Cover image for Against death and time : one fatal season in racing's glory years
Against death and time : one fatal season in racing's glory years
Yates, Brock, 1933-2016.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Thunder's Mouth Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 244 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, 1 map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1029.15 .Y35 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Yates tells the story of the reckless, dispossessed young men who raced during the fatal 1955 season at Indianapolis Speedway--not for fame or money, because there was none--but for the sheer unvarnished hell of it.

Author Notes

Brock Wendel Yates was born in Lockport, New York on October 21, 1933. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Hobart College in 1955 and served in the Navy. He was an automotive journalist who wrote for Car and Driver magazine. In the 1970's, he founded of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, more commonly known as the Cannonball Run. He wrote the script for the 1981 movie The Cannonball Run. He wrote several books during his lifetime including Sunday Driver: The Writer Meets the Road - at 175 MPH; Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine; and Cannonball! World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race. He also wrote Sport and Racing Cars with his father Raymond F. Yates. He and Jerry Belson wrote the script for the movie Smokey and the Bandit II. He died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on October 5, 2016 at the age of 82.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The year 1955 saw a tragic convergence of high-octane auto technology and an overall disdain in America and Europe for auto safety--all of which resulted in the deaths that year of seven preeminent race-car drivers, actor James Dean, and some 83 spectators attending Le Mans. Using a fictional journalist as his narrator, Yates, author of numerous books on auto racing, delivers a vivid, nonfiction portrait of the drivers and their times during this fatal season : dirt tracks so primitive that drivers would bite down on rags to keep their teeth from rattling loose; a concern for safety so casual that racers would drive wearing street clothes and leather helmets (maybe seatbelts, maybe not); behemoth cars with fatally clunky handling; and drivers not overly concerned about their high mortality rates. All that would change in the years that followed, as Yates explains. The author, though, seems almost wistful over that lost time, quoting Parnelli Jones at the end of the book: If you're under control, you're not trying hard enough. An excellent account for the sport's many followers. --Alan Moores Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this engaging history, racing journalist Yates narrates one of professional sports car racing's worst years, 1955. In a time before fairly rigorous safety standards for racing cars-roll bars were just coming into use, there were no seat belts but primitive safety harnesses-and no safety standards for racing tracks, race car drivers raced for the thrill of speed with a gritty competitive spirit unparalleled in today's sport. Yates, editor-at-large for Car and Driver magazine, chronicles the colorful cast of characters who filled the straightaways and hairpin turns of tracks from the Indy 500 to Le Mans by creating a fictional persona who interviews each of the racers, has an affair with a racetrack groupie, and who even drives fast with reckless abandon. For part of the book he follows the career of Bill Vukovich, the "Mad Russian," whose tenacity and determination led him to two straight Indy wins before his fiery death there in 1955. Vukovich's death begins a season of carnage at tracks around the world, including the deaths of over 100 spectators at Le Mans when several cars crashed, throwing steel and tire debris into the crowd. As a result of the 1955 season, the racing profession instituted more and more safety regulations for drivers, cars and tracks, so that today's races are pale imitations of the roaring, bone-throttling, and often deadly races of the 1950s. While some will object to Yates's strategy of using a fictional narrator to tell these stories, his own research doesn't falter, and race fans will be pleased with his exciting history of the sport's past. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A veteran columnist at Car & Driver magazine, Yates relives 1955 in automotive racing a year in which crashes cost many lives of both drivers and spectators and nearly ended the sport. Assuming the role of a fictional narrator, he reminds us of plain-spoken heroism and the fragility of life via portraits of the various drivers that season. Yates interviewed dozens of surviving race drivers, widows, car owners, mechanics, and historians to develop his story. As it unfolds, we learn that the young drivers who rose to the top of the sport weren't so much reckless as fearless. Willing to drive at the ragged edge of control literally for the sheer hell of it, they possessed an uncanny ability to compartmentalize whatever fears they might have and superhuman concentration on the task at hand. While the narrator device has been misused in the history genre, Yates is able to weave himself seamlessly into the narrative without affecting its outcome or unduly misrepresenting the major players. The result is much more readable than a dry recounting of the facts and brings the sights, sounds, and smells of the racetrack into full relief. This work serves to remind readers of both the good and the bad of racing and why people are compelled to compete at such a high risk when the rewards are often few. Highly recommended for all sports collections. Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.