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Everything Old is New Again

What Goes Around, Comes Around... and other Cliche's

By Brad Niemcek

Cannonball 2010

We interrupt this exciting account of the ancient exploits by the flawless founders of the PRDA to bring you up to date -- a little.

It seems we are not the only idiots interested in reliving the first running of the Cannonball Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, first run 40 years ago, back in 1971. That's a long time, back when Brock Yates, the Cannonball's creator, was pressing middle age but was at the peak of his considerable literary skills. Today, he is older than God and spends most of his time doing what wealthy old gentlemen do in upstate New York.

What is that, you ask. Actually, I have no idea. Or, at least I didn't until last month (January, 2011) when the first of two massive articles on the Cannonball appeared in CAR, an English car magazine.

Note: They still drive cars in England, so they still have magazines devoted to them. Here, we have pickup trucks, SUVs and mini-vans and Toyotas that rocket unexpectedly out of control, so there are no American car magazines left -- at least not like Car and Driver in the day's Brock Yates was raising hell. Just so you know, CAR seems in many ways like it was patterned after C&D -- smart, literate and not afraid to occasionally be hilarious.

It is probably no surprise, then, that the editors of CAR decided to do a 40th anniversary "Cannonball Re-run." A writer/phtographer team, Matt Jones, and Mark Bramley, were assigned the task of driving across the US of A, maybe to see whether we have any anarchy left over here, and to meet as many of the original Cannonballers as they could find and to write about the experience. CAR ended up publishing 20 pages of Jones/Bramley material most of which should some day be available online (at www.carmagazine.co.uk).

The editors began planning the trip with a question: Would Brock Yates be willing to make the trip again? No he wouldn't, he sniffed, but perhaps the CEO of Cannonball Enterprises, the family corporation, would.

Wait a minute! The what?

Cannonball 2010

In case you didn't know, the Cannoball is by now only slightly smaller than the Mafia. The outlaw race itself ran five times, then Yates wrote two "Cannonball Run" movies and a "Smokey and the Bandit" movie, then the Cannonball morphed into the "One Lap of America," now known as the Tire Rack One Lap of America, then Yates got a bunch of us to help him write "Cannonball!", the book. Now Brock Yates is not only older than God, he's richer. (You don't think so? Tell me, who else do you know who is able to keep a replica of a Novi Indy roadster, one of A.J. Foyt's old short track cars, a motorized bar stool, and other priceless toys in his garage?)

So, Brock Jr., who keeps the magic alive (so to speak) was asked to make the CAR re-run trip and as a result I finally got a chance to meet the 14-year-old kid who made the first ever cross-country trip with his dad.

Brock Jr. is a kid no longer, of course. He's a raw-boned, suntanned 50-something-year-old fast talker who now runs the Tire Track One Lap of America annual non-race thingie from his home base in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Brock Jr. doesn't write terrific magazine columns, books or movies or do television commentary like his dad once did, but he sure as hell comes off as a carbon copy of his savvy, cynical old man. In fact, he does it better now than Brock Sr. did back in his hey-day. But hey, that's what dads want, ain't it?

So, my first encounter ever with Brock Jr. came in Indianapolis last September during the Cannonball Re-Run thing. As had been arranged, Steve "Yogi" Behr and I met Yates and the Brits for breakfast at the Charlie Brown diner/restaurant, just a stone's throw from the Speedway. And after breakfast we went there for a photo session, of course. The focus of Bramley's work: a brand new "arrest-me red" Dodge Challenger.

We were aware that the CAR trio had earlier stopped in Pennsylvania to meet Oscar Koveleski so we knew they'd be exhausted the time they got to us.

I haven't been interviewed by a magazine writer nor asked to pose for pictures in a long time. It was fun. And I was reminded how outrageous my old New York buddy, Yogi Behr, can be:

"When we stopped for fuel I'd have the gas hose pumpin' in one hand and my hose in the other, then I'd toss ten bucks on the ground and leave. That little trick saved us more than a minute we won by less." That was in l972, of course.

I was not nearly as colorful. Jones described me as "a softly spoken, well-dressed ex-PR exec, who retired to Wisconsin, where he pursues his incongruous interest in beekeeping and maple syrup." So yes, I suppose I found Matt Jones a pretty likeable guy too.

After about 90 minutes with us, the CAR trio was back on the road. They stopped in Kansas where, at breakfast, Jones tried "muffins that look like they've been sick on themselves."

And finally, they make it to California where they meet Tony Adamowicz and that other guy that ran the Cannonball, Dan Gurney. As Jones quotes Brock Jr. in summary, "If only for a few days, we paid a damn good tribute to the Cannonball, and America's unfettered open road."

You can read about and see pictures from the CAR Magazine article HERE.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | To Infinite And Beyond...

Brad Niemcek. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.