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Episode 155: Cannonball

2020-12-18 | 🔗

With Covid-19 shutdowns, people have been taking advantage of quiet highways to drive as fast as they can from New York City to Redondo Beach, California. They’re trying to break records set in an unofficial and secretive race called the “Cannonball.” Car and Driver Magazine editor Brock Yates came up with the idea for the race, and described it as a “balls-out, shoot-the-moon, rumble.” He also wrote the screenplay for the 1981 movie based on the race, “Cannonball Run,” which starred Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, and Roger Moore. In today’s episode, the history of the illegal cross country race, how it has evolved since 1971, and why fans say it will never go away. We speak with Brock Yates’ son, Brock Yates Jr., and Ed Bolian tells us about his record-setting cross-country drive in 2013.

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Hi, it's Phoebe a great way to help support. Our show right now is to buy some criminal merchandise. We're launching a brand new online job will be adding all kinds of new things to it in the coming months. This We are adding a brand new enamel pin. Instead of twenty five postcards featuring some of our favorite episode illustrations by Julian Alexander. We also have t shirts and tote bags even and I'm Phoebe Judge Mask to check out our store go to. This is criminal dot com and click on shop. Thanks very much for your support. Support for criminal comes from capital, one.
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You did that wagons, carts and slays could not be run road or driven at a gallop and the first speed limits for motor vehicles were set in nineteen o, one in Connecticut twelve miles per hour in cities and fifteen miles per hour on country roads after that states continued. their own speed limits, ranging from forty to eighty miles per hour, but a nineteen. Seventy four President Nixon signed legislation that established a national speed limit of fifty five miles per hour. People called it the double, the new national limit was meant to conserve fuel in response to the nineteen. Seventy three Mideast oil embargo. There were fewer shortages, all over the country, gas stations were so crowded. Do you could only get gas on certain days, depending on whether your license plate ended, an odd or even number.
the government had mandated a national speed limit once before during world war. Two with the so called victory. Speed limit of thirty five miles per hour, which was also meant to conserve fuel and rubber. There is a lot of support for that national speed limit during World WAR two, but that was the case. Decades later. The New York Times reported in nineteen eighty two that most drivers just didn't observe the fifty five miles per hour. Speed limit some states started.
drastically lowering the penalties for speeding. One driver told the New York Times in nineteen eighty, nine, that the speed limit is making us all criminals in ninety. Ninety five President Clinton signed a bill that ended the federal speed limit, allowing states to once again set their own. Currently a highway in Texas has the highest posted speed limit eighty five miles per hour in a thousand thirteen, a man named at bullion and two of his friends spent more than twenty eight hours in continuous violation of the law. Breaking the speed limit all the way from New York City to LOS Angeles, we granted detectors to laser jamming systems, an ambulance traffic, light changer for navigation systems, phones, tablets, wiring for everything, high powered binoculars. There's a police scanner, a city radio stopwatch is obviously did you say there: an ambulance traffic light, ginger,
correct here, so ambulance still indifferent jurisdictions that use different things, but there are essentially our pulsing diodes that will trigger a signal on top of the traffic light and either turn just yours. Green Somebody else's red or turn em, all read so that you can run the light ethylene and his friends left from a parking garage in Midtown Manhattan, the Red Ball garage just before ten p m. To MAX. night time driving not see too many people on the road? We went in a back in two thousand thirteen October when gas prices were really high, so recreational travel had dropped trucks, weren't driving as much, and I certainly want speeding. So it was one of those things that really the created an atmosphere. We didn't have to interact with a whole lot of cars or trucks and that that helped us a lot. The goal was to be traffic at all costs,
and the route. So if you are going through big cities, you were doing it at night and figure out a way to arrive in LOS Angeles in the middle of the night, see wouldn't have any slowdowns that close to the finish line. A group of friends drove the route miles ahead of them to check for police or construction or traffic, anything that would slow them down when you first, when you press the timer STAR and you took off what were you feeling? I was mad Lawlor whites that were stopped, but you're honestly, we were approaching it very much as a first. The temp does a shakedown run, not putting too much pressure on ourselves, but because that would be counterproductive to increase anxiety and stress, but also just because we had no idea what it was going to be like and you know we were expecting the need, the average ninety one, ninety two miles an hour, and we just started driving cut of as fast as we could. Given the conditions. It was wide open and
