Renowned automotive journalist, racecar driver and cultural icon Brock W. Yates ’55, P’78 passed away on Oct. 5 at the age of 82.
Celebrated for his participatory approach to journalism, Yates was the founder of and sole participant in the inaugural Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, more commonly known as the Cannonball Run.
After chronicling the 41-hour, 2,863-mile cross-country drive in a 1971 Car and Driverarticle, Yates scheduled the first competitive Cannonball Run, featuring eight vehicles, including a motor home, racing from Manhattan to Redondo Beach, Calif.
Yates and racer Dan Gurney won that race in just shy of 36 hours, averaging 80 miles per hour in a Ferrari Daytona coupe. Yates later fictionalized the experience, penning the script for “The Cannonball Run,” the 1981 film starring Burt Reynolds.
After graduating from Hobart College with a bachelor’s degree in history, Yates served in the U.S. Navy. He joined Car and Driver magazine in 1964 as a managing editor. He worked for the magazine in various capacities until the early 2000s, enlarging the scope of coverage beyond races and road tests to include social commentary and criticism.
He authored more than a dozen books about cars and motor sports, including “Sunday Driver: The Writer Meets the Road – at 175 MPH” (1972), “The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry” (1983), and “Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Road Race” (2002). He was a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, Playboy,The American Spectator and other publications. He wrote the screenplay for “Smokey and the Bandit II” (1980) with Jerry Belson, and served as a racing commentator on television.
Yates is survived by his wife Pamela; children, Brock Jr. ’78, Daniel and Claire Lilly; stepdaughter, Stacy Bradley; and three grandchildren.