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Cannonball! America's Greatest Outlaw Road Race [Hardcover]

Brock Yates
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Motorbooks International (11 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760310904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760310908
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,183,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Forseeing the end of the open road, the author organized a protest event in the form of an illegal road race across the United States, the Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, held several times between 1971 and 1979.

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PEG THE START OF THE ENTIRE cockamamie affair at noon on a wintry day in New York, early 1971. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As freewheeling as the event it celebrates 19 Feb 2004
The Cannonball - "coast to shining coast". A reaction to the Energy Crisis? To the 55 mph speed limit? Or just to the gradual regulation of the roads in America?
Doesn't matter. Cannonball was a free-for-all - run-what-you-brung across the USA. Not very legal. Not very regulated, and a true celebration of American individualism. Car freaks, racing drivers, journalists, celebrities, and wannabe heroes in a wild assortment of machinery raced each other and the law across the USA. Brock Yates was one of the men behind these happenings, and he's gathered together the stories of many of the participants.
It doesn't really add up as a coherent book, but as a collection of anecdotes, and a much better story than the dismal "comedies" based on the Cannonball, this is a cracking little read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I was a part of this history 29 Jan 2013
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I love all things to do with outlaw races, especially those back when limited comms and resources made the life of the average traffic cop more difficult. Those were the days when stories were made. Populations were smaller and people could race from coast to coast in relative safety. Not so these days with the roads so crammed full of slow moving traffic piloted by such incompetent drivers.

This is THE story of THE road race told by THE organiser. THIS is history.
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The book is Brock Yates' summary of the original Cannonball races from 1971 to 1979. It starts with the trial / scouting run in early 1971 and then has both the authors' description, as well as those of various participants for all four races - 1971, 1972, 1975 and 1979, to finish with some comments on the later movies of the event (but no comment on the events it inspired, such as the Gumball 3000).

Initially there seemed to be several objectives to the run, such as proving that the (then still in construction) Interstate network allows for high speed transcontinental transport, that a well driven, well engineered car can safely be operated at speeds higher than the limits, as a protest against reducing driving and car design to the lowest common denominator, etc. Whether you consider those to be legitimate will very much depend on where you stand regarding those topics (or in other words, if you are Balint's ocnophile or philobat) but these have been themes Yates has followed throughout the career. As for the events themselves, they were from an earlier time and the author is right to point out that they are hardly feasible or defensible in today's world (Alex Roy had to do his record beating Coast to Shining Coast solo and could only publish the results a year later to avoid prosecution (The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World)).
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3.0 out of 5 stars Petrol head friendly 25 Sep 2008
By John
This is a pretty good story of the Cannonball races from the 1970s with a number of different people providing comments on specific races.

It is a very easy read and certainly one for the petrol heads.

I watched the awful film again after reading the book and wished I hadn't
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story! 15 Feb 2005
By JW - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of my favorite memories from many years ago was the day the annual issue of Car & Driver came that covered the infamous Cannonball race. Car & Driver was always my favorite magazine, it started me going in this hobby. I also soon became a subscriber of AutoWeek (in the original "newspaper" format). Motor Trend was pretty much the same mixed bag back then as it is now, and Road & Track was something I hadn't yet fully learned to appreciate.
I wasn't even driving when the Cannonball races started... but they were definitely a bad influence on me later. When I did finally get my license, I took up TSD rallying.. and once I learned to drive them to proper speed and not to a replay of the Cannonball, I did fairly well.

All true automotive enthusiasts know a little something about this legendary race. When friends gather to talk about the greatest things in the car hobby, this is inevitably one of the topics.

If you've never heard of the Cannonball, you've got some reading to do. The Cannonball was a flat-out wide-open road race on public roads - from New York City to Los Angeles. There were no rules, except that you couldn't board a plane! You, and whomever else could fit into the vehicle, had to drive coast-to-coast with only gas and (perhaps, as there are methods to bypass the need for) pit stops! Top competitors completed the drive in 30+ hours in specially prepared cars - cars that had a high top end or where specially prepared in some other way (enormous gas tanks, painted to resemble cop cars, even an ambulance). This was serious stuff, and it was totally illegal.

Brock tells us that the race was originally conceived to make a point against raising government levels of interference, specifically on the highways. But, when the race was first run, as Brock points out in the book, traffic radar was experimental, the insurance companies hadn't yet figured out how to screw you over for infractions outside of your home state, and the highways themselves were fundamentally more isolated and wide open than they are today. Those were the days!

Sadly, as Brock reminds us, there is no possible way you could do something like this today, indeed even the last one was run in 1979 it was entirely clear that an era was over forever. And that's the way I look back at a lot of stuff from the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. Much of it predated me, nearly all of it predated my involvement in this hobby (other than waiting for that great day every month when Car & Driver would arrive in the mail - as I still do). That was a special and unique time, there will never be anything like that again. There won't ever again be an idea as original as a Shelby Cobra, as the original Mustang, or as the Cannonball.

The book itself is an absolute requirement for the library of all automotive enthusiasts. It's a bit rambling at times, but it's also filled with reprints from the best of the Car & Driver articles of that time, along with commentary and stories by Brock that have never been told before. Just as good are the stories of some of the most famous drivers of these events - such as Dan Gurney. Dan tells his story in his own words - and he is as much a classic of that era (one never to be duplicated) as is the race itself. Dan and Brock were co-drivers of a Ferrari Daytona, arguably the most famous of all the cars that competed.

