There’s a new record holder for the “Cannonball Run” auto ‘race’ from New York to Los Angeles! A team just smashed the previous record by 47 minutes, going coast to coast in just 26 hours and 38 minutes in an Audi A8, likely on April 4. Their average speed would have been substantially north of 100 mph. And their maximum speed? Well! (Wait a year).
America has a deserved fascination with high adventure, rogues and smashing records. “Higher, better, faster” could be our national motto. After all, we landed on the moon, built the Panama Canal and transcontinental railroad, invented the airplane, telephone, lightbulb, personal computer, the iPhone, and most of the technology that makes the world go round.
We are exceptional and it’s in our blood as proud Americans.
For those that haven’t followed the unofficial, ultimate-rogue “Cannonball Run” roadrace from New York to Los Angeles, it was founded in 1971 by Car and Driver magazine writer and racer Brock Yates and Car and Driver editor Steve Smith. Beyond the five ‘official’ races in the 1970s, there have been many unofficial races since, some for fun-loving, budget-minded enthusiasts like the “C2C Express” and the “The 2904,” as well as occasional highly-planned individual record-setting runs, such as Ed Bolian’s 2013 run.
By tradition, they start their engines at the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan around midnight to avoid traffic and maximize nighttime hours for the coast to coast run, and the finish line is the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Los Angeles County. The goal is to beat previous records just for the thrill of it and to set a very unofficial record that, outside of auto aficionados, caries no nationwide fame, trophies nor lucrative endorsement contracts.
Think of daredevils and adventurers like Nik Wallenda, who tightrope-walked over Niagara Falls and most recently a volcano, Alain ‘Spider-Man’ Robert, the daredevil building-climber, and Alex Honnold, who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without safety ropes as featured in the film ‘Free Solo:’ there’s something magical and inspiring to all of us to watch brave individuals risk everything for a moment of personal achievement. It’s the same following Canonball Run contestants.
George Mallory was a mountaineer who led early British expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1920s, and wrote this about his joy of climbing:
“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
Mallory expressed this desire perfectly.
There’s no accepted rules to ‘win’ the unofficial Cannonball Run record save for driving a car all the way and having reputable means for verifying your times. These days, that means a car capable of sustained high-speed driving as well as multiple GPS devices and apps, and even live satellite connections that selected witnesses can monitor.
Beyond that, it’s all American ingenuity using powerful cars with extra gas tanks, alternate means to avoid toilet stops, a full suite of radar detectors, CB and scanner radios, night-vision scopes and gyro-stabilized binoculars, and often a crew of volunteers who scout ahead for radar traps–and sometimes intentionally get tickets to distract patrols. Airplanes have been used to reconnoiter routes, and indeed, in today’s ultra-regulated society featuring radar cameras and plentiful radar patrols, there’s little chance of successfully making a record-class dash short of a large budget and technological aids that might have been considered “cheating” by the founders of the 1970’s races; the race has simply evolved with time.
Perhaps predictably the liberal media, and sadly some of the usually enthusiastic auto media, as well as some previous Cannonball Run record holders have panned this run as somehow endangering people during the Covid-19/coronavirus pandemic or for not docilly staying at home watching TV, and for winning unfairly due to the relatively empty roads. Here’s a more human reaction: “@FastMan85 I have no problem with this and would say that whoever does is taking themselves way too seriously (come on, lighten TF up) #CannonballRun #AudiA8.”
The truth is this is the absolute safest and best time to do such a run, due to far fewer cars on the road. Oh, are we supposed to be miserable during the nationwide Wuhan Chinese virus shutdown? Hell no! By the way, the team was about as ‘socially distanced’ from others as is possible!
And, my God! We need something exciting and fun to take our attention off of the daily death-counts and scary “breaking news” reports that just regurgitate the same danger-hyped news to needlessly scare people.
But those that pan the new record holder as ‘cheating’ ignore the traditions of the Run. The original idea for the race was kicked off with a Dodge van, but that ‘common vehicle’ origin rapidly escalated to a Ferrari winning the first official race, driven by legendary racer Dan Gurney. Today’s racers may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicles, technology, logistics, and even airplane spotters and NASCAR-style pit crews stationed at gas stations. Oh, the drivers face jail time if caught, something sports competitors never face.
One note: given the winning spirits of competitors, just as the record for running a mile keeps getting faster and continually breaking existing “impossible” records, you can bet someone will break this record during normal traffic conditions.
So here’s to rogues, adventurers, daredevils and record-setters! May this new record inspire others to follow in their tire tracks to smash this new record, and I call on daredevils and adventurers of all sorts to do exciting things in the coming weeks to brighten our somber mood.
Yes, this Cannonball Run victory is a wonderful thing, and don’t let the nay-sayers keep you feeling hopeless and introverted.
And for heaven’s sake, relax a bit and follow the example set by this crew: enjoy life, it’s not as bad as the media wants you to believe.
P.S. In a year or when all the statutes of limitations have expired, the team will be able to release all their data and other information about their record-setting trip.
Art Harman is a life-long auto enthusiast who’s completed some racing training and a bit of Autobahn driving. He’s the President of the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration, a space advocacy organization. He was the Legislative Director and foreign policy advisor for Rep. Stockman (R-Texas) in the 113th Congress, and is a veteran policy analyst and grass-roots political expert. His expertise includes foreign relations, border security/amnesty, national security, transportation, foreign broadcasting and NASA/space policy.
He has travelled the world and been behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet era, witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, was arrested by the KGB, and stood in the footprints of those who sacrificed everything for freedom at Tiananmen Square.
Mr. Harman developed the strategy to kill the 2013 Senate “gang of eight” amnesty bill as violating the Constitution’s Origination Clause, and provided policy advice to the Trump campaign, transition and the White House. He wrote what became the ‘bible’ for post-Brexit trade relations which was introduced in 2016 by Sen. Mike Lee as S. 3123, the United Kingdom Trade Continuity Act, and he advised the Trump administration to return Americans to the Moon by 2024–now official policy. Harman is a frequent guest expert on radio shows on key policy issues, a filmmaker, and is an award-winning fine-arts photographer.