When last we left Brock Yates, he was zinging across the country in a 175-mph Ferrari V-12 with co-driver Dan Gurney, en route to winning the Cannon-ball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (SI, Oct. 23, 1972), an event that Yates had thought up. This outlaw race was conceived partly in anger; it represented his stance against "the ever-tightening circle of government control over our lives in general and our motoring life in particular." Yates insists that "we should aspire to high-performance levels as opposed to presuming that every driver is a moron to be packaged in a motorized padded cell." The fact that the article stirred up a critical storm Yates took as a welcome sign that he had piqued some interest and perhaps had made a small contribution toward individual freedom. Yates has come to relish such criticism. As an editor-columnist for Car and Driver magazine, he enjoys stimulating readers by maintaining an attitude of towering outrage over everything from speed laws to seat belts, hugely enjoying the feedback and hoping that nobody will blow his curmudgeonly cover.
Some curmudgeon. In reality, Yates is a paragon of calm—a gentleman farmer of upstate New York, the author of several quietly peaceful books for children, a dedicated ruralist who drives his 1969 Porsche 912 at sedate speeds. He never misses a Buffalo Braves home game, plays a mediocre game of racquetball and keeps a mildly eccentric St. Bernard dog named Fred. ("Fred is a swell dog," says SI Associate Editor Bob Brown, a close friend of Yates'. "It's just that when you go up to spend a few days on Brock's farm, Fred eats your suitcase.")
The latest relaxing activity in the Yates repertoire is his boat Cannonball, a 28-foot Bertram that puts out a gentling 450 hp from twin Mercruisers. Running it on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario provided some of the inspiration for Yates' first novel, Dead in the Water, coming out in June, an adventure story involving the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, chase scenes on the water and, naturally, a towering outrage or two.
Still, there are times when rural life threatens to become too pastoral, with one novel finished, the next just starting and the only real action watching Fred chase deer. ("He never catches them," says Yates, "but remember, it isn't all that easy for a full-grown St. Bernard to sneak up on a deer.") So each year at this time Yates heads south to Tampa for the Winter National sprint-car races, perhaps the least diluted form of motor sports left. "I have been a sprint-car nut all my life," says Yates. "It is old-fashioned, belly-to-the-ground racing, and it draws the greatest drivers of them all." His report on page 26 reflects the action and the high good spirits of the sprint scene. But the assignment constitutes only a brief midwinter break for Yates. There is persistent talk that he is getting up another Cannonball race and that more ferocious columns are coming along. Just for this week, he is between dudgeons.