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TimGil

Did I do something wrong officer???

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I have just the event for him.

 

 

'Duck - here comes the Cannonball!'

 

Autocar 5-5-79

 

ON APRIL FOOL'S DAY the fourth "Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash" ran from New York to Los Angeles. This notorious, highly illegal and unsanctioned road race across the entire North American continent is meant by its organizers and participants to be an act of civil disobedience and protest against the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit in the United States.

 

This time the Cannonball drew 46 entries, from motorcycle to cargo truck, almost as many as in all previous races combined. 42 made it across through three time zones, to LA, almost 3,000 miles. My crew and I ran with and against them.

 

The low speed limits on the best and most beautiful highways of the world, the American Interstate Expressways, bothered me a lot. 65, 70, or 75 at the most, was the fastest you could go, except in Nevada and Montana. The traffic police of the various states chased after speeders using radar, electronic timing equipment, aeroplanes and helicopters.

 

After the so-called "double nickel" - the 55 mph limit - was introduced the police "terror" on the highways became even worse. In many areas of the USA you can get a ticket for driving one mph over the 55 limit. Protest and strikes by highway users and truckers were to no avail. Among demonstrations were the running of the three previous Cannonball races, named after the famous American racing pioneer Ernest G. "Cannon Ball" Baker who set 21 cross county records, the last one of which he ran in a Graham from New York to Los .Angeles in 1933 which lasted for 53 hours and 30 minutes at an average speed of almost 60 mph. This before one inch of Expressway existed in the USA.

 

This spring, after a four-year lapse, the fourth Cannonball race was supposed to happen. And now I finally had the means and possibilities to run in it myself.

 

I had bought myself a Jensen Interceptor coupe from England, where this old but still very potent vehicle with 6.3 litre, V8 engine, 325 bhp and lots of space in the interior and a sofa of a back seat could be had for a very reasonable price.

 

My co-drivers, Ursula Nerger and Andy Zoeltner, were even more nervous than myself, even though the two Germans had lots of high-speed Autobahn miles under their belts. But the idea of running almost 3,000 miles flat out against a few dozen experienced and reckless amateur and professional racers, in their 40,000 dollar sports cars, armies of policemen with sophisticated equipment and liberal powers of arrest and punishment, put a lot of butterflies in all our stomachs.

 

When we gravitated to the "secret" starting place in an appropriately shabby alley behind the "Lock, Stock and Barrel" pub in Darien, Connecticut, a suburb of New York, I was a bit shocked to find a huge crowd of drivers, friends and hangers-on assembled, as well as a sizeable number of spectators. Fancy cars and trucks, even motorcycles, everywhere. Registration, press credentials, marshals. This was almost like Watkins Glen, Indy or Daytona, only better, because we were in it.

 

Cannonball has sure gone Big Time. They even served a beautiful buffet lunch, on English chinaware, and beverages in crystal glasses. Not a paper plate in sight. The only compromise: They ran out of seating space in the restaurant, so some Ferrari and Porsche bonnets were abused for picnic tables. Turbo whale tails came in very handy.

 

Brock Yates, the inventor of all this madness, explained the simple rules; there weren't any, except that all drivers of an entry had to traverse the continent together in the same vehicle (motorcycles exempt) and auxiliary tanks had to be of the approved F117 fuel cell type. Whoever took the shortest time from Darien to the finish at Redondo Beach near Los Angeles would be declared the winner. The vehicles were to take off in 4-minute intervals

 

The first car off the lot was the Camaro of the "Polish Racing Drivers Association", who had claimed, by national descent, the right to the "pole" position. The others followed their allotted time slots. The most spectacular start was by dirt track racer Dennis Menesini. He had a monstrous Chevrolet pick-up truck with dual wheels, racing engine and a 500-litre fuel tank on the cargo bed. He felt it was too complicated and time consuming to make his way through town past four traffic lights to the next Expressway entrance. Instead he steamrollered over a fence and made his way up a steep embankment, dirt and grass flying, to the Connecticut Turnpike running right past the back of the "Lock, Stock and Barrel".

 

 

This lightning start stole the show from the wildest car of the race, a Dodge van with 500 bhp "stock car" racing engine, modified suspension and fat tyres. But this was not your everyday travel van, it was a fully appointed ambulance. With sirens, flashing strobe lights on the roof, oxygen equipment, even intra-venous feeding tubes and serum bottles. Driver and entrant of this massive fraud and deception conspiracy was no other than famous Hollywood stuntman and cinema director Hal Needham. Co-pilot was supposed to be Cannonball organizer Brock Yates. But the powerful machine did not even take off right. Only a few hundred yards from the start the carburetor flooded and immobilized the vehicle for at least half an hour until a mechanic, commandeered by the lure of a few hundred dollars reward, could affect some semblance of repair. The "ambulance" then made it all the way to Palm Springs, California, where finally the automatic transmission expired.

