With the country under lockdown as a result of the spread of COVID-19, the streets and highways have been unusually empty recently. Most opting to stay at home and avoid travel whenever possible. However, a team of drivers saw this as the perfect opportunity to break the recently set record on the ultimate North American point-to-point distance challenge, the Cannonball Run.
The Cannonball Run is a point to point speed record from New York to Los Angeles. It was officially started as a race in the 1970s. Contestants would start at the Red Ball Garage in New York and finish at the Portofino Inn in Los Angeles. A distance of 2,825.3 miles. The race was only held four times between 1971 and 1979. The Cannonball Run was the inspiration behind the 1981 movie starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, and Farrah Fawcett. A lot of the events in the movie were based on actual events that occurred during the Cannonball races themselves. It was also the inspiration behind the 2011 video game, Need for Speed The Run, and the Need for Speed movie from 2014.
The current record, set sometime earlier this month, was completed using the traditional start and endpoints with a time of 26 hours 38 minutes and an average speed of 106 miles per hour. Many Cannonball purists were quick to point out the irresponsibility of attempting to break the record amid a nationwide pandemic. Among them was Alex Roy who was a member of the team that set the first modern Cannonball record back in 2006.
“If you hit a truck moving medical supplies and people die because of it, that’s on you,” he said. “People are counting on those trucks moving around right now. It’s not funny.”
Many who follow the Cannonball run believe that it was designed to prove that a capable driver was able to complete it safely under normal traffic conditions. To some, a record attempt during a time of historically low traffic defeats the purpose of the run. Part of what makes breaking the record so difficult is prioritizing the safety of other motorists. Close high speed passes on major highways are avoided whenever possible. Doug Tabbutt, a member of the team that broke the previous record in 2019 stated that avoiding high-speed passes is as strategic as it is courteous. High-speed passes may startle other drivers and lead them to contact highway patrol. Despite dozens of attempts over the last four decades, there have never been any major accidents or injuries associated with the Cannonball Run.
Despite its controversy, many Cannonball aficionados including VinWiki founder and former record holder Ed Bolian have claimed that the record is legitimate. Ed Bolian was part of the team that broke the record in 2013 using a Mercedes CL55 AMG. He was also rumored to have been part of the team that set the new record although he was quick to point out that he had no involvement in it. In a video uploaded to the VinWiki youtube channel a few weeks earlier, Ed claimed that he had no plans of attempting a new record despite his personal record having been broken in November 2019. He mentions in the video that the reduced traffic may provide a good opportunity to do so.
Those who attempt to set a new Cannonball record often spend hundreds of hours planning beforehand as well as modifying their car. The cars are often modified with larger fuel tanks in the trunk as well as radar equipment to detect cops and monitor traffic conditions. Some teams have even called gas stations ahead of time asking that they have an attendant ready to go once the car pulls up to the pump.
Whether or not the record can ever be beaten under normal conditions is up for speculation. Going forward, this record will always stand out from others for its controversy.