Race cars are known for their exploits on the track. However, the uniquely built 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle by Smokey Yunick was not known for its daring time on the race track – it was the center of attention then because of NASCAR’s decision of officially prohibiting it to compete in the first place. Perhaps due to the genius and technical expertise of Smokey himself, his car has been the focus of so many urban legends, blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
Smokey himself was quite a character. After surviving World War II being on bombing missions, he settled in Daytona Beach to open a garage named comically as ‘The Best Damn Garage in Town’ and immediately became a part of the local racing scene, and moving on towards the early stages of NASCAR. After winning championships in the NASCAR in 1951 and 1953, he then fixed his eyes in Indy Car Racing and won in Indy 500’s 1960 edition with Jim Rathman behind the wheel. Though Smokey started his racing career working on Hudson Hornets during the early days of his career at Daytona, he eventually applied his genius on working with Chevys later on.
It is this natural liking towards Chevrolet that allowed him to create his controversial Chevelle which was supposed to race at the Daytona 500 in 1968. Urban legend has it that this particular replica is a 7/8 scale model of a Chevelle but a closer look at the car’s features will prove it be false later on. Smokey introduced several modifications that made the car unique in many ways. To improve its aerodynamics, he altered the front bumper by setting it back at around 2 inches into the body work to keep the air out from under the car.
Smokey did not look at it as cheating, but instead an ingenious way of improving his car without causing a stir against NASCAR’s rules. He then significantly reduced the drag by flushing the windshield with the surrounding bodywork, and generating some downforce by adding a subtle flip up near the rear edge. As if this is not enough, Smokey opted to manufacture his own frame and shoehorned it with a 427 cui Chevrolet motor as a frame cross member in order to further stiffen the chassis. He’s approach to racing is basically, “If they didn’t say you couldn’t, then it was fair game.” NASCAR rules did not prohibit frame substitution coming from another manufacturer. The rules also stated that the engine must be centered between the frame rails – and Smokey, in his typical fashion, saw an opportunity to take advantage of this rule by offsetting his car’s engine towards the left, and moving the driver back and to the left of the car in order to play with the balance. Since his car was considerably lighter at 100 lbs below the required minimum weight due to the Lexan front and rear glass, Smokey considered it necessary to add more weight to the left side of the vehicle.
As mentioned earlier, since the car’s body was actually moved back a couple of inches, the wheel wells have to be moved also consequently. Negative air pressure pockets were created behind the wheel wells while the underside of the car was smoothed as much as possible, all in an attempt to move the air out of the wheel wells and increase the downforce.
Perhaps what could be the most outstanding feature of this car turning it into a legend is the design of the frame itself. The frame rails were in reportedly designed to be an auxiliary fuel tank, secretly increasing the regulated capacity of the car by something like 5 gallons, which in theory would allow it to make fewer stops during a race. When the car was inspected with an empty fuel tank, Smokey was told that the car failed the test and will not be permitted to run on the tracks. Upon hearing this, he simply started the car and drove away never to come back to the NASCAR.
After several years since that incident, Smokey wrote a book that he lovingly entitled in honor of his garage, “The Best Damn Garage in Town”. In his memoirs he said, “This car had power, aerodynamics and chassis. Too bad we never got to run it. I think it might have been interesting. Was this car a cheater? You’re goddamn right it was… but not by NASCAR’s published rule book in 1968.”