Brock Yates

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Brock Yates
BornBrock Wendel Yates
(1933-10-21)October 21, 1933
Lockport, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 5, 2016(2016-10-05) (aged 82)
Batavia, New York, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, author
Alma materHobart College
GenreJournalism, screenwriting
SpousePamela Yates

Brock Wendel Yates (October 21, 1933 – October 5, 2016) was an American print and TV journalist, screenwriter, and author. He was longtime executive editor of Car and Driver, an American automotive magazine. In 1971 Yates, his son, and a friend developed and drove the first the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2017.[1]

Early life & Career[edit]

Yates was the son of American author Raymond F. Yates.[2] He was born and raised in Lockport, New York and graduated from Lockport High School in 1951. Yates' first articles appeared in Science and Mechanics magazine when he was 16 years old.[2] He graduated from Hobart College and spent time in the United States Navy.[2]

Yates was a pit reporter for CBS' coverage of certain NASCAR Cup Series (at the time, the Winston Cup) series races in the 1980s, including the Daytona 500. He was also one of the main commentators on the TNN motor sports TV show American Sports Cavalcade with Steve Evans. Paul Page, Gary Gerould, and Ralph Sheheen also occasionally appeared on the show. He served as a commentator on racing and vintage cars for the Speed Channel, a U.S. cable television channel affiliated with Fox Sports.

Yates was a best-selling author, most frequently about automotive topics and motor sport. Some of his articles and commentaries for Car and Driver magazine and other publications have had considerable impact within the auto industry and general public, beginning with his 1968 critique of the American auto industry, its management, and its products: "The Grosse Pointe Myopians." A recurring theme of his nonfiction work was the way American automotive management frequently grew arrogant, lost touch with its markets, and failed to respond to changing public needs/tastes, technology, and energy/environmental concerns.

Yates wrote for The Truth About Cars briefly in January and February 2008.[3]

Cannonball Run[edit]

Yates was inspired by Erwin G. "Cannonball" Baker, (1882–1960), who set several coast-to-coast records, to initiate the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

Conceived by Yates and fellow Car and Driver editor Steve Smith, the first run was intended both as a celebration of the United States Interstate Highway System and as a protest against strict traffic laws coming into effect at the time. Another motivation was the fun involved, which showed in the tongue-in-cheek reports in Car and Driver and other auto publications worldwide. The initial cross-country run was made by Yates; his son, Brock Yates, Jr.; Steve Smith; and friend Jim Williams beginning on May 3, 1971, in a 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van called the "Moon Trash II."[4]

The first competitive race was won by Brock and Formula One and Le Mans winner Dan Gurney in a Sunoco blue Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. The duo traveled from New York to Los Angeles in a then-record time of 35 hours, 54 minutes.[5] In all, five Cannonballs were run between 1971 and 1979, although Yates never again won. The event was the inspiration for the 1976 movies Cannonball! and The Gumball Rally.

The event has continued on in the form of the Tire Rack One Lap of America Presented by Grassroots Motorsport Magazine. The event is now run by his son Brock Yates, Jr. 2018 saw the 35th anniversary of the event.[6]


Yates along with director and stuntman Hal Needham, wrote Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). Yates also wrote the screenplay for The Cannonball Run (1981)[7] film with the intention of giving the lead role to Steve McQueen. However, McQueen was diagnosed with cancer early in 1980 and was unable to do the film, leading to the casting of Burt Reynolds.[8] Yates had a brief cameo in The Cannonball Run as the race organizer who lays out the ground rules before the beginning of the race.

While Yates was not involved in them, The Cannonball Run was followed by one sequel using his characters, Cannonball Run II (1984), and a second sequel, Speed Zone (1989), which, apart from being about the race and a small cameo by Jamie Farr's character, had no other connections.


Yates died in Batavia, New York, on October 5, 2016, as a result of Alzheimer's disease; he was 82 years old, sixteen days away from his 83rd birthday.[9][10]


  • Against Death and Time: One Fatal Season in Racing's Glory Years
  • Cannonball!: World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race
  • The Hot Rod: Resurrection of a Legend
  • Enzo Ferrari: the man, the cars, the races
  • The Critical Path
  • NASCAR Off the Record
  • The Indianapolis 500: The Story of the Motor Speedway
  • Racers and Drivers
  • The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry
  • Sunday Driver
  • Dead in the Water
  • The Great Driver
  • Guide to Racing Cars
  • Outlaw Machine: Harley-Davidson and the Search For the American Soul
  • Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500
  • Sports and Racing Cars (written with Raymond F. Yates)


  1. ^ Brock Yates at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
  2. ^ a b c Yates, Brock W. The Indianapolis 500: The Story of the Motor Speedway. Harper and Brothers: New York. 1956. Back flap cover.
  3. ^ "Brock Yates: Grosse Pointe Blank". 11 February 2008.
  4. ^ Brock Yates, Cannonball! World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race. Motorbooks International. August 2003. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7603-1633-7.
  5. ^ Yates, Brock (2002). Cannonball!: World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race. Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks. pp. 61, 281. ISBN 978-0-7603-1633-7.
  6. ^ "One Lap of America". One Lap of America. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (1981-06-20). "Movie Review: The Cannonball Run". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
  8. ^ "Even the Cops Liked the Cannonball". Car and Driver. November 2002.
  9. ^ "Brock Yates, Writer and Rebel Who Created the Cannonball Run, Dies at 82". The New York Times. 9 October 2016.

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