When I agreed to co-drive with Tire Rack sales specialist Joe Woodward in the 2012 Tire Rack One Lap of America, I had at least a basic understanding of what I was getting into. I knew that it was NOT what you think of when recalling Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett in the famous “Cannonball Run” movie. While that movie was a hilarious retelling of some of the antics of Brock Yates Sr. and his buddies during the original “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash,” it is not what the modern One Lap of America is about.
On the surface, the event seems more than a little absurd. Eight days on the road, starting each day with up to four time-trial events on a famous (or not-so-famous) racetrack somewhere in the USA. Follow that with a transit stage sometimes exceeding 600 miles in a single day. Find a hotel near the next track, sleep a bit, and repeat the whole thing the next day. A week later you’re back where you started, with upwards of 3,300 miles having passed by in the interim. The lowest total elapsed time during the time trials wins. In a nutshell, that’s it. But it doesn’t begin to tell the story of what competing in One Lap is all about.
This is an event that is defined by the people who participate in it. There have been famous race drivers, television celebrities, autocross national champions and plenty of regular people who want to do something unique. There are drivers who have competed in over 20 One Lap events, and people like me who are there for their first.
The sights of the event cannot soon be forgotten. The cars themselves attract a lot of attention, as they are often exotic, and covered in sponsor stickers. So you can get into a conversation with curious onlookers just about any time you get out of your car. You also get a chance to see our beautiful nation up close, in a way that is rare these days. Driving on two-lane blacktop with the top down through the Kansas and Oklahoma countryside, or the high plains of Colorado, or the rolling hills and wind farms of Iowa… there was so much to see. And of course I haven’t even mentioned the fact that you get to drive on some of the best and most unique racetracks in the United States. In past years, One Lap has visited Daytona, Road America, Sebring, Mid Ohio, Nelson Ledges, Talladega, and many more. The event has always been about covering the full breadth of motorsports. On the very first day, we went from the Tire Rack test facility to a paved, walled 1/4-mile oval track, to a country club road course. All within a span of about 5 hours.
It’s impossible to participate in an event like this and not come away with a few stories to tell your friends. On our own drive, Joe and I managed to get stuck for an hour at a small-town gas station when the car refused to start. The next day, we broke an alternator retaining bolt, stranding us on the highway 25 miles from the race track where we were scheduled to compete that day. We were rescued by one of the competitors in our own class, who found the needed parts, brought them to us, and even helped to install them on the car. On a dark, lonely road on the way to Road America, I had to swerve to avoid a bear that ran in front of our car. We were both wide awake after that encounter. We tried to pay our previous favor forward, by arranging to get a set of wheels hand-delivered to another team that had the misfortune of breaking three wheels on their car. Sadly, that effort ended when the car went onto the track at Road America with the brand new wheels, only to have the motor fail catastrophically, ruining their chance at a class win. Such is the nature of an event like this. It can be cruel.
There’s plenty of friendly rivalry that takes place as well. Lots of jokes between the competitors about helping each other with questionable tire pressures or car set-up, or giving out obviously bad advice about the best way to navigate a particular race track. And of course plenty of practical jokes away from the track. It’s all in good fun.
At the center of all this since the beginning has been the mastermind of the event; Brock Yates, Sr. and more recently, his son Brock “Brocker” Yates, Jr.
Until this year.
Brock’s health has been declining, and this was the first time that he was unable to attend the event. Brocker gave a moving speech during the drivers’ meeting, which brought all in attendance to their feet in a lengthy standing ovation. Brock Yates’ contributions to this event, motorsports and motorsports journalism are legendary. He will be greatly missed, but these competitors know the true spirit of the event, and they will carry it forward.
In that spirit, many of the One Lap competitors use their competition to raise money and awareness for a wide variety of charities. Among those are organizations such as Make-a-Wish, Street Survival, Laps to Conquer MS, Zero-The Project to End Prostate Cancer, American Cancer Society, Fisher House Foundation, FasterCures, EvenStart for Children, KaleidoLinks and many more.
So in the end, One Lap of America is a driving and endurance competition. But it’s so much more. It’s getting to see our great nation, it’s meeting old friends, and making new ones. It’s getting to see people at their best, both in their driving, and in their desire to help their fellow competitors and others. It’s testing your own abilities in planning, car set-up, working under pressure and driving. It’s something that I’ll always be able to say that I was proud to be a part of.
Will I be back? I don’t know, life is tricky that way. But will I do it again if I have the chance? How could I not?