going through come the albanian mountains in Pennsylvania, just looking at what was possible, and I driving the first lag an hour average, just climbed and climbed inclined until it was over a hundred miles an hour. It says it was short we, after that they saw their first common, we're coming path, this carpet about a hundred and thirty five miles an hour and tables standing on the brakes. But fortunately this law enforcement officer was just here. into his laptop in the media and not paying attention to anybody, speeding, passed and then we average hundred and eight through all higher when a hundred and ten ruined Deanna wherever Gina hundred and seventeen through Illinois until the car started begging for oil, it was just
assuming a lot more than we have ever seen at an earlier testing, and then they pulled into a gas station in Groom, Texas and its credit card was declined. American Express froze all my credit card because, as soon as I slipped it, they saw within eight hours of the last charge. I was between two people This is that couldn't have been reached by airplane and I guess they have advanced enough algorithms to tell that there were no flight schedules or flight patterns that could have gotten me there and so I got all these fraud alerts and yellow as there are in their use in the bathroom. I take it out here with other credit card or some cash we gotta get. This thing filled up ethylene was doing this trying to drive from New York, to LOS Angeles as quickly as possible to follow in the footsteps of his hero, a man who done it more than forty years earlier blockades innate
Sixty four rockets was hired an editor for car driver magazine he loved cars, looking at them, driving them and writing them at a time in the United States when, as he wrote, existential high speed drives, were in style. This but also a time when cars and drivers were becoming more tightly regulated national traffic in Motor Vehicle Safety ACT was signed in nineteen sixty six and each passing here brought new requirements. Blockades hated it you didn't know.
bureaucracy and he didn't like the idea of anyone taking the fun out of driving, and so we came up with an idea. Aris from New York to LOS Angeles competitors could drive any car. They wanted take any route. They wanted and drive any speed that they wanted. Whoever got to Us Angelus first was the winner, but there is no prize you just did it do it. Brockett said it was in our kissed it he called it. A quote balls out, shoot the moon rumble. Instead, it would be up to future generations to decide what it
if anything, I'm Phoebe judge. This is criminal, I'm not sure my mother fully approved, but my father asked me of it. I'd like to go on a little adventure and be a backward fourteen year old kid. Of course, I have left it to chance. Brockett son, brocades Junior and we packed the my mother Patty up the deed, Dodge Loan trash Van with a bunch of apples and stuff, and we we set out from our house and South Iraq gesture to New York City for the start. Moving was to meet some other cars to run
run the race with, but when they got to the starting point, the Red Ball garage in midtown, they were the only ones there. The other cars didn't show up. Brok, Junior remembers his father say screw it we're gonna, go shall we set out in this Dodge Van and started driving across country. Their destination was the porter fino in in Redondo. Beach just have the boss Angeles, their supplies included for large her. She bars thirty six, sounds bars to pound raw
Does Jarlsberg cheese and a ten oz bottle of pepto bismol passengers in the Dodge Van for fourteen year old Brock, Jr, his father and a man named Steve Smith, woodwork with brackets that car and driver? And lastly, an artist named Jim Williams, the three adults took turns at the wheel Did you have a job losses are radically. What was your job on and around the world? It would have been working for looking for police he all we or scanning for police. There is also, no, you know, GPS no, no one telling when their slow down there. There's too, that so did you just have a lot of maps out and and where people say no go. This way go this way. We
did have a c b radio which were popular best them and a radar detector of no quality whatsoever. It managed to pick up every telephone Paul between New York and ally, but now I D maps for the way we everybody did it or you memorized around you just drove it any. The truck was limited to about a hundred miles an hour. So we really didn't run that quickly by any modern standards, but we just didn't stop need, but that was just the other s. What we did we, we didn't stop. We did doing a week. We drove
they kept a log of the trip highlights included. May third noon? U S. Forty westbound average seventy miles per hour, we're not of fuel trying to pass a truck on a two lane section, barely make it to the roadside Harry situation to fifteen cross, the Mississippi for peace, crossing Oklahoma steady ninety miles per hour, Brok, junior sleeping in the back eat, senior and Williams, eating constantly may fourth, six thirty
wheeze into Flagstaff Arizona on an empty tank cross, the border into California. We jettison, what's left of our apples, finally, desperately role into the porter fino in they arrived forty hours and fifty one minutes after they left New York. Even though only one car his own had participated in the race Brok Gates gave it a name: the Cannonball Baker Seed, a shining, see memorial trophy dash. He named it after the racing pioneer Erwin Baker who is said to have done. The New York tell a trip in nineteen thirty, three. In fifty three hours and thirty minutes, his nickname was cannonball brought Keats wrote about his drive in car driver in August of nineteen. Seventy one and.
