The Cannonball Run is an unparalleled street race with one goal: drive from New York to California in the least amount of time. Let’s dive into all things Cannonball and look into the Cannonball Run Record books.
- Current Cannonball Run Record: 25 hours and 39 minutes by Arne Toman and Doug Tabutt in a 2016 Audi S6 in May of 2020
- Current Double Cannonball Run Record: 74 hours and 5 minutes by Chris Clemens and Mark Spence in a 1999 Mercedes SL500 in May of 2020
- Current Solo Cannonball Run Record: 25 hours and 55 minutes by Fred Ashmore in a (rented) 2020 Ford Mustang GT in June of 2020
- Current Electric Vehicle Cannonball Run Record: 42 hours and 17 minutes by Ryan Levenson and Josh Allan in a rented (off Turo) Tesla Model S Long Range in October 2021
- Cannonball Run Route: From the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan to the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach, California
When you first hear of an illegal and unsanctioned race across the entire United States, perhaps chaos and carelessness come to mind. Maybe you’ve even seen the 1981 film, “The Cannonball Run” which fictionally showcases the drive with the “All-American” glitz and recklessness of street racing. And although the race is illegal, it is anything but chaotic or careless.
The reality is that the racers of the Cannonball Run are methodical, attentive, and diligent, which is perhaps even more baffling. Brock Yates, who created the race in the 1970s, wanted to prove that you could “drive quickly across the country in normal traffic without disrupting anyone or being unsafe.” The run traditionally began at the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan and ended at the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach, California, and, to this day, there are few people both crazy and determined enough to attempt the coast-to-coast run.
At the beginning of the 2019 documentary, “APEX: The Secret Race Across America” which covers the true story of how the Cannonball Run record was broken in 2006, the audience is posed with three questions: “What could be more pointless? What could be more dangerous? What were these people thinking?”
The end of “APEX” doesn’t provide any answers, but, instead, leaves the audience with even more questions: “Why did Cannonball Baker do it? Why did Alex [Roy] and David [Maher] do it? Were they chasing something?” In the end, the documentary doesn’t attempt to untangle the complexities of the 87 years of the Cannonball Run, simply stating: “Those questions can’t be answered.”
Cannonball Run Records
In this Cannonball Run article, you will find a complete history, run-down of all the records, and a list of movies and books about the run.
A History Of The Cannonball Run
Let’s talk about the history of this race that spans from 1933 to now — how this race came to be and how it withstood the test of time, scrutiny, and well, the law. In an interesting twist, in order to avoid legal ramifications, all information of the individuals who set the new records are often not released until at least a year after the fact, once the statute of limitations has expired.
The Literal Paving Of The Road For The Cannonball Run
It all began with a man named Erwin George Baker, whom everyone knew as “Cannon Ball” Baker. Before setting the coast-to-coast record for driving a car across the country from New York to Los Angeles in 1933, Baker spent the majority of his career prepping for it by riding transcontinentally on a motorcycle. At the time, the roads he drove were entirely unpaved.
In May of 1914, he set out on his Indian motorcycle to break the transcontinental record, starting in San Diego. The newspaper accounts from the time revealed that he meticulously prepped for this ride — he “laid out his routes ahead of time, planning what roads and towns to travel through and even planting tanks of gas ahead of him in remote areas to avoid fuel trouble.”
Baker successfully set the record and arrived in New York after eleven and a half days of riding. The endurance Baker needed to complete this feat is the endurance that has carried through all of the Cannonball Run attempts that followed.
53:30 — The Record That Stood For 38 Years
In 1933, Baker attempted his last coast-to-coast drive across the United States, completing the trip in 53 hours and 30 minutes. To understand how impressive this time was, remember that just 19 years earlier, it took him nearly twelve days to do the same thing. Behind the wheel of a Graham Automobile, Cannon Ball Baker made history. Of course, at the time, this drive was not called the Cannonball Run. It wasn’t even a race. It was a singular, momentous drive that inspired the Cannonball Run as we know it.
After his death, Baker was inducted into numerous motorsports halls of fame. The Motorsports Hall of Fame Of America remembers Baker’s unmatched impact, “In the American lore of Roaring Twenties bravado, mud-splattered determination over horse tracks and country roads and the relentless quest for new records, none will ever compare to the one and only Cannon Ball.” Although the 1933 record has been beaten many times over, it remains true that Cannon Ball Baker’s influence will never be forgotten.
The First “Official” Unsanctioned Races: Brock Yates & The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash
In 1971, 38 years after Baker’s record, Brock Yates made the race a household name, calling it the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Yates, the senior editor for Car and Driver Magazine at the time, his son, Brock Yates Jr., Steve Smith, and Jim Williams set out from New York City in a 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van, known as “Moon Trash II,” to drive across the United States. Just like when Cannon Ball Baker made the trip, this drive was not yet a race, but it became the blueprint for the inaugural race that Yates would put together later that year.
