Daytona International Speedway is unique among American racing facilities in that three of its most prestigious events take place at the front end of its schedule, with the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race in late January, the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in late February and the Daytona 200 motorcycle race in mid-March as the climax of Daytona Bike Week.
The three events couldn’t be more different. But the upcoming Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 and Daytona 200 on March 18 serve as a reminder of one of the more interesting common bonds between the good old boys of stock car racing and the two-wheeled set.
Legendary auto racing mechanic Smokey Yunick, who ran “The Best Damn Garage in Town” from 1947-87 in Daytona Beach, was an annual visitor to the Daytona 200 until his death in 2001. Wearing his trademark battered cowboy hat and smoking his ubiquitous pipe, Yunick was just as curious about the mechanical workings of motorcycles as he was with cars. Smokey sat on the pit wall smoking his pipe and observing the AMA Superbikes which made up the 200 at that time.
Yunick, like most from “the greatest generation”, lived about six lives in the time he spent here on earth. Yunick raced bikes, flew Flying Fortresses over Europe in WWII, raced NASCAR, built engines and never lost his love for motor-bikes. His autobiography, published late in his life, was perhaps the most, well, honest one we’ve ever read.
Yunick built and raced motorcycles in his spare time while growing up in Pennsylvania. He reportedly earned his fabled nickname due to the belching behavior of one of his bikes.