saved hundreds of letters in response, some were critical, but he said most of them were curious. People wanted to know if he was planning to do it again and if they could join, we'll be right back, Support for criminal comes from better help online counselling, better help offers since professional therapist were trained to listen and to help, issues, including anxiety, depression from and more join the one million plus people we taken charge of their mental health, with the help of inexperienced better help. Counselor better help is an affordable,
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People writing letters to car driver had opinions about the best route to take from New York. To allay people wondered about a northern route, Iowa Nebraska Wyoming You talk was a better to carry more fuel, so you stop less at what point? Are you carrying so much fuel that it slow you down? Brocades decided to hold the race a second time that same year, this time with other people, eight cars, twenty one men and to women. Then he did it again. The next year and again in eighteen, seventy five that here it was the cover story of car driver. The word cannonball was printed in all caps. And then, underneath it said These men are wanted for breaking the dumbest law. Since prohibition referring
to the government imposed nationwide speed limit of fifty five miles per hour that had been signed into law the year before the New York Times reported that the cannonball was America's most unofficial, road race by nineteen. Seventy nine there were dozens of teams competing. I think Europe What do you think is so special about the cannonball run out, or can
any race across around the country will. Why are we drawn to these things? I can't speak too why everybody else? Does it but a minute. If you look at a road, you say how can I do this rocky Throat extensively about each tramp? He described the cars, but he also described the people where they came from their jobs things they said what they packed and how they looked ass. They crossed the finish line at the port of fino hotel. He debated tactics with himself on the page he wrote to run flat out or to cool it? That's the question and the cool at school seems to be the way in any long distance journey, the film director and stunt man how Needham wanted Brockett to write a movie
and so for the nineteen. Seventy nine race, Brock, Yates, invited he'll need them to come along and see what it was like. That was a year that a rich man took his rolls Royce. He sat in the back and his chauffeur did the driving another crew dress, like priests, Brock, Yates, converter, to Dodge Van to look like an ambulance and more clothes or a medical supply store a real doctor. A radiologist named Lyle Royer, help drive along with Brock hates his wife, This was an attempt to avoid speeding tickets, which did not work more than fifty tickets were issued in that one thousand nine hundred and seventy nine race and then Brock III to screenplay the movie came out nineteen eighty one, it was called cannonball run and stirred Bert Reynolds
fairer, Fawcett and Roger more. They use the same Dodge Van that look like an ambulance they driven in the actual race. The movie made a lot of money at the box office. very unpopular with reviewers withdrawn done. What problems like cannonball? What you'll never know where I just thought that, both as a challenge as a car enthusiast and as a chapter of american automotive history, I thought it was just why compelling, even though the movie cannonball run came out before he was born at boldly and who we heard from the beginning of the story. Remember seeing it in thinking. I can do that. You can imagine, as an adolescent girls,
trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do with your life and all these things and again, just that being the ultimate expression of the fantasy of driving fast. There was this fantasy that we wanted to see what it would feel like to be able to know just put your foot down and have very few reasons too. He became obsessed with the idea of running this race and in the early two thousands ass, he was just about to graduate from high school. He got a chance to speak to his hero blockades just prior to that I'd actually done of project researching the career of automotive journalists, and I had convinced the front desk lady had caught Driver Magazine to give me brocades home phone number, and so I'd call him ask some questions and among the things we talked about was I was a cannibal and I told him that one day, even though no one ever advance the record since nineteen. Eighty three I wanted
see what it would look like with modern cars. In a modern context. I wanted to try to set the record good luck. Kid. The cross country driving record hadn't been broken since one thousand nine hundred and eighty three, when a car made it in thirty two hours and seven minutes, but then in two thousand and six a team, did it in thirty one hours and four minutes and Ed who is just a few years out of high school working as a sales person at a Lamborghini dealership was determined to beat their time. He started planning his own cannonball run. His car was a toothache,
and four Mercedes Benz Seal, fifty five, a m t with a hundred fifteen thousand miles on it. He put two extra twenty two gallon fuel tanks in the trunk, which meant that it could carry four hundred pounds of gases, and give him a range of eight hundred and fifty miles before needing to stop at a gas station. He said the smell was terrible. He needed to find people willing to come with him he convinced day, black a co worker from the Lamborghini dealership, Indian Wong, who we knew from college at George Attack. Then he hired a tracking company to document the cars every move, so there would be proof if they broke the record. He packed cliff bars, beef, Jerky and
