Brock Yates, the auto enthusiast and writer behind The Cannonball Run (both the actual race and the film series it inspired), died on Wednesday due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, Deadline reports. The Lockport, NY native authored 14 automotive-themed books and served as executive editor of Car And Driver magazine for many years. He was 82.
In 1971, Yates and fellow C&D staffer Steve Smith conceived the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an automotive race with no set route from New York City to Redondo Beach, California, as a tongue-in-cheek protest against increasingly strict traffic laws. Although the first race wasn’t particularly competitive, due to only one car participating, Yates did manage to win the first actual contest later that same year.
Yates co-wrote the screenplay to the 1980 box office hit Smokey And The Bandit II, alongside the film’s director Hal Needham, leading to an opportunity for him to adapt his own cross-country race for the big screen. The first Cannonball Run film earned $72 million, making it the sixth highest-grossing film of 1981 and cementing the image of a Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin dressed as priests in a red Ferrari 308 GTS into the public consciousness.
Here’s Yates discussing his lifelong automotive obsession for Car Crazy Central: