Brock Yates and Dan Gurney in the Cannonball
Longtime Car and Driver editor Brock Yates, the creator of the popular Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, died Wednesday from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 82.
Yates began his career in automotive journalism when he joined Car and Driver in 1964 as its managing editor. He would remain with the magazine until 2006.
He was known for his frequent criticisms of the national 55 mph speed limit and was often pointed in his takedowns of safety advocates such as Ralph Nader and the regulators who began to amass more power in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yates’ love of speed culminated in the creation of the first cross-country Cannonball Run race. Yates and racer Dan Gurney won in just under 36 hours while driving a Ferrari Daytona, according to Car & Driver.
“At no time did we exceed 170 mph,” the magazine quotes Yates as saying after the race.
Gurney called Yates “a pioneer, historian, instigator and defender of freedom” at a 2011 tribute to him at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
“Brock has been a hero of mine since I first got to know him,” Gurney said.
The Cannonball Run, which was never sanctioned, would occur four more times and would become the inspiration for the 1981 movie, “The Cannonball Run.” The comedy film, which Yates wrote, starred Burt Reynolds, Jackie Chan, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin and Roger Moore and brought in more than $ 72 million at the box office.
The final Cannonball Run was staged in 1979, but it served as the basis of the annual One Lap of America race — essentially a sanctioned version of its predecessor.
Yates, was a best-selling author who wrote several books including a biography of Enzo Ferrari and The Decline & Fall of the American Automobile Industry (1983). He drew that book to a close with these lines:
“There is but one true lever to prosperity for Detroit and America: new corporate leaders of sophistication and strength.
“They must be men whose dreams go beyond the lakefronts of Bloomfield Hills. They must be men who are obsessed with making great automobiles, not just good automobiles. They must be able to fire the imagination of audacious juniors under them. There is nothing that ails the American auto industry that cannot be rectified by the presence of a few lions, preferably hungry ones, in Detroit.”
He also was a color commentator for NASCAR races on CBS.
Car and Driver reported Yates is survived by his wife, Pamela, sons Brock Jr. and Daniel, daughter Claire Lilly and stepdaughter Stacy Bradley.
Autoweek contributed to this report.