Over the 35 years we were friends, I was never surprised how Smokey Yunick liked to play with people’s minds.  In fact, among the many facets in which he was highly skilled, one was the ability to create conditions that would point you away from what he was really doing.  Rules bending was only one aspect of this.  So with that much of a preamble, here’s the way one episode went.

It’s a Wednesday morning and the phone rings. Smokey says, “If you ain’t doing anything Saturday morning, how about coming out to Riverside.  I want to show you something.”  Now it happens that Riverside Raceway through the ‘50s and ‘60s was a premier West Coast  (California) racing facility (now populated by houses and a shopping center) that annually hosted the Mission Bell 250.  This race featured Trans-Am cars of the era, including the Penske Sonoco Donohue-driven Camaro and the Bud Moore team of factory-backed Mustangs and Cougars. I’d heard Smokey had been crafting a ’67 Camaro but didn’t know any details.

So I show up in the Riverside main office early Saturday a.m. Bob Russo, PR Director for the track at the time asks, “What are you doing out here?  HOT ROD going to cover the race?” “Nope, Smokey asked me to come out.” “Smokey’s not entered in this race.  I think he’s got you on a witch hunt.” So after more than a hour of small talk, Russo says again, “You may well go on down to the garage area. Smokey put one over on you this time.”

Within minutes, through the door come the hat, the glasses and the racing whites of the guy that’s wearing them. “Hey Russo, you think them Ford guys’ll let us a take of a couple of laps?” Outside, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Flat-towed, on street tires and behind a camper-shelled pickup truck is a dirty, bug-spattered black and gold (#13) Trans-Am Camaro. “Come on, Jim.  Let’s get down to the garage area,” at which point he and a couple of his sidekicks hose down the car, wipe it off with motel towels, Goodyear rolls up a set of race tires, Smokey throws a set of warm-up plugs into the engine and from literally nowhere, Lloyd Ruby shows up, driver’s bag and equipment in hand.

By now, it’s standing room only around the car. Nobody can figure out what’s going on, it appears Smokey’s a late entry, the car looks to be in Trans-Am trim and Roby goes out for a couple of warm-up laps.  Glancing around the garage area, virtually every set of hand-held clocks is in hands and clicking away. People are standing on walls, trailer beds and cars…most factory engineers and staff eager to see what this Daytona Beach creation will do. I remember Bud Moore had two sets. They didn’t have to wait long.

Smokey cuts Ruby loose with a wave of his hand and the slippery little Camaro ducks into turn one. Three laps later, each one quicker than the other, Ruby has bettered the pole time set by Jerry Titus in the previous year’s Mission Bell 250. The garage area is a blur. Back behind the pit wall, race inspectors swarm the car. When I located him, Smokey is standing back by the Goodyear tire shop, casually talking with its manager, J. L. Henderson, and drawing on his pipe. Then, after about 30 minutes, the street tires go back on, tow bar hooked up, Smokey and I climb into his rental and we leave.  I don’t see Ruby anywhere. Smokey’s parting words to the crowd were, “I’ll see you sonsabitches later.”

So I ask the obvious. “What the heck are you doing?” He ignores the question and says, “I’ll call you later. Thanks for coming out.” As it turned out, I’d shot about four rolls of film on the car (it was clearly pre-digital camera times) that, interestingly enough, became the images used by Vic Edelbrock to restore the car after purchasing it from Smokey many years later. (It’s in Vic’s vintage racing car stable today.)

The next morning (race day), the sports section of the Riverside newspaper includes a long list of rules violations, as cited by the inspectors who Smokey “let” examine the car after Ruby’s hot laps.  At that point, I didn’t know what had happened to Smokey. And then, about mid-morning on Monday, he calls. “How’d the race come out?”  “Wait a minute. Where the devil are you?” “Bonneville.” “Bonneville? I thought you were in the race.” “Hell, no. I just stopped off to see how I could mess up them guys a little, plus it was sorta on the way to Bonneville, anyway.” “Well you succeeded. Have you seen the Riverside paper?” “No, and I don’t need to. Them inspectors probably missed what they were looking for, anyway.”

While I know this story has been referenced a number of times by people who heard about what happened at this particular time in the annals of Yunick lore, the accounting you’ve just read is accurate. I know, because I was there and just as mystified by it as the others who were also there. It was classic Yunick deception and misdirection. 


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