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Up in smoke: Smokey Yunick's garage burns

Tue, 26 Apr 2011

Legendary NASCAR mechanic Smokey Yunick closed the "Best Damn Garage In Town" long before he died in 2001. But the main concrete-block, tin-roofed building on Beach Street in Daytona Beach, Fla., remained a stop on the NASCAR history trail for visiting faithful until Monday night, when fire destroyed the building.

The building housed Yunick's office and a medium-size garage and more recently served as office space for Carbon Press, the publishing company that Yunick's daughter, Trish, operates and which produces products that include Yunick's salty 1,100-page autobiography and biographies of other racing personalities. The building has been completely vacant for several years, containing mostly some old tires.

The complex was sold in 2004 to condo developers, but not until the family held an auction of its contents that drew about 2,000 people.

The building caught fire at about dusk on Monday and within 90 minutes, it was a blackened shell. The Daytona Beach fire chief called the fire suspicious, especially since the building had no power, and witnesses reported seeing a man flee the scene shortly before the blaze began.

Yunick, an untrained engineer whose ideas literally revolutionized the sport, won the Daytona 500 in 1961 and 1963 with drivers Marvin Panch and Fireball Roberts. He was usually at odds with NASCAR's founding France family, especially Bill France Sr., whom Yunick called in his book a "holy roller draft dodger." Yunick accused France of selling "stolen government merchandise," specifically World War II-era tire- and gasoline-rationing stamps.

Yunick's original garage was the last building standing of his conglomeration of block buildings and tin sheds that happened to back up to the Halifax River, making the property particularly valuable to developers. The asking price in 2004 was $4 million.

By Steven Cole Smith