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20 Questions with Brock Yates Jr

Submitted by on June 23, 2013

brock yates jr

Who as a kid, didn’t see the movie Cannonball Run and want to be a renegade outlaw like Burt Reynolds, breaking every speed limit on the way from New York to California accompanied by Farrah Fawcett? Honestly we all did! Brock Yates, the respected writer was the event’s founder, taking his 14-year-old son Brock Jr on that first run as they went coast to coast in 40hrs and 51mins… Yates’ best-selling book was turned into the film – although Brock Sr, now sadly in failing health –  was less than thrilled with the celluloid version of his dream. MotorportRetro.com caught up with Brock Jr, who still runs a ‘politically correct’ version of the event today.

By Andy Hallbery

1) Have you ever searched yourself on Youtube?

I’ve searched on “Brock Yates” just to see what’s out there. My father is well-represented, very few with me.

2) What is your funniest Cannonball moment?

I don’t remember any funny moments during the Cannonball.  From my vantage point in the back seat the miles just flew by.  It was an adventure on a grand scale. The country was vast and changing and back then it was a daunting distance, especially at night as there were few all night gas stations, unlike in the modern era when every exit has a few motels, gas stations and several national chain restaurants.

3) How many times have you driven it?

From the Red Ball Garage to the Portofino Inn on the original route, never. Across country well over 30 times and every time I think of Cannonball. Only one of those trips were anywhere near the speed limit, in a GMC 3500 Dually towing my belongings from one coast to the other, the rest at extra-legal speeds. In 2010 I did drive from the Red Ball Garage to Portofino but we veered wildly off course for photo opportunities, much to my disappointment.

4) Do you go the same route each time?

The One Lap of America had gone coast to coast several times during the early years but never from NY to LA. LA to Miami, Boston to Seattle, San Francisco to NY, Sebring to LA via Pikes Peak, LA to Rochester, LA to Detroit, LA to Atlanta, and others. I’ve been lucky to drive most of the main roads in the country and many of the others.

5) What is the route now?

Today it’s a lot more organised. One Lap of America is almost what it’s called. It’s still a long way, but it now includes race tracks and private locations where we can let our hair down. It’s far more legal too.

One lap route of america route

6) Was being on the first one, aged 14, the kid’s adventure we all imagine?

Being with Brock was always an adventure and even though none of us in the van had any idea of what an impact the trip would have, or that others would follow, let alone become part of the American Myth, it was exciting. Looking for police, gas stations, maps kept us busy for most of the 40hrs (and 51mins) and finally arriving in California – a place worlds apart from where we lived – was my high-point. So much so that I moved there 10 years later, after my own adventure driving across country alone.

brock yats sr and brock yates jr

Brock Yates Jr and Brock Yates

7) How many times have you seen the movie?

Twice, once when it came out, once when my then-new wife wanted to see it, and soon my daughter will ask to see it. It was a popular movie when it came out, but Brock was disappointed with the result. I never connected to it as, though some of the characters were based on real Cannonballers, the movie seemed to me an updated release of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

(20th Century Fox trailer)

8) What was your closest shave or “holy shit” moment?

In all my trips across country, I’ve been very lucky to have few moments of terror. Once, during the ’89 One Lap our third driver bailed after three days, and on the seventh day of eight covering 8000 miles, on a leg from Sebring to Pikes Peak, Colorado, I couldn’t wake my remaining co-driver to take over. He was fast asleep and I needed some. For miles I tried to wake him, starting nicely, then yelling, nothing worked. Finally as I was passing an eighteen-wheeler, I remember approaching the truck, and waking after I passed him. I screamed in frustration finally waking my co-driver who calmly asked if I was okay but by then the adrenaline was pouring into my system so I let him go back to sleep. Only once in all my years at speed across country has that happened and I know I was very lucky.

9) What was the most surreal moment? Apart from Burt Reynolds…

Once, years ago, I was delivering a factory BMW from LA to Atlanta. After two days on the road, I was pulled over in a construction zone in Louisiana by two troopers. This was in the period when officers in that state were finding any reason to impound (take) cars and resell them for the public (or private) coffers. After a very long conversation by the side of the road they decided searching the car was in order. One of the fine officers handed me a piece of paper to sign. The statement for my signature basically said that I approved the search of my vehicle without duress. I told the officers that I knew what would happen if I didn’t sign the paper-they would beat me up, put me in jail and then search the car. I suggested it would be easier on me if I just signed it. I did and they found an empty car.

resize_MSR CB Run Film poster

Cannonball Run Movie Poster

10) Which car you’ve driven is your favourite?

I’ve been very lucky to have driven hundreds of cars of all types and makes but few I would own, even if I could. We have a 2002 MINI Cooper S and I continue believe it is the best car ever. Great to travel in, fun on the track, and a delight to drive every day.

mini cooper s

Brock Yates’ best car ever – Mini Cooper S

11) Your father is a well-respected journalist in the industry. Did you want to follow in his shoes?

I decided early on that putting words to paper, or screen, gave me no pleasure nor did have an interest in it. I have continued organising the Tire Rack One Lap of America for him, as I can’t imagine not doing it, as it’s been a part of my life for 30 years.

brock yates

Brock Yates Sr

12) Was your Dad aware that kids like me were absorbed by the book in the 1970s and wrote school projects based on it?

Based on the fan mail, the unsolicited entries and the excitement the Cannonball created, I think he did. It was one of the last real outlaw events and touched many people.

Cannonball the book

Cannonball Book

13) Would you call yourself a fan of race history?

Not really though I’ve been lucky to have been part of some of it, or have been there to see it.

14) Was racing better then or now?

Great drivers always rise to the top. That said the cars of the past eras demanded more from the drivers than the cars. These days I think the cars are more important than the drivers.

15) Who is the greatest racer of all time?

There are great drivers in every era. Was Jimmy Clark better than Tazio Nuvolari? AJ Foyt faster than Michael Schumacher? Could Sebastian Vettel get by Billy Vuckovich at Indy, or on a dirt track? Who would you bet on: Fangio or Senna? There is no way to measure the skills, desire, risk and experience of drivers from different periods fairly.


Yates thinks it is unfair to compare drivers from different eras

16) Which five drivers, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?

Swede Savage was a family friend and the whole family was devastated when he died at Indy. Kenny Schrader as he has been racing in NASCAR for many years and seems to be fun to be around, a true racer from the old school. Mario Andretti as I’ve met him several times over his career, the first time when he was taller than me, the last time when he came into the bar I was running and we had a great conversation about watching a child race. Michael was starting then and I had some opportunities. Peter Revson as he was one of my heroes growing up. Perhaps too Curtis Tuner, also NASCAR from the early days, so I could find out just how much fun he and my father had.

swede savage

Swede Savage would make a fine dinner guest

17) What’s been the best post-event party?

We always have a good time after the events…!

18) Was there ever a race you were in and suddenly realised you were racing against a legend or hero? Or a ‘How did I get here’ moment?

My racing has been quite modest, One Lap, SCCA, and some outlaw events. I never raced against anyone really good, a legend or a hero. I did have a few WTF moments racing a 5700lb 1954 Lincoln Capri in the La Carrera (Mexican Road Race), with no brakes!

19) Do you know if your Dad ever complained about something wrong that was written about him?

Not really. He seemed comfortable with the attention and let me read the letters to the editor sent to him every month when he was with Car and Driver. Most of the letters were, as one would suspect, supportive, others were not.

20) Did you ever get a speeding ticket?

I counted them up a few years ago. I average one every two years whether I need one or not. I think of them as a road-use tax and nearly unavoidable even if I use the best radar detectors, CB radio, Waze, my eyes and instincts. If one drives quickly, often, there will be an impromptu meeting with an official by the side of the road. I was brought up with the concept that good drivers could traverse long distances at high-speed safely, and I will compare driving records with anyone. That said, I have had many pleasant conversations with officers around the country.


Speeding tickets come with the territory and are hard to talk your way out of….unlike in the movie

Photos: Brock Yates Jr. Follow him on Facebook

Many thanks to Brock Yates Jr Support Alzheimers research


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