Brock Yates, Screenwriter for 'The Cannonball Run,' Dies at 82

Twentieth Century Fox/Photofest
A scene from 'The Cannonball Run'

The automotive journalist created the cross-country event on which the film is based and penned the script for another Burt Reynolds film, 'Smokey and the Bandit II.'

Brock Yates, the automotive journalist and inventor of The Cannonball Run who wrote the screenplay for the 1981 film about the renegade cross-country road race that starred Burt Reynolds, has died. He was 82.

Yates, who earlier had penned the script for Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), another car movie that starred Reynolds and was directed by Hal Needham, died Wednesday, his son announced.

“Today, after suffering with Alzheimer’s for the last 12 years, my father finally succumbed,” Brock Yates Jr. wrote on Facebook. “He touched many lives, but sadly no more.”

A longtime writer and editor at Car and Driver magazine, Yates launched the first Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in 1971. The unsanctioned event was held to protest the imminent 55-mph national speed limit, and five races were held until 1979.

Famed race-car driver Dan Gurney and Yates drove a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 in 35 hours, 54 minutes to win the original Cannonball.

In 2002, Yates wrote for Car and Driver that Reynolds "butchered the original script I had written for the late Steve McQueen, and the result, while a massive moneymaker, was lashed by the critics." (The movie grossed $72 million in the U.S., or $191 million today.)

The journalist also noted that the Dick Landy 440 Dodge ambulance he drove in the 1979 Cannonball was the same vehicle used by Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Jack Elam and Farrah Fawcett in the movie.

His characters were used for a Cannonball sequel in 1984.

Yates' columns in Car and Driver "spoke to the frustrations of people who loved cars but who were prevented from enjoying them by meddling government bureaucrats," Autoweek West Coast editor Mark Vaughn wrote. "Yates said in the pages of the magazine and in other outlets in which his work appeared what so many car enthusiasts felt."

Yates authored almost two dozen books, hosted his own show, The Great Drivers, on The Nashville Network and worked for CBS Sports as a color commentator.

In 1984, he came up with the idea for another cross-country endurance event, One Lap of America, which still runs today.