his running days, you see, he was often found in one place or the other.
But today will be for remembering a life lived fully. The chapel includes the expected array of flowers -- including arrangements sent by Dan Gurney, Bud Moore, Benny Parsons and Ray Evernham. There's also a mini-museum of Smokey artifacts: His well-worn hat, reading glasses, stopwatch, boots, and championship rings. And there's an early preview of the three-volume autobiography due to hit stores in July. The three titles:
-- "Walkin' Under a Snake's Belly."
-- "All Right You Sons 'a Bitches, Let's Have a Race."
-- " 'Lil Skinny Rulebook & Eatin' Elephant."
Smokey will, no doubt, continue entertaining us for some time. "Boy, I better be dead when this thing gets printed," he said a couple years back. "Because the (mess) is really gonna hit the fan."
He'd love every minute of it. Too bad he'll miss it. Adios.
Sports columnist Ken Willis may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Racing Legend Smokey Yunick Dies
BEACH - Henry "Smokey" Yunick, one of
auto racing's most brilliant mechanics and innovators, died early Wednesday
morning at his home after a year-long battle with leukemia. Yunick, 77, was
born in Neshaminy, Pa., and settled here in 1946 after serving as an Air
force bomber pilot in World War II. His first glimpse of Daytona Beach was
from a pilot's seat in a B-17. After one look, he decided to call this area
home once his tour of service was complete.
His black Pontiacs with gold trim twice
claimed the Daytona 500, with Marvin Panch in 1961 and Daytona native
Fireball Roberts in '62. Yunick's
cars won four of the first eight Winston Cup races at Daytona International
Speedway. Turning the clock back even further, Yunick was the chief mechanic
for Herb Thomas, who won Winston Cup (then known as Strictly Stock)
championships in 1951 and '53.
Yunick battled health problems over the last few years. He was admitted to Halifax Medical Center more than two weeks ago for treatment of pneumonia. He had recently started chemotherapy in hopes of sending the leukemia into remission. The treatments failed.
A steady stream of family and friends
visited his hospital bedside until he went home on Tuesday. He died at 1
a.m. Wednesday with his family around him. "I feel like hell," he told the
News-Journal in a hospital interview on April 27. "I wouldn't wish this on
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