protein Jake's. You remember that story a few years ago about the astronaut woman who put the diaper on so she wouldn't have to stop driving. But I had heard about things like that are known people to install falls in terms that a pipe through the floor, their cars and things of that nature. What we decided that, as we kind of evaluating the strategies that had been deployed before us work that shorter driving stands were very, very valuable. When I see myself, sometimes I catch myself going over some one time I saw that I was going eighty one and I thought that I had broken every law. And in the book I was so terrify. I thought begin Phoebe, you lost it, isn't your out of control,
going. Eighty one I mean to me- went deep speedometer passes. Eighty things have gotten really. Why were you were one of these fast driver guys? Just in your daily life, I mean I suddenly enjoy dry fast and my first summer, job in high school was working in a racing, school and kind of a defensive driving school, and things like that. I love that. However, note what you'll find about most people who pursue anything like this is that they really don't drive fast most of the time, because they establish the parameters of what it takes for them to drive fast, comfortably and That means multiple people wholly invested in getting wherever you are safely paying it into the road with every device possible and not taking something like that lively, and so it's not. I certainly don't just go around drive and honour miles an hour all the time, there are times on a wide open road air really powerful, well prepared car that yeah,
I'll go a little bit fast, but again it's not a habit of mind to do that, and I wasn't beforehand either before at bullying, and his friends could attempt their own cannonball they first to get from where they lived in Georgia up to New York. So they could start the starting place. The red ball garage just like Brockett tat. Dan Long leader said that after they arrived he seriously considered taking his back back and getting a taxi to the airport on Saturday October, nineteenth two thousand thirteen, the three men left the Red Ball garage at nine. Fifty six p m. It took fifteen minutes to get out of Manhattan, and a total of twenty eight hours and fifty minutes to get to the Porter Fino Hotel in California. Breaking the previous record by more than two hours it was pretty solely or could you come in to this year parking
with a valet in your life? You know no. Is there nobody that works at the hotel even knew anything about cannonball. At that point, it was a little bit anticlimactic, except for the fact that you just done something that you valiant spent your whole life. Wanting ethylene held the record for six years and then a team driving you, two thousand fifteen Mercedes Benz ease. Sixty three Angie broke out: billions record crossing the country in twenty seven hours and twenty five minutes the only stopped for a total of twenty two minutes. This was in November of two thousand nineteen and then the whole world shut down for a viral pandemic and nobody was on the road and in the span of eight weeks it was broken six times just about every weekend. Somebody was trying it and they were doing it in cars with very little. Preparation, relative to lie, pursuit and
they had been mine, but there were just but there were almost no cars on the road. There were a few more drugs, but again just far fewer than you'd. Ever imagine very few police. Very few construction situations, and so they were doing it. Fairly easily it looked like it was about a three hour advantage over what we had seen just a few months prior The current record holders are a team of two men who may have to a twenty took an a six and made it look like afford tourists, police cruiser they average a hundred and ten miles per hour, the whole way and got to the Porter Fino Hotel. In twenty five hours and thirty nine minutes beating at billions time by more than two hours and Brock Jill nineteen. Seventy one time by more than fifteen hours, a year
tried. Bullion set his record. He released data from the GPS tracking service. He tired. He said he wanted to wait. Till the statute of limitations had passed. The tracking service claimed they didn't know what they were tracking at released. More than two hundred pages of data about his exact route. And his speed throughout the trip it showed that they had spent more than an hour and a half driving above a hundred and thirty miles an hour. You know therapy people who here the story and think themselves. These guys are bunch dangers idiots. This is all this is. They could have heard a lot of people doing what they did the river winds. Obviously, when you have someone who says what you're doing is unsafe and you get it, then that there are entitled to them
opinion I will always call back to and in any time that, I'm speaking to somebody who has the aspiration of doing a drive like this I'll say above all else, you have a fifty year record of safety. That is immaculate in the entire history of the pursuit of cannonball. There have been three accidents, all single car and all participants this cream. The cannonball has an excellent safety record is widely reported, but because
not everyone who tries to break the record reports that that's what they're doing, no one can actually know for sure and the low number of reported accidents, doesnt reassure critics, Brockett Junior, whose father started the whole thing says: there's always been criticism of cannonball, even back in the early seventys, when the drivers, when a lot slower than they drive today. Why Farley would lovely get up array of angry letters that were mail? The magazine car drivers are made that wasn't it disturbed the sensibilities of many many people and which are fight for because it was relatively in the whole scheme of things relatively harmless in its activity. But yes, there was, I mean you're all you can't do this so the, but that would be expected a virtually any activity.
For anybody these days, so people work. So there were people enraged, though, of course people, people writing, saying you're gonna kill someone with this. I am sure that I am sure that was mentioned meters. That's might. That was my biggest sphere with a kind of all and subsequent runs now. Brockett Junior, says the way people do it today. Although people call it cannonball has really little to do with his father started all those decades ago, his father ended his event in nineteen. Seventy nine watched your father and a cannon boys. He was dark I believe Florida and Die guy showed him a labourer gaining any. It pointed out that all these things that I hear
done to this car can make it go faster or be more hidden or all the things for can of r22 cannonball and thought about it for a while. This is getting beyond the scope of what I think is. It is proven I'm going to kill somebody you put a bullet in his work out. This is this: is it I'm not gonna in I'm not gonna. Do this anymore brackets Junior says that what his father It was about celebrating driving celebrating cars, not going As fast as possible by any its necessary in an interview, Brockett Senior, said quote: it was starting to get ahead. John it and was starting to lose its sense of humour. There was an intensification the competition and I Sooner or later we were gonna hurt somebody, so I just bagged it.
what is run today, Broccoli, Junior says, is all done in secret. There's no party at the port of Fino Hotel, the cars don't take off from New York in five minute intervals, the Motto Cross country tabs many and secret, and there is no end if you dont, like aid to start over or you go back and do it again another day, so you wait for the absolute proof. time, and you release the dead. The fact that you had a perfect run in it. It covers up the fact that you had eighty five other runs before you were able to do that. I mean as much as I like all the people that are their running post, cannonball they're, not cannibals rocky. state of complications from Alzheimer's in into thousand sixteen. He was eighty two
Our lives did revolve around driving and cars and deeds. Skill of driving the art of driving We spend a lot of time in the car together and I watched feed I wanted his eyes is washed his hands. There was good time and this time You always have asked for a boolean today. He lives with his wife and young son in Duluth Georgia. He says people call him all the time for advice or to say they're going to beat the record the same way. He called Brock keep senior back when he was I school. Why do you think people keep doing? As I mean it seems, gruelling dangerous. Pointless I mean, except for the pride of being say I did it, and I wonder why do you think there's still this such a
people that are so interested in this well, I think there's there's two ways to approach that the first is. The cars are still absolutely cool, not just for using this they get all they get a whole lot cooler, as everybody tells us that we aren't allowed to have them in the same way that we always love them. So far, enthusiast You know, as we look at the extinction of the manual transmission as we look at car, that are designed in when tunnels, rather than by people, who thought that this shape looked pretty. There's a lot of things, We can continue to love about cars, but from a cannonball perspective, its you'd argue it the same way as you would a marathon or Century bike ride or climbing a mountain you're too young people do things that there is better ways to accomplish, because it's a challenge- and it may not be a challenge of physical fitness, but it may be a challenge of problem solving. It might be a challenge of insurance and
Oh there's plenty of things that we do as humans than are by no means efficient, but are from it not a fine, both to do any checks criminal is created by born spore and me. Media Wilson our senior producer, our producers are sustainable, percent an ear and weighed automatics by raw buyers. Especial thanks to Matt Spore. Julian Alexander mix original illustrations reach up sort of criminal. You can see them at this is criminal dot com or on Facebook and twitter at criminal show criminal is recorded in the street Yes, I'm North Carolina, public radio, debut you and see nor proud. Member of radio utopia from pure lacks a clear
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Transcript generated on 2020-12-18.