In 1971, Dan Gurney and Brock Yates left the Red Ball Garage in New York City in a borrowed Ferrari Daytona and 35 hours, 54 minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of the Portofino Inn on the shore of the Pacific Ocean at Redondo Beach, California, to win The Cannonball Baker Sea-t0-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
Gurney noted afterward that, “At no time did we exceed 175 mph.”
Primarily to see what the Ferrari would do, that speed was achieved, once and briefly, on an empty stretch of I-10. But the overlooked fact was that the famed race car driver and the automotive magazine editor actually had averaged little more than 81 mph on their cross-country escapade.
Eighty-one miles an hour! Today, there are thousands of miles of interstate highway in this country where such a speed is a mere 1 mph higher than the posted limit.
After getting back to his office in New York, Yates wrote, “The quickness of the journey was hardly attributable to outright speed, but rather to good routes, rapid stops, and assiduously staying clear of traffic.
“When Dan and I got to the Portofino, we agreed that the part of the Cannonball which we were proudest about was the fact that we had bothered no one — we hadn’t jeopardized the safety of anyone, including ourselves. We had driven very fast, but we had driven cleanly, efficiently, and safely.”
Eight cars took part in that Cannonball run, which actually was the second such event. A year earlier, in what was both a celebration of the freedom of the interstate system and a protest of increasingly restrictive traffic laws, Yates and his co-drivers ended up in a solo run across the country in a modified Dodge van. It took them just less than 42 hours and broke the nearly 40-year-old record for such a drive, done by Baker himself in 1933 in a Graham-Paige Model 57 that he drove, NYC2LA in 53 1/2 hours.
Triggering this trip back through history is the recent news that a few people stuffed extra fuel tanks into the truck of an Audi A8 L and, taking advantage of the fact that much of the country is on coronavirus pandemic quarantine, reportedly drove from Midtown Manhattan to Redondo Beach in less than 27 hours.
As The New York Times reported this past weekend, “Traffic levels have dropped more than 90 percent in some major cities, and at least 50 percent nearly everywhere. Open highways beckon. Empty city streets tease. Gone are congestion and gridlock. In their place is temptation and speed.”
After reports of the sub-27-hour run spread on social media, Car and Driver, the magazine edited by the late Yates, headlined a story, “Cross-Country Cannonball Speed Records Are Dumb: Car and Driver popularized the New York to Los Angeles speed run in the ’70s. We’re here to tell you it’s no longer cool.”
The article noted that coronavirus claimed 336 lives in New York City on April 4.
“This was the backdrop when, on that same Saturday, three (or possibly four) of this country’s biggest assholes loaded a luxury sedan with a trunk full of gasoline and charged across the country to claim a speed record that proves nothing other than their own self-importance.”
The writer noted as well that, “Driving across the country is different now, too. The speeds required to set the record are too extreme. The traffic is too heavy. And the payoff — a few thousand new Instagram followers, maybe? — is too pointless.”
While we all enjoy tipping into the right pedal from time to time, trying to be the fastest to drive coast to coast not only is pointless but wasteful and, yes, stupidly irresponsible and dangerous.
As for establishing a new record, that also is stupid, just like all those home run “records” set during baseball steroid era or the way basketball scoring “records” are being set during an era in which shots count 3 points rather than 2. It’s not the same game. The “records” are hollow, meaningless, and should be ignored, right along with their perpetrators.