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Left: Brock Yates auditions for the role of Bert Reynolds in the forthcoming move, "Brock Yates: A man, a bicycle, a dream."

ęCopyright 1984, John Mikes

 

Brock Yates

Speed is freedom.
Freedom is speed.
A buck is a buck.

Okay, so that isn't really Yates in the picture. But give me a break. I needed something up there or I would've offended the graphic gods. I tried to liberate one from the Car and Driver web site, but his column shot is really a crappy mess. Not finding another in my thin file of celebrity images, I substituted this one, which I took along Highway 23 near Paynesville, Minnesota, one summer while masquerading as the local newspaper editor. Don't know who this guy is, but you could smell him a long time before you could see him.

I've never met Yates, but from afar he appears an interesting fellow. He once wrote a good book about renting a ride in the old TransAm series and has done a couple of stints on the staff at Car and Driver. He's the brains guiding the annual One Lap of America, a gig that succeeded -- but most assuredly did not replace -- the original Cannonball. Yates is a terrific writer, but you need a thick skin and a resilient sense of humor to appreciate it. He spews out humor and invective in equal doses, and learned his political philosophy at the knee of Ghengis Khan. And that's a philosophy he isn't shy about sharing. I once got so miffed at his rants and Patrick Bedard's broad-brush misreadings of the political landscape that I canceled my subscription to Car and Driver. I still fondly recall his story about the staff running a group of test vehicles down the Baja, though. Great stuff.

Lately he seems to be trying to make some money off the Cannonball legacy, which at first struck me as a violation of the race's spirit. There was some something so, uh, pure about the Cannonball. No rules to speak of, no prize money, just a challenge met with good humor and innovation and just plain gall. But we now live in an era when Black Sabbath music is used to sell cars on television, so I guess times have changed and I'll just have to live with it. Check out his scheme to extract $5,000 from each entrant in some bizarreness billed as the "Cannonball Classic" as it appeared on his official One Lap page.

I'll forgive Yates these transgressions because he is The Man Who Dreamed Up The Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Along with his son and a couple of cohorts, he ran the first Cannonball in 1970 in the immortal Moon Trash van, then organized a couple more before the attention of the nation's constabulary effectively killed it. He tried again in 1978, labeling it a frivolous adventure for those who love cars, and a serious act of civil disobedience to protest the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit.

But even then he was scheming to cash in on the Cannonball, plotting to write a screenplay and film a movie about it with Hal Needham, noted Hollywood stuntman and director of Smokey and the Bandit, among other flicks. I suspect that was his primary interest in putting on another race. You can almost hear the gears spinning in Yates' head as he ponders how his movie will appear on screen and solicits entries from "(1) a monster, dual-axle, sleeper cab tracter to run "bobtail," (2) a grand national stock car converted for road operation, (3) a motorcycle, (4) a stretched limousine, (5) a techno-miracle car, loaded with every conceivable anti-Smokey ECM gadget, (6)a unique old car, say a 1930s sedan with modern running gear, (7) a very strong pickup truck and, perhaps, if anyone has the nerve to drive it, a full-dress pimp Cadillac. An authenic taxi would also be welcome."

(A couple of movies did get made about the Cannonball, but they were the irredeemably bad Cannonball Run, and the spectacularly wretched Gumball Rally.)

But, so what, he tried to make a buck off his own deal. That's okay, cuz it's America and he's The Man whose 1971 scheme allowed me to live vicariously through the shenanigans of a cast of characters only congenital miscreants and serial speed limit offenders like me could love.

Good going, Yates. Thanks.

--John Mikes

 

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