This unsanctioned street race was held in 1971, 1972, 1975, and 1979. It began in New York City (and Darien, Connecticut once), and ended at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. In the perplexing spirit of the Cannonball Run, this race was both framed as a celebration of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and a protest against strict traffic laws, specifically the 55 mph speed-limit enforced on major highways.
The rules were that you made your own rules. Yates said the parameters of the Cannonball Run were as follows: “All competitors will drive any vehicle of their choosing, over any route, at any speed they judge practical, between the starting point and destination. The competitor finishing with the lowest elapsed time is the winner” (from March 1972 Car and Driver Feature).
A Day To Remember: November 15, 1971
The first race took place on November 15, 1971. A feature from the March 1972 issue of Car and Driver Magazine, written by Brock Yates himself, sums it up: “Those damn fools, they went and did it.” The fools in question? Well, that would be Dan Gurney and … Brock Yates. Six cars left the Red Ball Garage in New York City all headed west toward the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. A few hours in, two more vehicles joined in, making for a fleet of eight cars filled with “23 lunatics.”
On November 15, 1971, Dan Gurney and Brock Yates co-drove a Kirk F. White Ferrari Daytona coup to the finish in 35 hours and 54 minutes — notably, only 53 minutes faster than the second-place team. In this race, Gurney and Yates beat seven other teams who were all attempting to win. Of the eight teams, half of them got speeding tickets.
Funnily enough, a large motor van participated in this race. Bill Broderick, alongside Pal Parker, drove a 27-foot Travico motor home. Unsurprisingly, they finished last at 57 hours and 25 minutes.
Yates decided to both host and participate in such an event as a “whimsical gesture of defiance of the regimen of contemporary traffic laws.” At the end of Yates’ own 1972 feature, he wrote, “No one who ran, not Gurney, not Adamowicz, not anybody, got a dime for the race, making it some kind of milestone in modern automotive annals.”
The 1972 & 1975 Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash
On November 13, 1972, Steve “Yogi” Behr, Bill Canfield, and Fred Olds won the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash with a time of 37 hours and 16 minutes. While this team beat the other racers, they did not beat Gurney and Yates’ 1971 record. They raced in a Cadillac Coupe DeVille — the first American car to win the Cannonball Run.
However, the record didn’t stand for long. In 1975, Jack May and Rick Cline drove a Ferrari Dino in 35 hours and 53 minutes, at an average speed of 83 mph, to claim the new record.
The “Final” Cannonball Run In 1979
In the 1979 Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough beat the record by 3 hours and 2 minutes. Driving in a Jaguar XJS, the team achieved a time of 32 hours and 51 minutes with an average speed of 97 mph. Notably, unlike any of the other attempts, this run began in Darien, Connecticut.
Car and Driver contributing editor Fred M.H. Gregory gave an account of The Last Cannonball in a 2002 article. He revealed that in this race, there were a whopping 46 teams involved, all taking off at 10-minute intervals. Interestingly, Yates’ vehicle for this run was a Dodge ambulance with a Magnum 440 engine. Within moments of departure, the ambulance broke down and needed repairs that took more than an hour. Nonetheless, Yates still completed the race but was nowhere near beating the record.
And while Yates used the guise of an ambulance, another team (Lou Sellyei and Gary Arentz) simply put a cooler inside of their Jaguar XJ-S. When pulled over for speeding, they said, “We’re rushing to save a child’s sight, officer.” They were both physicians, but the contents of the cooler, well, was pig’s eyes.
Brock Yates, the organizer of the original Cannonball Run, does not officially acknowledge any records after 1979. Yates commented, “I stopped the race because I knew sooner or later that somebody was going to get killed.” But Yates left the Cannonball floodgates open. “If people want to try it, the roads are open,” he said.
The Cannonball Run Under A New Name: The U.S. Express
The U.S. Express was held from 1980-1983. While the race was attempted for four years, the record was not beaten until Doug Turner and David Diem beat it in 1983. In the documentary “APEX”, one of the interviewees noted, “By the time you got to the U.S. Express, it was only the most hardcore people.”
The Inaugural 1980 U.S. Express
Just as it did in the past, the race began in New York and ended in California. In the case of the 1980 U.S. Express, it began in Brooklyn and ended in Santa Monica. The winners of the 1980 race were Rick Doherty and Will Wright coming in at 33 hours and 9 minutes. That time, as impressive as it was, did not beat the 1979 record of 32 hours and 51 minutes held by Heinz and Yarborough.
Interestingly enough, the co-driver, Will Wright, was a famous game designer. Wright’s expertise in technology translated well to the preparation needed for a Cannonball record attempt.
The 1981 U.S. Express
In 1981, though they did not beat the record, David Morse and Steve Clausman drove a Porsche 928 on a route that was mostly on I-80 to take home the win. This race began in Long Island, New York, and finished in Emeryville, California. The car was equipped with a massive fuel tank. Clausman was a professional driver, and Morris was a businessman.
When reflecting on their experiences in the documentary, APEX, they spoke of how important it was for the driver and co-driver to complement one another. Clausman, both seriously and jokingly, said, “It is probably the stupidest thing I’ve done in my life.”
The 1982 U.S. Express
Information regarding the 1982 U.S. Express seems to be nearly nonexistent. With that, we were unable to find who was involved, much less, who won the race.
In a video interview of David Morse, the 1981 winner of the U.S. Express, he said, regarding the 1982 race, “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The highway patrol of various states had been notified not only about the race but about our car specifically. The officer would know me by name.” He recounted what the police said to him, “We’ve been told there is an illegal car race going down, and we are here to slow you down, or, arrest you.” Morse gathered that someone had alerted the authorities about his car specifically as revenge for his winning the 1981 race.
The 1983 U.S. Express
In what would become the final U.S. Express, Doug Turner and David Diem beat the Cannonball Run record, taking the win in 32 hours and 7 minutes. Their record stood for over 20 years until 2006. Turner and Diem were the first people to use a plane as a scouting tool during their drive. Because of that, their attempt was met with some scrutiny as many people saw the use of a plane as cheating. But while many people were uncertain if a small plane or even a helicopter could make it across the United States in 32 hours, Turner and Diem managed to get a car across the United States at that time.
Interestingly, a documentary titled 32 Hours 7 Minutes was created but never released. You can view an unofficial trailer here. There were and are many lawsuits and disagreements surrounding the release of this documentary, and it was ultimately never released to the public. It is technically available on DVD but goes for upwards of $100 on Amazon.
The End Of The U.S. Express
The 1983 U.S. Express ran into a bit of a roadblock — a literal police roadblock. When The Cannonball Run movie was released in 1981, the police were suddenly very aware of the underground race. Any time a car would be speeding, according to the documentary, “APEX”, police would think, “Wow, it could be Cannonball coming through!” So, why did the race end just as a team finally broke the record? As the race became publicized, liability increased. Thus, the Cannonball Run under the name the U.S. Express ended for good, and the record of 32 hours and 7 minutes stood for over 20 years.
More Cannonball: Different Names
After the U.S. Express ended, the legacy of organized transcontinental races continued. In the spirit of Cannonball, drivers continued with transcontinental events including One Lap of America, The 2904, and the C2C Express.
Also known as the Transcontinental Motorized Vehicular Tournament of Efficiency and Endurance, The 2904 is an unofficial race that goes from, you guessed it, New York City to California that was started by John Ficarra. The catch? You have to do the race in a vehicle that costs no more than $2,904. This includes vehicle, fuel, food, tolls, repairs, and tickets. If you purchase additional safety equipment, that does not count against you in the budget.
The 2904 began in 2007 and has occurred eight times since then, up until 2017. In 2015, the record for The 2904 was set at 32 hours and 5 minutes in a 2002 Mercedes s55. Of course, Ed Bolian was behind the wheel and he cataloged his entire experience. You can check out the full list of The 2904 event winners HERE.
The C2C Express is a Cannonball Run specifically for classic cars that started in 2016. Ed Bolian participated in the inaugural race in a “Bluemobile.” In January of 2020, Ed Bolian posted a video titled, New Year’s Special: The Final Running of The C2C Express. The Washington Post describes the C2C Express as, “Five cars, 13 guys, countless energy drinks and 2,900 miles of asphalt: Welcome to the C2C Express.”
The New Era Of Individual Cannonball Runs
With the end of the U.S. Express, the Cannonball Run became an individual endeavor with single teams making the run to try to break the overall record. And while many attempts have gone unpublicized over the years, the teams that have broken the record have mostly been extremely vocal about it — after the statute of limitations is up, of course.
The 2006 Cannonball Run of Alex Roy and David Maher
In 2006, Alex Roy and David Maher beat the Cannonball Run Record with a time of 31 hours and 4 minutes in a BMW M5. The details or their feat were not released until Roy released his memoir, The Driver, in 2007. In 2019, the documentary “APEX”, was released with real footage and interviews surrounding both the 2006 run and the 1983 U.S. Express race.
Using an immense amount of technology (outlined in the records book section later), Roy and Maher decided they would masquerade as weather watchers if they were pulled over. This win did not come without its struggles. Alex Roy’s first attempt in April of 2006 was cut short when his M5’s fuel pump failed in Oklahoma. But that did not stop him from attempting the run again, resulting in his 2006 record.
The 2013 Cannonball Run of Ed Bolian, Dave Black, and Dan Huang
Ed Bolian, along with Alex Roy, is perhaps the most outspoken participant of the Cannonball Run. If there were to be an honorary expert in this matter, it would likely be Bolian. In 2013, Bolian, Dave Black, and Dan Huang drove a 2004 Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG across the country in 28 hours and 50 minutes, an astonishing feat to break the 30-hour mark. Bolian chose this car because of its understated looks, making it more likely to go unnoticed, which is exactly what a Cannonballer wants. Their average speed was 98 mph, and the car had 67-gallons of fuel capacity. In total, the team only stopped for 46 minutes.
Bolian reflected on the preparation of the 28:50 drive and what the drive meant to him personally in his video; 5 years ago we set the Cannonball record. He talked about how, as a high schooler, he was given the opportunity to interview Brock Yates for a project in automotive journalism. Bolian told Yates, “One day, I’m going to beat the Cannonball Run record.” When he said that, Yates admitted that he did not think that it could be done. Since that moment, Bolian had set out to discover what it would take to beat this record.
When speaking about the experience of the drive itself, Bolian said, “Everything went as well as it could.” Bolian also commented that he “hopes that he shattered Roy’s record by such a stark margin that it discourages would-be Cannonballers from attempting to break his record, and it’s not just a matter of his own legacy.”
The 2019 Cannonball Run of Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, and Berkeley Chadwick
Despite Bolian’s hope, it wasn’t long before the record was lowered again. On November 10, 2019, Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, and Berkeley Chadwick drove a 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan across the country in 27 hours and 25 minutes. This new record was just a little over one hour faster than the 2013 record.
In the video, We broke the Cannonball Record, Arne Toman says, “To me, Cannonballing is the ultimate expression of freedom. As a kid, I saw the movie, I read the articles, and it was something that was forever on my mind. In 2006, we had done the One Lap of America, which is the event Brock Yates turned Cannonball into once he stopped doing the cross-country runs.”
Toman said, when he heard of Bolian’s 2013 record, he was “both excited and gutted.” He saw Bolian’s time as unbeatable. But Arne didn’t get discouraged, instead deciding to prepare for his attempt. Much of Toman’s time went into researching the best possible fuel transfer system to minimize time.
Doug Tabutt remarked, “Don’t just meet your heroes, beat your heroes.” And, Arne and Doug did just that. The co-drivers actually met through Bolian. The rest is history. You can read more about their journey in the Road & Track article, These Guys Just Drove an E63 AMG Across America in a Record 27 Hours 25 Minutes.
The COVID-19 Cannonball Run Era
Most people have hunkered down and stayed home since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the USA in March 2020. But, others are taking to the road. Is that a smart or fair idea? Well, one might ask, has any of this ever been a “smart” or “fair” idea?
The Cannonball Run record-breaking attempts have never ended. And now, Cannonball records are being broken at an incredible rate. The sentiments behind this race have always been that of immense preparation, innovation, and endurance. What, then, does it mean when drivers are taking advantage of an unprecedented time? Does that match the spirit of the Cannonball Run?
The first confirmed new Cannonball Record during the pandemic occurred in April 2020. Then, the record was broken again in May 2020. THEN, the solo record was set in June, and at the time thought to be the overall record.
The April 2020 Cannonball Run Record
Ed Bolian announced a new Cannonball record on April 9, 2020. When Bolian discussed whether or not the rumors were true of this initial record being broken amid COVID-19, he said, “Yes, it is true … sort of.” He then went on to say, “I am saying right now that it wouldn’t be me. And I’m saying right now, it was not me.”
Boalian spoke of the team that held the new Cannonball Run record in April. He recounted, “A team had gone from the Red Ball Garage to the Portofino Hotel and Marina in a 2019 Audi A8 with a time of 26 hours and 38 minutes, an UNBELIEVABLE time that beat the November 2019 time of Arnie and Doug in their E63.”
When speaking about the team, Bolian noted, “They didn’t want to be known as the key violators of all of these shelter-in-place regulations. Nobody wanted to be out there putting anyone’s lives in danger.” But friends of theirs did not get the memo, and one of them posted a photo of the Audi A8L with the fuel tanks in view. Of course, the photo received immediate attention.
The May 2020 Cannonball Run Record
Fast forward to May 2020. The April 2020 Cannonball Run record was once again beaten. According to Bolian, the new record was under 26 hours, the car averaged over 120 mph for most of the drive, and the team had over 30 spotters. Bolian believed this record was the end of the “COVID-19 Cannonball Era.”
(It was later revealed that this was Arne Toman and Doug Tabutt’s new 25 hours and 39 minute outright record.)
