HomeCar CultureCommentaryI don’t understand the need for speed in cross-country driving

I don’t understand the need for speed in cross-country driving

Such stunts had their place, and it ended half a century ago


I saw a headline the other day that the cross-country driving record (aka Cannonball Run) had been lowered yet again. I refused to click and read the story. I see enough irresponsible driving on a shockingly regular basis when I venture out from my coronavirus home shelter and I don’t need to read the names of idiots who seek momentary glorification for their stupid and dangerous stunts.

Once upon a time, traveling as quickly as possible across the country was important, and newsworthy. 

Think Pony Express. But also think how the telegraph negated the need for such in-person travel.

Think Cannonball Baker and the early cross-country speed runs that validated the capabilities of early motorcycles and motorcars, but even more, such events demonstrated the need for better roads. 

Think a young Army officer named Dwight Eisenhower and the military convoy he led from East Coast to West Coast, again demonstrating the sorry state of American roads should rapid defensive deployment be needed against foreign invaders. 

Years later, as President, Eisenhower’s administration would establish the interstate highway system, the roads on which even today many people commute to their jobs, on which merchandise travels from factory to store, and on which — alas — some morons see how quickly they can drive from coast to coast.

I am not including among those idiots and morons the likes of Dan Gurney and Brock Yates and those participating in the original Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, even if it was the stunt that inspired the recent cross-country speed craze. 

It was nearly 50 years ago that Gurney and Yates drove a Ferrari Daytona from the Red Ball Garage in New York City to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California, in less than 36 hours. Do the math and one of the world’s best racing drivers and the editor of what was the world’s best car magazine drove cross-country in one of the world’s best automobiles at an average of 81 miles per hour.

It made for a great story, inspired a Burt Reynolds’ movie, and that’s where it should have stopped. 

Alas, along comes the coronavirus pandemic, people are working from home instead of commuter-clogging urban interstates, and the YouTube nation thinks it’s prime time for posting videos of themselves racing from coast to coast. 

But even Car and Driver magazine, the automotive buff book once edited by Yates, recently proclaimed, “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.”

Not only not cool, but downright stupid.

The magazine noted that the recent practice of loading a luxury sedan with a trunk full of gasoline and racing across the country for the payoff of “a few thousand new Instagram followers” is pointless. 

Not only pointless, but stupid, irresponsible and dangerous.

Racing on a closed track with others who have accepted the risk is one thing, but racing of any roads open to unwitting civilian motorists — and their families — is another, and it is criminal.

Consider the conflagration should such a vehicle with its trunk full of fuel be involved in a crash. Consider the sheer waste of fossil fuel for such foolishness in the first place. Consider that racing coast to coast is pointless and foolhardy in the internet age.

And how could you do such a drive and not stop at Cadillac Ranch or the Grand Canyon?

Cross-country, I don’t understand the need for speed in cross-country driving, ClassicCars.com Journal

Indeed, the only attention the perpetrators of such stunts deserve is time in a courtroom and months of community service.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


    • I disliked the 55 mph speed limit, and while not favoring a FBR (federal bedtime regulation), I believe there is a place for laws designed to maintain safety and order. I am not an anarchist.

    • I’d prefer LESS Regulation, Stop Signs…etc.
      If driving were “at your own risk” …
      People would actually pay Attention instead of being on their phones. 🇺🇲

  1. Larry, now I understand your sometimes confusing automobile stories…I think your view of auto journalism is stupid. As far as Car and Driver magazine, they no longer represent auto enthusiasts. They sold out a long time ago. While I agree that it is great to see our wonderful country at a more leisurely pace, there is nothing wrong with the Cannonball run. Get over it!

  2. Gotta say…after reading the first paragraph, I quit reading. Obviously not worth my time. Some people have such a myopic view point that they’re not worth reading.

