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Smokey Yunick's Power Secrets

Book Review

by Ryan King

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Reading this book is like sitting down and having a conversation with Smokey himself.

All except that part where you don't get to say anything — but that's okay. You'll probably quickly get the notion your input isn't necessary and even if you could say something, it would be pointless. Smokey knew a LOT more than you do.

At this point in my life, I know quite a bit about the automobile. Everything from history to science and engineering, but while reading this book, I found myself taking a master class on the subject.

Smokey's delivery is full of character, direct, honest, and presented well by writer Larry Schreib. There's no missing what he's saying. He had an amazing amount of knowledge about building engines and race cars — as well as a colorful wit and a way with analogy that was both accurate and profound — and it comes through in Smokey Yunick's Power Secrets with razor-sharp clarity.

While the subject of Smokey Yunick's Power Secrets centers around his experience with circle track racing engines, so much of the knowledge can be applied to just about every form of racing or high performance street engine. If you're like me, than you demand a lot from your car and you need an engine that can handle those demands. Whether you intend it to accelerate like a drag car, corner like a road racer, handle the punishment of a circle track, have the endurance of a 24 hour endurance racer or provide the reliability of a brand new high performance machine rolling out of the factory, the depth and breadth of the knowledge Smokey imparts in his book can have you well on your way to understanding what kind of engine is needed to do those things as well as the differences between the engines used in the various forms of racing.

The Book

About the Author: Henry "Smokey" Yunick

The first section is a short introduction to Smokey Yunick that gives you a little background on the personality and feats that have made him synonymous with competitive racing and pushing the limits.

30 Years of Raucous Mischief

This brief section is a photo essay of some of Smokey's race cars that highlights his unique approach to racing that have garnered him his well deserved place in racing history.

Inside Smokey's: "The Best Damn Garage in Town"

Another brief photo essay, this time focusing on his extensive shop where his inventive, rules-challenging ideas came to life.


If anything, Smokey Yunick was practical. Sure, like any of the great inventors or craftsman, many, many hours were spent on what some people might consider impractical, but practicality was his stock in trade none-the-less. In the Introduction, I got the feeling like I was being sat down for a discussion about one of life's little lessons and when I was done, I had the feeling I'd learned quite a bit, not just about the focus of the subject, successfully building a race car, but about the man. Not because he shared a lot about himself, but because it gave me such an incredible insight into his sharp, inquisitive mind. Not only does he share his views on how to build a competitive car, but the way he approaches it is nothing short of, well, practical. Practical to the point of brilliant.

Chapter 1: Cylinder Block

In the first chapter I got a real taste of Smokey's approach to building an engine. I've already touched on his practicality, but that isn't all he is. He's also extremely meticulous and as he points out, being that meticulous is practical.

Smokey gets down to the nuts and bolts, or rather, bores and bolt holes of building an engine in this chapter. He discusses what to look for when choosing a block as well as the procedures necessary to prep one for serious punishment. He also — just as, if not more importantly — gives you a laundry list of things to avoid doing. Because he's done those things, too, and wasn't happy with the results.

Chapter 2: Crankshaft and Connecting Rods

I discovered there's a lot to learn about crankshafts and connecting rods. I thought I knew quite a bit. I thought, for what I was doing, I knew enough. Funny thing about learning stuff, I find I realize the knowledge I had before I knew more was woefully inadequate for what I was doing.

Of course, Smokey knew a lot about cranks and rods, and he goes through the basics, as well as introduces the more advanced concepts in this chapter. Everything from the different types of cranks and rods, to how they are made, to how they need to be prepped for serious competition.

Chapter 3: Pistons and Piston Rings

In this chapter, I quickly discovered that pistons are extremely complex pieces of engineering. Of course, I already knew they were multifaceted pieces of precision equipment, but Smokey knew a lot more and was one of the people involved with developing TRW's forged piston line.

Chapter 3 also deals with piston rings. Every aspect from how they are designed and how to pick them out, to fitment and installation.

Chapter 4: Cylinder Heads and Induction System

Reading this far into the book, I knew Smokey had spent a lot of time engineering, testing, adjusting, and utilizing performance engines and equipment, but no where is it more prevalent than in this chapter. He spent more time studying airflow, especially in cylinder heads, than anyone I've ever read about. In fact, there's a good deal more specialized information in this chapter than the average gearhead will ever have use for. But if understanding cylinder head flow dynamics is what you are after, than this chapter is an incredible introduction to it. Even though the rest of the information in this book is stellar, I would recommend this book to someone for this chapter alone.

Chapter 5: Camshaft and Valvetrain

If you're looking for someone to give you the perfect cam grind for your car, this isn't the chapter for you. If you are looking for some basics to help you find the right cam for your engine combination, this is. Smokey points out that choosing a cam isn't an easy process. It requires a lot of testing to get the right cam for any given engine combination. He does, however, give a lot of specific advice about the rest of the valvetrain, such as lifters, rocker arms, valvesprings, and push rods.

Although he makes camshafts sound like the black boxes of the valvetrain, he points out why and instead, focuses on the aspects he can accurately — and sagely — give advice on.

Chapter 6: Exhaust and Ignition

This chapter — more than any other — is about what not to do. Smokey explains why you shouldn't build an ignition using old technology — for any reason, unless something says you have to. He also points out how to set up an ignition correctly to gain the most power. It's not a long chapter, and it covers exhaust as well, but it will leave you with a good idea of everything you've ever done wrong when you were doing a tune-up, setting up, or tuning an ignition.

Chapter 7: Lubrication and Cooling

If you ever thought cooling or oiling was just a matter of adding coolant or oil, after reading this chapter, you will never think so again. Smokey's knowledge of both cooling and oiling systems is pretty immense and he packs the last chapter full of dos and don'ts, as well as some intricate how-tos.

Smokey's Tool Box

Smokey Yunick's Power Secrets is finished with two more short photo essays. This one being focused on some of the unique tools and equipment he developed for his building and racing efforts.

Smokey's Parts Bin: Unique Parts from Smokey's Racing History

The last section is a look at some of the unique parts Smokey has worked with or helped develop, including a photo of one of the original, Chevrolet "mystery engines" that were the predecessors to the big blocks.


Let me finish by saying the technical aspects of this book are old. Like more than 20 years old. I'd also like to mention that I'd take the knowledge — more than two decades old — of Smokey Yunick to most people and the reason is simple: Not only did he have a lot of information, but it was based on his own experience testing nearly every single aspect of engine design and use in extreme conditions. He's also the progenitor of a lot of the engine building knowledge used in racing and engine design today. It's one thing to know a lot, it's another to be the person who was responsible for that knowledge in the first place.

This is definitely a book that should be a part of every serious car builder's library.

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