BY WILLIAM JEANES
Paul Ingrassia asked me to write something about Brock Yates for the Revs Institute. Paul, I’m sure, did not know that Brock changed my life in 1972. The man called The Assassin, for his lifelong attacks on inept industry bigwigs, gave me a life that any car enthusiast would kill for. As I was fretting over what to write, that strange serendipity known only to writers brought forth the idea of a simple thank-you note. Here it is.
Thank you so much for putting some of my Bolus & Snopes material in front of Bob Brown, the editor at Car and Driver. You saved me from a life in the diesel engine business and got me out of Mississippi. Bob liked it so much that he assigned me a couple of freelance pieces and later offered me a job.
I owe you a bigger thank-you for telling me that a job in Manhattan with Car and Driver would lead to better things and more fun than a job at Motor Trend in Los Angeles. I took your advice.
Now that I think about it, you spent a lot of time giving me advice. After spending nine years with automotive ad agencies after leaving Car and Driver, I called you when I got tired of going to meetings for a living, and I asked you about life as a freelance writer. You allowed as how it wasn’t a bad dog to hunt with. You were right. I did so well that I almost didn’t take the job of editor-in-chief at Car and Driver when it was offered to me.
You were also right, along with David E. Davis, Jr., to tell me that I needed to find a way to take that job. You glossed over your nine months in that position, months that reminded you that upstate New York was where you belonged. I’ll overlook that because editing the magazine was my best job ever.
Thank you for all you did for me during my time at Car and Driver. You were not only a willing—and useful—sounding board, you continued to inflict damage on Detroit’s hapless auto executives. In my first column for Car and Driver, I referred to you as the keeper of the magazine’s flame, which you were for 40 years.
When I became a senior vice-president and group publisher, leaving the editor’s comfortable chair to chase revenue streams, you continued to help me; our clients were far prouder of meeting you than me. Thank you for that. And thank you for being one of the few automotive journalists with the sense to realize that we were, all of us, in a high-stakes business and not watching old racing movies at a car club meeting.
And thanks for helping make a tough business fun.
When I left our company, intending to take it easy (I failed), I did not call you for advice. My mind was made up, and I was afraid you’d tell me not to quit, that real men didn’t smell roses.
Thank you for approving me as an entrant in the real Cannonball. I would otherwise never have achieved 105 mph in a motorhome, a cocktail-party nugget for the ages.
Thank you for inviting me to be one the six friends who roasted you at the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s event in May 2008 in honoring your unparalleled career. That was the last time I saw you. You were standing with your wife, Pam, and had that grin on your face—the familiar one that said “I’m up to something. And it’ll be fun.” The image remains so vivid that it might as well be hanging on my office wall.
Finally, ever the editor, it occurs to me that this thank-you note could have been shorter. Six words would have done it: Thank you for being my friend.
William Jeanes was editor-in-chief of Car and Driver (1987-1993) and publisher of that magazine and Road & Track (1993-1997). He worked with Brock Yates for 20 years and was his friend for more than 40 years.