Larry McReynolds, who won 23 NASCAR Cup Series races as crew chief for drivers such as Hall of Famers Davey Allison, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt, received the prestigious Smokey Yunick Award Monday ahead of the third running of the Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Legendary car owner and mechanic Henry “Smokey” Yunick instituted the award in 1997 to annually recognize an individual who rose from humble beginnings to make a major impact on the motorsports industry. Yunick passed away on May 9, 2001, and Charlotte Motor Speedway has continued the award in his memory.
McReynolds was surprised with the award, a golden wrench, during a special presentation by Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith on FOX’s “Race Hub.”
He joins joins a long list of NASCAR greats in receiving the honor, including Cotton Owens, Banjo Mathews, Ralph Moody, Ray Evernham, Dale Inman, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Waddell Wilson, among others.
“That list has a lot of great names and I think a lot of creative genius,” said Smith. “The ingenuity and the ideas that drive championship racing are what it takes to get this wrench and I’m so excited to be able to give it to you.”
“You have absolutely swept me off my feet,” McReynolds said. “Just to have my name in the same paragraph as a Dale Inman or Leonard Wood, people like that, is quite overwhelming. It starts with the people that I work with. We all know it’s about people…
“The one thing about looking at that list that makes it so fulfilling is to know that I’m on there with Hall of Famer, my best friend, Robert Yates. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Robert Yates, I probably wouldn’t be here accepting this. He taught me so much.”
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, McReynolds became enthralled with the mechanical side of the local racing scene. He moved to North Carolina in 1980 to begin a NASCAR career and eventually worked his way up to crew chief.
McReynolds’ first full season as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief was in 1986 when he called the shots for the No. 26 King Racing Buick owned by drag racer Kenny Bernstein and driven by Joe Ruttman. His first victory came at the Watkins Glen International road course in 1988 with Ricky Rudd driving the King Racing entry.
In 1991, McReynolds teamed with Yates and Allison to form one of the sport’s most potent combinations. Together, they won 11 races, including the 1991 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, before Allison died on July 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash.
Robert Yates Racing and the No. 28 team eventually rebounded from the devastating loss and McReynolds returned to Victory Lane with Ernie Irvan (seven times) and Dale Jarrett (once) before moving to Richard Childress Racing for the 1997 season.
At RCR, McReynolds was on top of the pit box in 1998 when Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 and he spent more than two-and-a-half seasons working alongside driver Mike Skinner.
“People ask me, what are my most special wins,” McReynolds said. “Well, all of them. I won 23, but I lost 457 of them, so they’re all really special. Two Daytona 500s, and, you know there’s only one first. To get that very first win at Watkins Glen with Ricky Rudd in 1988. Donnie Allison told me when I left Birmingham; he said, it’s going to be a long time before you see a checkered flag. Well he was right, it took about eight and a half years before I got to see a checkered flag. But, they’re all special because they’re hard to come by.”
Stepping into the FOX broadcast booth in 2001, McReynolds was originally paired with legendary driver Darrell Waltrip and veteran broadcaster Mike Joy, a combination that remained for 15 years. His broadcasting role eventually evolved and today McReynolds offers his unique perspective on everything from rule infractions to pit strategy during each race. Charlotte Motor Speedway