Brock Yates was, to both American automobile writing and to American cars in general, a towering and important figure. The spiritual heart at Car and Driver magazine for decades, he was also the fellow that came up with, and put on the first, Cannonball Run.
Brock Yates was many things.
He was also . . .
. . . an ironclad sonofabitch.
And I mean that in the nicest way I can. Honestly.
You might not always agree with him, but he did have a pretty good understanding of cars and racing 90% of the time, and he was pretty much an entertaining writer, 90% of the time.
Larger Than Life
In a lot of ways, he was America’s version of Jeremy Clarkson. Big, tall, brash, loud, opinionated, and often hilarious. As often as his opinions were right on the money, a lot of the time they were utter crap. If he wasn’t contrarian by nature, than he was that way by avocation; often writing articles that seemed to exist for no other reason than to stir the pot.
Who was the guy that had a run off between the Ferrari GTO and the Pontiac GTO and pronounced the Pontiac just as good? Yates. Who was the guy that said the Toyota MR2 was a better car than a Ferrari 308 GTS? Yates.
Who was they guy that said the real problem with Indy Car racing in the 80s was that mid-engined cars were antithetical to American values, and encouraged certain less manly, more technical drivers in the cockpit, and that Indy should mandate a return to 50s era roadsters? Yates.
Who was the knuckle-dragging reprobate that wrote a biography of Enzo Ferrari that read like a Murdoch tabloid fever dream? Yates.
And those are just four off the top of my head . . .
One Of The Guys
But Yates as also a guy who was, like us, a dyed in the wool gearhead. He’s as recognizable as Clarkson or May or Hammond or Chris Burdick or Carl Anthony or me for that matter. Go to any track, and I mean any track in the world, and you’ll find someone close to him. Go to any track, and I mean any track in America, and you’ll find someone just like him.
In a certain way, he’s one of God’s own prototypes, to quote The Good Doctor.
The Great Race
He conceived of, and put into place the Cannonball Run (officially titled The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash). A race that ran from New York City to Los Angeles, with no set route. Just ready-set-go!! And the first one to Los Angeles wins – oh, and don’t get caught by the cops, cause that’ll cost you time. Imagine not only proposing, but doing something like that in this day and age. They’d give you 10 years in the electric chair just on general principles alone.
Brock Yates actually won the first Cannonball Run, along with his co-driver, one Daniel Sexton Gurney in a Kirk White prepped, Sunoco blue Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona.
Dan. Frickin’. Gurney.
If for that alone he deserves our remembrance.
Brock Yates lost his battle with Alzheimer’s on October 5th 2016. He was 82.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life around racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.
Brock Yates Photo: Car and Driver / Hearst Communications, Inc.