Who is the greatest cheat ever in NASCAR?

Smokey Yunick was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000.


Who is the greatest cheat ever in NASCAR?

Smokey Yunick and Johnny Rutherford with their crew after 1963 Daytona 500 win

Henry “Smokey” Yunick was a man of many talents. He was a stock car racing driver, a crew chief, a NASCAR team owner, an engineer, an engine builder, and also a car designer. He was involved in NASCAR at many levels throughout his career. Yunick was one of the most celebrated engineers in the sport’s history. He had a bold decision-making approach. But he is also celebrated as the “greatest cheater”, not because he disregarded the rules. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Yunick only interpreted the rulebook. He followed the regulations seriously but also literally. The clever engineer used everything that was not forbidden by the rulebook. And there is no doubt why he was named the NASCAR Mechanic of the Year twice. Yunick did not have any training in designing a NASCAR race car, but he made a name for himself in this regard. So it would be a cardinal sin to call him a charter; he played by the rules and showed the courage to explore uncharted waters.

Smokey Yunick was rightfully known as the “Wizard of the Auto Racing Garage”. He took risks. The genius was inducted into NASCAR’s International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990. It is interesting that he is a member of over 30 Halls of Fame globally. His items on display include boots, engines, hats, pipes, etc. Let’s explore his “innovations” that what he did to earn the name “greatest cheater”. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Related: Why is Jimmie Johnson’s LEGACY MC ditching Chevrolet and joining Toyota?

Smokey Yunick’s innovations with ‘fuel lines and freezing cold gas’

IMG COM 20230504 1743 33 5701 1
Smokey Yunick. Image via Car Throttle.

NASCAR officials once suspected Smokey Yunick of some gimmick. They inspected his fuel tank from the race car as it had good fuel mileage. However, they were left surprised as it was within the regulation. Yunick was able to store an additional 5 gallons of gas despite the evacuation through 11-foot long fuel line. There are rumors that Yunick drove the car back to his shop even after the tank was removed and passed the basic inspection. 

Smokey Yunick was fearless. He was not worried that the NASCAR officials would find out about the fuel line. He often passed technical inspections easily. Before the race, he used to pop the basketball and add the tank with more fuel. This would mean more mileage for him, and also he would spend less time in the pits refueling. 

The genius mechanic also used cool down the fuel until it nearly froze before filling his race cars. Yunick did this to add more fuel to the tank, and the cars would travel further than his rivals. Over the course of the race, the fuel warmed up and expanded. This meant his drivers got more mileage while following the regulations, as their tank size was the same as everyone else. However, NASCAR officials caught him, and they made it mandatory to have a minimum temperature race fuel. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Yunick expanded the ports to build the most technologically advanced race car 

IMG COM 20230504 1743 33 7313
Yunick. Image via Popular Mechanics.

According to NASCAR’s rulebook, in 1970, the engine builders were banned from drilling the exhaust headers. They would do it to make the passages bigger. Yunick followed the rulebook. He did not use a drill. Instead, he found another way to expand the ports and passages. Yunick was a master at finding loopholes. Headers are significant when it comes to big power, it captures the exhaust gasses and liquidizes the passages down into pipes. If more air is inside the cylinder head, more fuel can be added, and thus, one can get more power. 

Over the winter before the 1967 season, Smokey Yunick was working on building one of the most technologically advanced stock cars in NASCAR. It was his Chevrolet Chevelle. Instead of fitting a small body over the chassis, Yunick designed the exterior of the same car for more airflow. He also moved the driver’s seating position to the left to improve the car’s cornering efficiency on the ovals. The NASCAR officials were often troubled by Yunick and his gimmicks. Years later, he is still known as the most innovative mechanic.

In case you missed it: