The Cannonball is Dead, Long Live the Cannonball

Cannonball Run

Ed Bolian Mercedes

Ed Bolian came along after Roy, and continued to benefit from the knowledge base already created. As with every scientific endeavor, you utilize the findings of those that have come before you. Whereas Roy was nearly flying blind into the darkness, with little idea what a modern day attempt would consist of, Bolian at least had an idea of what was possible. This allowed him to push through the barrier that Roy had already cracked.

Neither Roy or Bolian is a professional racer. Yet they managed to accomplish feats that even the founder of the Cannonball, Brock Yates, thought were impossible. Crossing the nation in less than a day and a half, with zero police encounters and zero accidents borders on the incomprehensible. I’ve seen a staggering number of accidents from people merely commuting to work at the speed limit, on a full night’s sleep. Yet both of these teams cruised at double the limit for mile after mile after mile, while not having slept for a day and a half. There is a lesson to be learned here, if you sift through all the bravado and felonies.

So, obviously, the next step is for someone to take the combined knowledge of these two, and apply it with ever greater fanaticism, right? That was my assumption. Yes, it would be difficult, but surely the goal remained the same. Somewhat surprisingly, Roy and Bolian both disagreed with me, although the reasoning differs slightly. The point that both agree on is that the minimum budget for an attempt is in the neighborhood of $30,000. That’s a substantial amout of couch change for something with no prize. You will never see that money again, and if you succeed, you win nothing. But the bigger concern is that if you fail, it’s even worse. Imagine this: you spend months, or years, doing research, and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and don’t break the record. Congratulations, you’ve just burned a year’s worth of time and salary, just to then be the guy who didn’t make it. That doesn’t even count the legal repercussions that will very likely occur.

Cannonball Run

Keep in mind, that $30,000 is just your starting point. That’s roughly the minimum acceptable start. Once you have that, you need luck as good or better than Bolian’s. He managed to hit no significant weather or traffic the entire run, whereas Roy lost time to both. So not only are you fighting the clock, and Johnny Law, but you also have to deal with random chance. Now, Bolian predicts that it is possible to beat those unforeseeable factors, but it would require an absolute staggering budget. Approximately a quarter of a million dollars is his price point for ensuring that Lady Luck doesn’t wind up turning into Brother Chaos, and showing you his sizeable displeasure in a forceful and unpleasant fashion. That’s an anthropomorphic transgender sodomy joke. You’re welcome.

You start to see a bizarre sort of self defeating logic here. To be successful at this type of endeavor, you need to be a very organized, practical individual. Everything becomes a risk/reward ratio to be explored. If you just hop in your Corvette, and keep it to the floor, you’ll be in handcuffs before you leave Pennsylvania. You need to be rational. Patient. Focused. You need to constantly weigh all your different variables, keeping your final objective in mind. Add to that mindset the not insubstantial personal finances required, and a simple problem becomes apparent. If you are a moderately wealthy, focused, objective, rational man, the concept of blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on an endeavor that is at best a zero reward endeavor becomes rather hard to swallow. In blunt terms, if you are smart enough to resolutely beat Bolian’s time, you are probably smart enough to not bother.

If instead, you decide to go truly old-school, and run a multiple car race, there’s a whole different set of complications. With each previous iteration of the Cannonball, the same thing has brought it to an end: undue public attention. This is the biggest point of disagreement between Bolian and Roy. Bolian is relatively comfortable going public quickly, whereas Roy fears the legal repercussions that could be brought to bear. While the 2904 has managed to run a handful of times without repercussions, the legal environment does not look kindly on this type of behavior. Keep in mind the lessons of Afroduck. For merely lapping Manhattan, he faced a year in prison. That’s without leaving one city, let alone conducting that same behavior across 2,700 miles. According to Roy, “the rush to go public is a cancer”. As the old cliche goes, the only way for two men to keep a secret is for one of them to be dead.

Roy maintains that a serious, multi-car Cannonball would have to remain secret. Permanently. Even in the 1980s, the legal backlash was frightening. In the current fearful, litigious society of ours, the repercussions are incomprehensible. If word of a legitimate, recurring event reached the wrong ears, someone would be made an example of. Is your ego worth prison time? That’s a difficult decision to make.

So according to the men who know best, the Cannonball, as we know it, may be dead. That would be a pretty anticlimactic ending to this incoherent diatribe. “That’s it boys, it’s difficult, pack it up and go home.” Instead, let’s look at what we can learn from those who went before us. Even if you never speed, the lessons of the Cannonball hold merit for anyone who ventures out on the road. Doomsday prophets have already began to ring the death knell of the car, but here in the Midwest, that day is still far beyond the horizon. The road trip is still alive and well, and remains an integral part of the American psyche. At its core, isn’t that what the Cannonball was? The most efficient road trips ever carried out? So there must be something to be gleaned there. The idea of letting that much information, experience, and science to go to waste wounds my inner scholar.

The number one lesson of the Cannonball is that preparation is key. This is the point that Roy was brought to the FBI academy at Quantico to lecture on. The more that you can take care of in advance, the easier your trip will be. Ideally, there should be no surprises, because you have already thought of everything. At the bare minimum, this is vehicle preventative maintenance. Having a journey cut short due to mechanical failure is embarrassing at best, fatal at worst. Take care of all scheduled maintenance, inspect your tires, change your fluids, and do a shakedown run. Sure, a coolant flush is not nearly as sexy as top speed runs through Death Valley (or maybe it is, you pervert), but it will prevent future breakdowns that will cost you both time and money.

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    2. Simply desire to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is just excellent and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  1. Good read, Fails, good read indeed. I knew a guy named Les Knot once upon a time but he didn’t have the book learnin’ like you.

  2. Great article! You really shed some new light on all this, and went into some history that I hadn’t known before. Glad Will was able to add the graphic that I made from Ed’s data. The 3-wheeler record is truly epic (especially when compared with the relative comfort of doing this in an M5 or a big Merc), and Zach Bowman’s write-up about it was fantastic.

  3. Setting Cannonball records with motorcycle is not impossible…. I did it on K1600GT and also an EV, and Autonomous Car.

    1. Actually, I was not thinking about NGOs at all. I have a plan for health insurance that does not rely on (cloemetply) government that is market based and covers the equivalent of 83% directly and the rest indirectly at about the same cost as those covered. There is an option for social security, but it is phased out over 30 years meaning those 35 and under would have to find alternatives but not be burdened with those still covered. For the small percentage of truly destitute, states and local governments can have programs at much smaller, manageable costs.

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