      • Well said. there are too many irresponsible drivers on a shockingly regular basis everywhere. Do the cross country drive and show us the beautiful America. Otherwise who cares if you won. Just drink your champagne and go away not worth remembering.

  3. Modern technology makes getting target times for each leg of a journey easy. That fact in turn makes tuning a trip into a TSD rally relatively easy. That’s what we do and, for us, it’s a lot more fun and challenging than cannon-balling.

  4. Cannonball run, funny just try driving from across Houston in the same time. You’d be ticketed so many times it’d take a years salary to pay off all the fines and jail time. These people are in the same category as the morons that race down the Interstate on motorcycles standing I on one wheel. Some people just wish for an early grave, or worse someone else’s.
    God bless America

  5. Y’all don’t understand cause you’ve gotten too old.

    By the way. How many of you break the speed limit?
    How many roll stop signs?
    How many follow too close?
    When the 405 is open cars will run over the top of you if you are doing the speed limit.
    How many of you have used your cell phone while driving.
    A Tesla hits a patrol car while driver watching movie. (Talk about stupid)
    All of these behaviors are dangerous but don’t seem to bother you when you are doing it..

    Get a life folks. More interesting things than this.

  6. What an idiot. I guess you don’t understand the “need” to go to Mars either. Drive your Prius, old man and save the fossil fuel for me. BTW, how many civilians have been injured because of Cannon Ball runs ?

    • I laughed out loud when I read your comment, Dean. I almost put a line in the story when I was writing it that in an era in which we’re trying to get to Mars, racing across the country in an automobile makes even less sense.

  7. Now if the roads can be closed off for a time period because of a cross country race, that’s different. There’s enough roads today to isolate one road for cross country racing. If that’s not possible, I do agree it would be insane!

  8. There is no justification for it. I’ll give you that. It is a completely selfish endeavor. But if you think it is done to gain Instagram followers you are mistaken. Those of us who have done a transcontinental run (as there hasn’t been a true Cannonball since 1979) don’t do it for the attention. In fact several have never released their times and you would never know these runs have taken place we’re it not for the media that reports on it (and what does that tell you about how devastating they are?). All of keep the consequences for both is and the public in our minds when planning and executing a run. Safety is primary and we are prepared to abandon an attempt rather than endanger ourselves or the public. It is easy to imagine us as nose-thumbing scofflaws who laugh maniacally as we shove minivans full of soccer teams off the highway, but that is a Hollywood-like misconception. I invite you to actually meet one of these scofflaws and learn about what you don’t fully understand. You might find you are more alike than you realize. But considering what you’ve written here, that might be a fruitless endeavor.

    • But how does the media learn of such runs unless someone in the party announces it, or there is police action that that gets reported? I appreciate that you incorporate safety in your planning. You have done the drive and I have nothing against driving coast-to-coast, it’s just doing it at crazy speeds that makes no sense in these times. I know I don’t understand such acts. So why do you do it?

  9. i’m not gonna touch this one , BUT i will say that car magazines have gone to hell!
    a lot of useless stories some not even related to automobiles/trucks etc.
    what happened to car technical informations, even a small story!
    i dont want stories about the useless NEWS media, and BS about world problems!
    the planet will still be here after the last trace of human is incenerated!

  10. In the 70’s & 80’s I trucked produce coast to coast, always racing the clock! I’d say during the pandemic with less traffic would be a good time to race coast to coast. I still have a “Need for Speed” at 72 yrs old! jmho

  11. I’m not american (i’m french and live in France) and our road laws are very strict with drivers about speed. However the worst drivers and the most dangerous ones are definitely not the fastest ones. You dont have to go fast to be dangerous, you can be a stupid and dangerous driver and run below the speed limitation.

    And people driving top perf cars usually drive safer than most people. Also think that those cars have a better grip, better brakes and high hand security devices than most “standard” cars. You’re definitely safer at 120mph in a modern Porsche or Mercedes than at 75mph in a 70’s Charger or GTO.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent Posts