Iconic automotive journalist Brock Yates, creator of the Cannonball Run cross-country road race, writer of many successful Hollywood screenplays and a prominent writer for many years at Car and Driver, passed away yesterday (5 October 2016) due to complications related to Alzheimer’s, he was 82 years old.
The Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was a very fast moving petrol powered protest against the mundane 55mph speed limit enforced across the USA during the 1970’s.
The race was essentially one massive middle finger aimed straight at the law-makers of America, informing them that the most idiotic law since prohibition was wrong and that skilled drivers in performance cars could and should have been allowed to run at high speed on America’s new and ever growing network of freeways.
The Cannonball was a simple, drive from coast to coast as fast as you can from the East coast of America to the West coast non-stop, the only rule being that drivers had to finish in the same car in which they started. The race which ran five times between 1971 and 1979 using varied routes would only accept the best drivers in the best cars, applicants had to apply via mail and only the best were chosen by Yates and his team personally.
There was no monetary reward for competing in the Cannonball, the prize was simple, become the fastest driver to cross the United States in the shortest possible time, across the five Cannonball events records were set and then broken, drivers were arrested, cars broke down leaving drivers stranded.
One memorable moment was during the 1971 Cannonball where Yates teamed up with racing legend Dan Gurney covering the 2,863 mile distance in a then-record time of 35 hours and 54 minutes, the pair driving a Ferrari Daytona were stopped only once during their run, Gurney was quoted post finish stating “At no time did we exceed 175 mph”. All of this was achieved despite Yates and Gurney hitting snow in the Rockies which slowed their progress somewhat.
Brock Yates was one of us, a true petrolhead, a car man through and through, a true automotive pioneer, car culture owes Yates a huge debt thanks to his creation of the Cannonball, thank you Brock, for your hugely inspiring contribution to historic and modern car culture. You are a hero to all those who ever loved cars and driving, rest in peace.