One of the later drivers was Hal Needham, and that was the beginning of the end. If traffic laws and enormously increased police presence didn't kill this era, then Hal Needham's Cannonball Run movies certainly did. This was the end of the road for these events, satirizing them and making them out to be something that was little more than a clown event. To his credit, Hal did co-drive with Brock - in the infamous ambulance with Brock's wife Pam playing the "victim".

If ever there was a reasonably honest depiction of the Cannonball races in film, it was "The Gumball Rally". It's one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, Brock was on a (thankfully temporary) downhill slide back then and his response to that film was to look into suing it's makers. In the end, he has refused to see it - ever.

The 15 minutes of fame of Brock's movies are long over, but the race itself will always be here. And, this excellent book is the insider story of it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cannonball! Brock Yates' Greatest Book Yet 24 Nov 2002
By Alex - Published on
I just finished reading this wonderful book. It accuratelly displays the happenings of each original Cannonball. You can't get a much better source for what happened than from the creator of the race and the people who raced in it. It doesn't boringly portray the facts, it almost brings the events to life in your head.
I heartily reccommend this book to anybody even remotely interested in automobiles. This is a must-have for any auto enthusiast.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coolest book I've read in years 14 Feb 2003
By A Customer - Published on
This book is perhaps the most fascinating book I've read since Hunter S. Thompson wrote "Generation of Swine." Only "Et Tu, Babe," by Mark Leyner comes close.
As for Brock's not knowing whether or not there was such a thing as a Monza wagon, I think it's more a matter of him not caring that there was such a thing. The two or possibly three people who still care about the body configurations of Chevrolet's tragic Monza series should seek professional help.
The fact is that the events depicted in this book were not recorded in any systematic way due to the highly illegal nature of said activities. These people were commiting crimes, folks. Thus there is no "Cannonball canon" to use as a reference point. We only have the memories of the people whose stories are told here. I for one am grateful they chose to share those memories in "Cannonball."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Road Trip Read 9 July 2004
By Rodolphe Boulanger - Published on
My Co-Pilot and I both devoured this highly entertaining book after a "Cannonball" of our own from the east coast out to Chicago. It's a fantastic compilation of Yates' autobiographical musings about the bygone Cannonball era (ie the 1970s) and diaretical essays by many of the actual participants. Fans of the utterly ridiculous movies might be a little disappointed by this more serious treatment of the actual Cannonball Runs, but the book is full of off-the-wall characters and outrageous stories (the Fire-Am, Cop impersonation, and Flying Fathers are among the best).
A must read for any enthusiast who likes road trips and/or driving at more than 65 MPH.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good ol' Days 12 April 2004
By bill runyon - Published on
This 5-star rating is, admittedly, for true fans of this
sort of adventure, but for anyone who has ever wanted to
drive significantly over the posted speed limit for awhile,
or those who might have actually done so, this is a "must."
Brock Yates, the author, was one of the originators of the
real Cannonball Run, and he participated in all the genuine
runs, that took place from NYC to Calif, when the idea was to
see which team of drivers could make the quickest trip. The
rules at that time were, well, no rules. If that doesn't sound
like fun, then this book won't seem very exciting.
The idea at the time, when the speed limit was set at a federal
level of 55 mph, making it one of the most ignored laws in our
history, was for some guys (and gals) to get together and
bring whatever motor vehicle they wanted and try racing to
the other coast. Ethics? Rules? If you could get away with
it, it was permitted in these Cannonball runs.
Some of the funniest stories are about the various ideas of
subterfuge, to either avoid detection, or, if caught, to avoid
legal penalty, employed by all contestants.
Before various aspects of the law came down on the race, it was
run for several years, and they all had to be fun.
Yates knows all the stories, and he verifies the truthfulness
of the more wild ones, and no one has more knowledge of these
events than he does, and he seems to remember them all.
As he points out, there were some other, later, "copycat" runs,
but they were weak images of the originals, even when he had
something to do with them.
He also points out the futility of such runs today, with the
much heavier emphasis on speed enforcement--mainly as a revenue
producing action--and better technology and communicaton available to the police. In addition, and worse yet, he explains just how much more crowded our highways are, even the
interstates, these days, and how difficult it is to make any
real speed in any circumstance anywhere. "Wide open spaces"
have just about disappeared from the driving landscape, so we
can lament, with Yates, the lost freedoms of real fun driving.
Several other participants also contribute pieces on their
involvement, so the other perspective is interesting.
Yates was also involved in the filming of "Cannonball Run," and
you can feel his sadness as he recounts how his original idea
was lost as Hollywood "stars" took it over; the director brought
in his girl friend, and Reynolds insisted on several of his friends being included, and Yates was forced to continually
re-write the script to accomodate those personal wants, so
some actors were brought in who were not interested in the
story and who detracted from the finished product. This writer's insights into how the Hollywood world works, and the
forces that shape a film, sometimes contrary to a good story or
a good movie, are worth the price of this book by themselves.
The original Yates idea, sold to Hollywood, was to mirror the
actual event, which was funny and exciting in its own right,
and it was to have starred Steve McQueen, a genuine car guy whose power and intensity would have helped turn the orignal
script into a powerhouse movie. But, sadly on all counts, McQueen developed cancer, and he had to drop the project. It was all downhill from then on, and you can't help but feel for
Yates as he is, on the spot, forced to keep revising his script
for the benefit of those who didn't care about the original story or its impact.
As said, there are some amazing and fun stories here, and
no one knows them better than Yates, and he is one of the
preeminent auto writers today, so you need to get this one
if you have any interest in autos, and if you have ever dreamed
of a very fast road trip.
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