On Bolian’s well-known YouTube Channel, VINwiki Car Stories, Bolian announced on May 14 that there has been ANOTHER New Cannonball Record. Ed said, “Consider that it took six years and dozens of extremely well-prepared events for anyone to beat 28 hours, 50 minutes. In the span of five weeks, it was just beaten seven times.”
During the five weeks from April to May in 2020, Cannonballers have been taking advantage of open roads due to the global pandemic. Is it fair? A hard question to answer, as the “fairness” of an unsanctioned street race is probably questionable to begin with.
The June 2020 (Solo) Cannonball Run Record
While the premise of the Cannonball Run in general is unfathomable for most people, doing the drive completely alone is even more unbelievable. Road & Track refers to the solo drive as “so stupid, it’s brilliant.”
According to Angelo Melluso of Road & Track, Fred Ashmore made this solo attempt in a record time of 25 hours and 55 minutes, a time scarily close to the 24-hour mark. In a mind-boggling feat, Ashmore rented a Mustang GT, loaded up numerous fuel tanks, and only stopped one time for gas on the traditional Cannonball Run route from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan to the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach, California. You read that right, a rental car with a single occupant just set the fastest known Cannonball Run time (known at the time)!
Where Does The Cannonball Run Go From Here?
These new overall Cannonball Run records have arisen during a time when, quite literally, the entire world was shut down. Does this mean the new Cannonball Run records will be unbeatable? Does that mean it is the end of an era? ” It could destroy the pursuit,” Bolian said. Again, Bolian acknowledged that, at the end of the day, “There aren’t real rules” when it comes to the Cannonball Run. How could there be? This is also the difficulty with speculating about the future of the Cannonball Run — as its history has shown, the event is complicated and incredible. How it evolves from here is anyone’s guess. It’s also up to individuals to shape, versus any governing body.
The Place That First Popularized The Cannonball Run Now Thinks … It’s Not Cool Anymore
Eric Tingwall described the Cannonball Run as a “feat of nothingness” in the Car and Driver article, Cross-Country Cannonball Speed Records are Dumb. In the headline, he acknowledged that Car and Driver originally popularized this race, as Brock Yates was the senior editor for the magazine when he created the race in 1971.
But Tingwall says, “We’re older and wiser today — no longer that same magazine that once campaigned against making cars safer. Driving across the country is different now, too.” And he does have a point. The 70s and 80s were a different animal when it came to driving than the present day.
At the end of the article, Tingwall asked a difficult question, “If right now is not a good time to jeopardize innocent lives by indulging in a selfish and hollow pursuit of notoriety, what makes that acceptable in better times?”
Notably, this opinion, so staunchly against the Cannonball Run, came directly as a result of the many attempts made during COVID-19. Though Tingwall speaks of the race, regardless of COVID-19, as a “selfish” and “hollow pursuit,” perhaps his feelings would not have been as intense if these attempts were not made during this unprecedented time.
How Do You Decide the Rules When There Are No Rules?
Ed Bolian discussed the pros and cons of attempting the Cannonball during a pandemic in a video posted on March 24, 2020. For example, Waze, a navigation tool commonly used by the teams, is not working as well because fewer people are on the road. With that, an obvious pro is that there is less car traffic on the road. “Teams have decided now is the perfect time to chase their hopes and dreams,” Bolian said. He acknowledged the advantage of attempting the Cannonball Run during this time but expressed mixed feelings on the “okayness” of it.
With all this being said, Bolian acknowledged that it would make no sense for him to condemn any of these drivers. “That would be like a cocaine dealer telling a heroin dealer that he is just a terrible, terrible person,” he said.
“Don’t Break the Law While Breaking the Law” – Molly’s Game
Bolian went on to break down the complexities surrounding the record-breaking attempts and success during this unprecedented time of COVID-19. He said, “The idea of driving fast across the country is somewhat redeemed by the nod to historical precedent — the fact that this is a thing that really happened. There were some entertaining movies about it, and it is part of American car culture. The fact that we get away with something deviant and law-breaking hinges upon the principle that people think it is okay because these people are adding their names to the history of Cannonball. I don’t think the public appetite is ready to conceive that indulgence.”
The confusing nature of qualifying these new times for the Cannonball Run boils down to the idea that records are both objective and subjective, Bolian concluded. The circumstances surrounding driving during COVID-19 will probably (hopefully) never be the same circumstances for anyone in the future.
Ed outlined all the controversy in his videos regarding the recent records. Then, he ended on a positive note. “The most important thing to me is to recognize that the biggest and most critical part of the pursuit’s history is that in the past fifty years, there have been no accidents involving other cars and no significant injuries.” He continued, “And that has not happened in any of these recent drives.” Bolian finished by saying two words regarding the recent records: “They count.”
You can find all of Ed Bolian’s videos on VINwiki regarding the Cannonball Run on the video playlist, Cannonball Run Related Car Stories.
The UNOFFICIAL Cannonball Run Record Book
While there are no rules, there are a few parameters All of the drivers began in New York and ended in Los Angeles. Typically, the race begins sometime after midnight.
In this section, you will find a full list of the Cannonball record holders. Within the list, you will find their times, their names, and the vehicles they drove. If the information was available, we have also outlined how each car was set up, any unique techniques that were used, and any major issues with the runs.
The only other unofficial Cannonball Run record list is a spreadsheet recently published by Ed Bolian of Vinwiki fame. You can find his list HERE.
The Drive That Started Everything (1933)
Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker
Better know as Cannon Call Baker, Baker is, you guessed it, the man behind all of this. In 1933, Baker drove a Graham-Paige model 57 Blue Streak 8 from New York to Los Angeles. He completed the drive in 53 hours and 30 minutes. This became the record time for driving across the United States. Baker’s time held for nearly four decades.
Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (1971-1979)
Dan Gurney and Brock Yates
On November 15, 1971, Dan Gurney and Brock Yates co-drove a Kirk F. White Ferrari Daytona coupe in 35 hours and 54 minutes. In this race, Gurney and Yates beat seven other teams. Notably, Gurney and Yates never exceeded 175 mph and had an average speed of 80 mph.
On March 1, 1972, Car and Driver Magazine released a feature on the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. In it, they described in detail the car that won the race:
“This team left at 12:32. Their Ferrari was entered by exotic-car impresario Kirk F. White, of Philadelphia. It was utterly stock (what could be modified?) … no extra equipment was carried. A dazzling blue paint job, complete with exquisite pinstriping plus a patchwork of sponsor decals, made the car about as inconspicuous as Hugh Hefner’s DC-9. Virtually everybody was convinced the car would be a wide favorite with law enforcement officers.”
While the seven other cars racing all took a similar route, Dan and Brock took a different one. Yates wrote, “Rather than run Interstate 78 from northern New Jersey to the intersection of the Pennsy Turnpike at Harrisburg, its crew cut northward across New Jersey’s Route 46, through Netcong and Hackettstown, to Interstate 80 due west across Pennsylvania. From there, they cut southwest across Ohio from Akron to Columbus, intersecting with the conventional route.”
Jack May and Rick Cline
In the 1975 Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, Jack May and Rick Cline beat the record held by Dan Gurney and Brock Yates by one single minute. They drove across the United States in a Ferrari Dino 246 GTS in 35 hours and 53 minutes.
Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough
In the 1979 Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough beat the record by 3 hours and 2 minutes. Driving in a Jaguar XJS, the team achieved the time of 32 hours and 51 minutes with an average speed of 87 mph. Notably, unlike any of the other attempts, this run began in Darien, Connecticut.
The U.S. Express (1980-1983)
Doug Turner and David Diem
In a Ferrari 308, Doug Turner and David Diem finished the run at 32 hours and 7 minutes, 44 minutes faster than the fastest Cannonball Run at the time. This was the “official” cross-country record until 2006.
The Ferrari 308 was designed to be refueled quickly and had installed kill switches for brake lights. Turner and Diem spent months strategizing the best possible route. Their average speed was 89.89 mph, but they often drove over 125 mph.
The Cannonball Run Record Holders (2006-NOW)
Alex Roy and David Maher
In 2006, after 23 years, Alex Roy and David Maher set out in a 2000 BMW M5 and beat the record, running 31 hours and 4 minutes. The BMW M5 had a top speed of 155 mph but could be pushed to 190 mph with a software upgrade. While at times, they exceeded 150 mph, the average speed of the run was 90.1 mph.
The car was armed with three large antennas, GPS navigation units, police scanners, night vision so they could drive without headlights, multiple cameras, and 16-gallon fuel cell. They also had a small airplane following them the entire time with a radio communication system to keep an eye out for police and other obstacles. Nobody slept, and they made six fuel stops throughout the entire run.
Ed Bolian, Dave Black, Dan Huang
In 2013, Ed Bolian and Dave Block drove 2004 Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG across the country at an incredible time of 28 hours and 50 minutes. Their average speed was 98 mph and the car had 67-gallons of fuel capacity. In total, the team only stopped for 46 minutes.
Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, Berkeley Chadwick
On November 10, 2019, Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, and Berkeley Chadwick drove a 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan across the country in 27 hours and 25 minutes, just a little over one hour faster than the 2013 record. The car was detuned to 700 wheel horsepower. And they had many gadgets to assist them including radar detectors, a police scanner, plane crash avoidance system, and brake/tail light kill switches. Along with that, they used a thermal scope mounted on a gimble on the roof which, according to the team, proved to be rather unhelpful.
Unnamed Drivers April 2020 Record
In April of 2020, two unnamed drivers drove a 2019 Audi A8 sedan across the U.S. in 26 hours and 38 minutes. Notably, their car was equipped with a pair of red plastic marine fuel tanks ratchet-strapped in the rear storage. The run’s average speed was 106 mph.
Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt
In May of 2020, the team of Arne Toman and Doug Tabutt drove an 2016 Audi S6, disguised as a Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, to a new record of 25 hours and 39 minutes. A 110 mph average speed for the entire run was achieved, with maximum speeds reaching just shy of 175 mph. Over 30 spotters were used to achieve this run. The team left Manhattan at 6pm.
The car was modified to put out about 600 hp, through modified turbos, an upgraded heat-exchanger, and a custom tune. A trunk mounted 67-gallon fuel cell helped provide the needed range and reduced fuel stops. A host of police-evasion modifications were also installed on the car. These included radar detectors, laswer diffusers, a CB-radio, and a brake light kill-switch. To top it off a roof-mounted thermal camera was used to spot wildlife and police on the sides of the road ahead.
In an astonishing 25 hours and 55 minutes, Fred Ashmore set the Cannonball Run Solo record in June of 2020, and at the time the known outright record. He drove a rented 2020 Ford Mustang GT filled with additional fuel tanks, only stopping one time for gas. According to Fred Ashmore and Ed Bolian, this was potentially the most frugal Cannonball attempt. Ashmore spent less than $3,000 on the entire trip. Ashmore averaged about 12 mpg and 109 mph on his solo record.
Coast-To-Coast-To-Coast Cannonball Record
Pierce Plam, John Ficarra and Alex Richter set a Coast to Coast to Coast Cannonball record of 130 hours and 49 minutes in 2015.
In May of 2020, on the same weekend as the Toman/Tabutt overall record, Chris Clemens and Mark Spence drove a 1999 Mercedes SL500 over 5,600 miles round trip from NY to LA to NY to set the new Double Cannonball record at 74 hours and 5 minutes. On the drive west, the team was able to use many of the same spotters that helped Toman and Tabutt to an overall Cannonball Record. The team did however get pulled over once for speeding, and issued a ticket, on the drive West.
The OTHER Cannonball Run Records
Along with the traditional Cannonball Run overall record, there have also been numerous other specific Cannonball Run records. While the main rule of the Cannonball Run is that there are no rules, these category records have a few self-imposed rules to conform to the categories.
The motorcycle record is where it all began all the way back in 1914 with Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker’s 11.5-day transcontinental run. Alan “the stalwart Californian” T. Bedell rode a Henderson motorcycle from Los Angeles to New York in 7 days, 16 hours, and 16 minutes in 1917 to impressively beat Cannonball’s record. The record is rumored to have changed hands at least 6 times over the years. The current motorcycle Cannonball Run record was set on April 20, 2019, by Calvin Cote with a time of 35 hours and 6 minutes, with an average speed of 89 mph. He was riding a 2012 BMW K1600 GTL, with a custom 15-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. You can watch a GoPro video of his entire run HERE.
A coast-to-coast motorcycle record, from San Diego, CA to Jacksonville, FL, was set by Axe Dekruif in a time of 33 hours and 10 minutes. It was done on a BMW S1000RR with an extra fuel tank, while drinking a RedBull/Gatorade mixture in a CamelBak, and using a Flir thermal imaging camera for night driving. Axe averaged 72.6 MPH on his cross country run and produced a documentary (No Limits – No Regrets) on his adventure.
The solo record is held by Fred Ashmore with a blistering fast time of 25 hours and 55 minutes, which was set in June of 2020. He drove a rented 2020 Ford Mustang GT filled with additional fuel tanks and averaging about 12 mpg and 109 mph. Possibly most impressive is that this record only cost about $3,000.
There is a diesel record from April 4, 2020, held by Sean G. Petr, Jason Adkins, and Mark Spence. The team drove a 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI across the country in an impressively fast 28 hours and 40 minutes. A truly impressive average of 25.5 mpg was achieved over the 2,852-mile trip, with an equally impressive 100.07 mph average.
The electric vehicle record began in 1968 with the Great Transcontinental Electric Car Race that was planned by students at MIT and Caltech. In 1986, the Caltech team won with 210 hours and 3 minutes spanning from August 26 to September 4. The current record holders are Ryan Levenson and Josh Allan in a rented (off Turo) Tesla Model S Long Range in a time of 42 hours and 17 minutes, which was set on October 22, 2021. The only vehicle “modifications” were overinflated 19-inch Tesla Tempest wheels, and the team only used Waze for traffic and law enforcement detection. This latest record beat the previous record by over 2-hours, Kyle Conner, Drew Peterson, and Tijmen Schreur driving a Porsche Taycan 4S (Press Loaner) on January 2021 in a time of 44 hours and 25 minutes. This record will continue to fall quickly as new EV tech is changing. Longer range, faster charging, and faster EV vehicles are all on the near horizon.
The semi-autonomous vehicle record began in 2015 when a Delphi self-driving car went coast-to-coast from San Francisco to New York over the span of nine days. Later that year, Carl Reese and Deena Mastracci set the actual electric Cannonball record in 57 hours and 48 minutes driving a Tesla Model S P85d electric sedan. The current semi-autonomous Cannonball Run record was set on August 24th 2016 by Alex Roy, Warren Ahner, and Franz Aliquio in a 2016 Tesla Model S 90D in just 55-hours.
Movies & Books About the Cannonball Run
This movie is inspired by the 1975 Cannonball Run record by Jack May and Rick Cline that broke Yates’ and Gurney’s record by a mere sixty seconds. While it is entirely fictional, the film is hilarious, speedy, and a wonderful watch.
While both of these films are completely fictional, the fictitious nature contributes to the magnificence of the race itself. Watching these movies will not provide you with any historical context, but they are a fun watch with famous actors and actresses including Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett. The Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run 2 are sold as a box set on Amazon.
Shifting back and forth between the perspectives and experiences of those involved in the 1983 U.S. Express and the 2006 unsanctioned Cannonball Run, this film transports the viewer into a front-row seat for the infamous race. Beginning with a brief history of the Cannonball Run, the film then shifts into first-person recounts of the races. More than anything, this film reveals the preparation and determination it took for the 2006 team of Alex Roy and David Maher to successfully beat a record held by Doug Turner and David Diem that stood for nearly 20 years.
You will see the lengths and methods Roy and Maher used. They would hide behind 18-wheelers, turn off their headlights to avoid being seen, and be in constant contact with a small airplane hovering over them. During the run, at one point, the radio completely stopped working. At the same time, you see the humanity of both Roy and Maher, like the moment when they stop off at a Burger King drive-thru to get food WHILE on the Cannonball Run. Of course, you may wonder “Why didn’t they just pack food?” But who knows, when you want chicken fries, you want chicken fries.
You can purchase the film, “APEX: The Secret Race Across America” to stream via Prime Video or iTunes.
“APEX shatters the myths surrounding the transcontinental record and shows never-before-seen footage from the Cannonball, U.S. Express, and modern runs.” – from the APEX Website
Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Road Race by Brock Yates
Published in 2003, Cannonball! was the first book written about the Cannonball Run. In the 1970s, Brock Yates was the senior editor of Car and Driver Magazine. But, that was not the only thing he was up to — Yates created the Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Not only is this book full of incredible stories of the Cannonball Run, but it also contains photographs from many legendary moments. Written by one of the most well-known car journalists whose impact is still reaching car racers today, Cannonball! is sure to impress.
Alexander Roy beat the Cannonball Run Record in 2006 after the record stood for nearly twenty years. The Driver is Roy’s memoir, reflecting on all of his daring races across the world. All of the races in his life prepared him to beat the Cannonball record, driving from New York to Los Angeles in 32 hours and 7 minutes. This book provides a compelling and deeply interesting look at the story behind Roy’s motivations and experiences.
Published just three years ago, Ed Bolian, a natural-born storyteller and racer, writes a memoir that speaks about more than the logistics surrounding beating the Cannonball Run record. This book intertwines fascinating car stories and Bolian’s grappling with his faith and explores what led him to have the desire to become the next record-holder for the Cannonball Run.
The Reality Of The Cannonball Run Is More Interesting Than Any Fictional Race
To most, the prospect of participating in this race might as well be a fairytale… or a nightmare. The Cannonball Run is a very real race that has stood the test of time because of some crazy, driven people that keep wanting to beat the record.
After reading this article, perhaps you want to go on a Cannonball Run bender and read every book and watch every movie you can find. Or, perhaps you want to scratch that racing itch of yours, one way or another. If you love the thrill but hate the actual danger, maybe refine your driving skills on a track day or on the computer. A good start is our lists of the 16 Best Racing Games and 10 Best Racing Simulators.
Or, maybe you’re genuinely interested in getting your own racecar. Top 10 Best Track Cars Money Can Buy is a great place to start daydreaming about spending some time at the track behind the wheel and quenching your need for speed.
If a Cannonball Run is in your future, you will want to read Everything You Need To Know About Speeding Ticket before you hit the road.
When asked what defined the Cannonball Run, Alex Roy answered, “Politics. Defiance. Endurance. Speed. Struggle. No stopping except for fuel and repairs. A route from coast-to-coast. An icepick in the face of convention.”
The Cannonball Run is an example of when the realities of life end up being more fascinating than fiction.