Brock Yates passed away a few weeks ago. If by chance the name is not familiar, he had a long career as a writer and editor for Car & Driver magazine, and wrote over a dozen books on cars, auto racing, and the automotive industry. His most infamous “accomplishment”, however, may be as the chief instigator of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, a recurring stunt which led him to write the screenplays for the movies Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run.
When I was a senior in high school, the March 1972 copy of Car & Driver magazine arrived home. In it was the story of the running of the first Cannonball race, which was held in November 1971. As an impressionable young lad who was car-crazy and had traveled no farther from my Staten Island home than the Catskills of upstate NY, the idea of hopping into a car, any car, and racing from New York to California absolutely infatuated me. I brought the magazine to school, showed it to the few buddies whom I thought might be interested, and read and re-read the story on my bus-subway-and-ferry commute. To this day, it is perhaps my favorite article ever published in a magazine.
Yates, with co-driver Dan Gurney (talk about a ringer), won in a Ferrari Daytona, making the trip in under 36 hours at an average speed of 80 miles per hour. (Favorite quote: “Masterful driving by Gurney negotiates the extremely dangerous stretches of Route 89 through the Prescott National Forest and the Cliffside highway at Yarnell with relative ease. Yates proves ‘Ban don’t wear off’.”) The other entrants were almost as interesting, and included a Cadillac, an AMX, and several full-size vans. Reading the story again reminds one of both Yates’ determination to change the world, and his own naiveté in thinking that this was the way to do it. (In his C&D columns, he frequently argued that driving was a quicker way to cover long distances than flying.)
Five years later, I completed my first coast-to-coast drive, although it was no race, and it was in a Volvo. My fascination with Ferraris reaches back to this story, and a few short years ago, the very Daytona piloted by Yates and Gurney was on display at Carlisle. It was no small thrill to see it in the metal.
The entire article is scanned from my original copy, and is attached as 8 PDFs. Take a few moments to read it, then lift your glass to the memory of Brock Yates.