Smokey and the Chevelle

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Smokey Yunick is a legend of American motorsport, especially NASCAR. He was born in Pennsylvania and served as a bomber pilot in the Second World War, before opening his Best Damn Garage in Town in Daytona Beach. Smokey occasionally raced, but was known as a master mechanic, engine builder, and car designer. He pioneered the study of aerodynamics in the early days of NASCAR, and was brilliantly talented at skirting the rulebook. To his mind, anything that wasn’t explicitly outlawed in the rules was fair game. He reasoned that every other team was cheating so his behaviour was simple self defence. His ‘67 Chevelle is a product of that mindset.

The infamous ‘7:8 scale’ Chevelle, was the second of three ‘67s that Smokey worked on (the first had qualified on pole, seriously embarrassing factory-backed teams from Ford and Mopar). It was built by Chevy and then modified at Smokey’s shop. One story tells that the car was a perfect 7:8 scale replica of a Chevelle built by Smokey to have less aerodynamic drag. In reality, a 7:8 scale car would have been blindingly obvious among the other full size cars. That’s not to say that Smokey didn’t employ his trademark trickery in modifying it.

The exterior of the Chevelle was modified to be as aerodynamic as possible. The bumpers were made flush with the fenders and all the door handles, turn signals, etc, were removed and smoothed over. To get around a rule banning flat belly pans on competition cars (introduced because of Smokey’s designs) he had tunnels installed in the floor to lift the headers and exhaust piping out of the air flowing under the car. A custom chassis was made and the body sat two inches further back than stock for better weight distribution.

Despite all the trickery and ingenuity, the Chevelle never turned a wheel in anger because NASCAR suppressed Smokey’s innovations. At the car’s planned debut, the tech inspectors removed the fuel cell to examine it. They then presented Smokey a list with ten items that needed changing before the car would be legal. At the top of the list was the removal of the custom frame and fitting of a standard one. Knowing he was beaten, Smokey threw the disconnected cell into the back seat of the car and shouted ‘make it eleven!’ before starting the car and driving it from the racetrack back to his shop. Adding extremely thick fuel lines arranged in coils had allowed him to sneak an extra 19 litres of fuel into the car.

At the time, stock cars were essentially road cars with roll cages, bigger engines, and tires. Sadly, there was no place for Smokey’s brilliantly altered race car Chevelle on the NASCAR grid.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 23rd 2016.

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Smokey and the Chevelle

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