Brock Yates — automotive legend, former editor of Car and Driver, race car driver, founder of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea-Memorial Trophy Dash (a.k.a. The Cannonball Run) and One Lap of America, writer of The Cannonball Run and Smokey and The Bandit II, best-selling author of 20 books including Cannonball!, Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, Sunday Driver and Against Death & Time, godfather of speeding andgirls in supercars wearing purple zip-up pantsuits, patron saint of non-violent & unprofitable crimes, enemy of sloth, cowardice, taxes, and the 55mph speed limit, ambassador of internal combustion both foreign and domestic, human icepick in the face of convention, beloved outlaw, the man who changed Cannonball from noun to verb, launched a thousand radar detector sales and was solely responsible for 100% of Lamborghini Countach sales between 1981 and 1990 — died yesterday at the age of 82 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
It is too soon to write at length about Yates’ almost incalculable contributions to car culture. I would argue that he was the most important person in American automotive history who never ran a car company.
If you have to ask why, then, like jazz… You’ll never know.
But you should know, starting with this excerpt from his August 1971 Car & Driver column, in which Yates explains why he organized the first Cannonball Run: