Casey takes pride in carrying on Yunick name

                    Casey takes pride in carrying on Yunick name

     Casey Yunick sat in the funeral home chapel staring at a shrine dedicated to the memory of his famous grandfather.
     Smokey Yunick left a giant footprint in the racing world by winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Winston Cup championship and countless racing events and bar fights.
     Smokey died last week, but Casey hopes to keep the Yunick name alive in racing circles and build upon his grandfather's legend as a crafty and hardnosed competitor.
     The 27-year-old driver is in his second year of NASCAR All Pro Series competition with ambitions of someday racing on the Winston Cup level.
     It's not an easy assignment. In Smokey's day he could get a showroom car, boost the engine, weld in a roll cage, put in heavy duty chassis parts and then head to the track with little or no money in his pocket.
     These days big-league racing starts at the sponsor's checkbook. Period. End of discussion.
     "I was hoping he could open a door for me," Casey said. "He tried real hard a bunch of different times to open different seats for me, but nothing would ever stick because everybody wants sponsorship.
     "It's a tough deal. He knew it. I don't think he wanted me to be a race car driver, but I think he knew I wanted to do it so bad, he finally accepted it and tried to help me."
     Of course, this begged the question: Does having the last name Yunick help or hinder a racing career?

Foot in the door

     Smokey Yunick Jr., Casey's father, fielded the sticky query.
     "Most people weren't close enough to know dad," Smokey Jr. said with a little smile. "As far as sponsors, it's helped a little. The actual racing, well, some competitors start out with a grudge. So I suppose it helps more than it hurts. You can deal with competition, but if you don't have money you can't go there to compete."
     "Doors have opened and will open because I'm his grandson, but there will come a day, and the day is here already, where I got to stand on my own two feet," Casey said. "I'd just love to carry on his name because he tried so hard to get us there."
     "Even when he was here to help me, it was hard to get the door open. I just need a crack, a crack in the door to get my foot in there, but it's going to be tough to do. I believe if we can get to the next level in racing we'll carry on his name."
     The Yunick game plan is to complete the rest of the All Pro season and then make camp in the Charlotte, N.C., area next year with the hopes of pulling a Craftsman Truck Series deal together.
     "I would sure like to keep going, it's just so hard to do it without a break," Casey said. "This year we're in the All Pro Series again. Next year I want to go to the trucks. If I can get to the trucks, I think we could do a really good job of keeping his name in racing. If we can't get to that next level, it's going to be tough."

Left without trophy

     Smokey told Casey a few years ago to move to Charlotte and find a job sweeping the floor for a race team. Casey decided to stay in this area but now realizes his grandfather had the right idea.
     "He was my grandfather, but he was a pretty neat person just to go down there to the "Best Damn Garage In Town" and talk to," Casey said. "He always told me his opinion and usually it was correct. I might not believe it at the time, but down the road it would happen that way. It was like 99 out of 100 times he'd be right."
     "I went out to the hospital last week to see him. I knew he was having a real tough time. As soon as I got there, he wanted to know what was going on and where I was headed. He wanted to get up to date. He was gung-ho for me right up to the end. That makes me feel pretty good."
     Even though Smokey gave up racing in the mid-1970s, the name is still widely known among race fans. When Casey arrives at the track for a race, he's generally bombarded with either questions about Smokey or war stories about his grandfather.
     "Every Smokey story is a good story," said Casey.
     Smokey left this world before Casey could give him one special gift. Casey thought about that as he gazed at the memorial to his grandfather.
     "I wanted to win a NASCAR race for him really bad," he said. "Even though it's the All Pro Series, I wanted to win a race for him before he passed away. I think that would have been special. But we just couldn't get the job done."

Article courtesy of THE NEWS-JOURNAL;Sports;May 13, 2001,Godwin Kelly

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