Legendary automotive journalist Brock Yates, creator of the Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash among other things, has lost his long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, passing away last week at the age of 82. As a columnist with Car and Driver magazine beginning in the 1960s, Yates (left, Hal Crocker photo) was a must-read for anyone wishing to understand what was going on in automobilia, and he was always “pushing the envelope” of acceptable behavior by challenging existing standards and mores.
A perfect example of such efforts is the “Cannonball,” which began as a rebellious outlaw protest against American highway speed limits and produced an unforgettable first-run victory for himself and Dan Gurney in 1971 as they “flew” a Kirk F. White-sponsored blue Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona (above, photo courtesy of AAR Archive) from New York City to Redondo Beach, California, in just under 36 hours. Four sequels of the no-rules race were also produced, and ultimately the event became a motion picture franchise from which Yates was amply rewarded. He also authored some 15 books, perhaps the most memorable being Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine.
Dan Gurney issued the following statement upon learning of his pal’s passing: “Our good friend, the brilliant writer, my Cannonball teammate, Brock Yates, passed away yesterday after a long and brave struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Although Brock has been ‘gone’ for some time, the finality of his leaving is hitting all of us in the automotive world with shock and sadness. He was brave, kind, funny, unconventional and talented. For decades starting in the 1960s his columns in Car and Driver magazine were jewels in the sea of motor racing literature.
“Brock Yates’ creation of the ‘Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash’ and the movies resulting from it are cultural landmarks celebrating a freedom-loving era that is gone forever. He set a mark in motor racing history and he leaves a hole in our hearts.”
To the Gurneys, Brock’s wife Pamela, sons Brock Jr. and Daniel, daughter Claire Lily and stepdaughter Stacy Bradley, as well as all his countless friends in the automotive world, Vintage Racecar extends its sincerest sympathies.