 

When our "Team Kraut", as we were nicknamed by our competitors, returned to the starting area, there were still a few dozen spectators assembled, including a Dixieland jazz band. At 11.04 I stamped the time clock, ran to the car, jumped in and drove off to applause. Through town and onto the nearby Turnpike I used extreme caution because the local police had been very conspicuous at the starting site all afternoon long, even taking notes of licence plate numbers. But once on the eight-lane dual highway I put the foot down and cruised through the light traffic at, well, let's say "considerable speed". But after crossing through the city of New York we immediately lost our way in the maze of city expressways on the New Jersey side. We lost almost an hour trying to find our way back to the civilisation of dual carriageway motoring.

 

Finally we found the proper entrance ramp and headed towards Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, pacing ourselves at about 5,000 rpm to avoid engine problems and to keep fuel consumption down. The car ran beautifully with that big Chrysler engine humming along happily and the wheels tracking smoothly and straight over the broken concrete and patched asphalt of this "super" highway.

 

In Pennsylvania fog rolled in and made attempts at high speed cruising hazardous. It seemed safer at times to just follow big lorries.

 

The fog seemed to last for ever but at least we did not see any traffic patrols, or "Smokies" in CB-radio-slang, until we got to Ohio. There they appeared "wall to wall". The Ohio Highway Patrol must have had word about the Cannonball race. Mark Pritch in his black Ferrari 308 rolled across the state border at 125 mph and immediately ran into a radar trap. His detector sounded, but he could only slow down to 80 mph before the police equipment registered his speed. After the time-consuming ticket writing formalities were completed he raced on. Only to get three more tickets within the next five miles. He became very familiar with the Ohio police. "In a hurry. Mark?" the last officer asked with a smirk. Then he was escorted across the state (for 250 endless miles) by two police cars, one in front and one in the rear, both going exactly 55 mph.

 

We had no trouble in Ohio, but cruising constantly at high speed was impossible. With one radar detector at the nose of the car, installed remotely and hidden, and another one in the rear window, a watchful eagle eye in all directions and an attentive ear at the CB-transceiver we avoided detection and arrest.

 

 

Our tactic was to move at almost top speed as long as the CB radio reported "green and clean" (but the Police also have CB and use it to lure motorists onto their radar trap by giving all clear reports) and the radar detectors were silent. As soon as they went off, or the navigator saw a suspicious vehicle coming the other way or parked along the side, I would stamp on the brake pedal very hard to bring the speed down to legal. Then after a few miles at 55 mph, I would go back to my cruising speed again.

 

We finally fell into the clutches of the Missouri Highway Patrol near Springfield. We met a police car coming the other way at top speed, cresting a hill. The warning from the radar detector was too late. He got us probably still going over a hundred. It only takes us a second to make up our minds: we have to outrun him. He needed a few seconds to stop and to cross the central reservation. When we saw him appearing in our rear view mirrors with all the lights flashing on his roof we were already way ahead of him and rolling at top speed. At the next exit Andy dived down the ramp, made a right and a left and another right and we were on a gravel road. If the Smokie follows us here we're lost. The Jensen hit bottom many times, as we rumble along, rally style. Over the CB we heard the excitement among the other drivers about the fast moving "Smokie". He actually had passed the Exit and kept rolling. We lost him but did not dare to return to the Turnpike. We made a detour of about a hundred miles to get into the neighbouring state of Kansas and then cut south to get back on the proper highway in Oklahoma.

 

Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico we passed in darkness again, the second night of this trip. No more Smokies here. The only danger on these roads seem to be animals crossing, both cattle and wild ones. The road is covered with blood stains everywhere from all the creatures that get run over here all the time. "One cow has enough blood for a mile" comments a trucker dryly over the CB. We ran almost top speed here, but with both hands on the steering wheel, all lights (eight halogen units) on and two eyes wide open. But most of the time made good here we lost in Amarillo, Texas, when the ammeter showed a discharge all the time. With all those lights burning we would never have made it into daylight. So we turned back to the nearest garage for repairs.

 

Even though there were no police chasing the Cannonballers in this area of the Wild West, some of the front runners got into serious trouble anyway.

 

A number of lorry drivers felt annoyed by the bright halogen lights and startled by being passed at such high speed. Over the CB they called ahead to arrange for a rolling road block. Four of the huge transporters drove side by side, wheel hub to hub, at exactly 55 miles per hour to avoid being overtaken by the Jaguar XJS of Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough. "If you try passing us" one of the truckers threatened over the CB, "we will shoot out your lights and run you into the ditch." The Jaguar driver knew how to get out of this bind. He killed his lights and shot by the parallel convoy on the grass of the central reservation!

 

In Arizona the Smokies finally caught up with us. The "wall to wall" surveillance there even resulted in road blocks during the night. They sent back three Cannonballers without any legal reason. We got our "ticket" just a few miles into the state for going "over 65 mph".

 

California seemed to be crawling with Smokies just like Arizona. One police cruiser waiting alongside the freeway set out to escort our red Jensen. It followed a half mile behind at exactly 55 mph. We just rolled along a few miles and made a fast exit at a country road which took us 190 miles across the desert to Palm Springs over some of the most awesome countryside in the world. No highway patrol, not a trace of settlements and very little traffic. So we rolled along at near 140 mph over this bumpy two-lane road and made excellent time.

 

The final dash for Redondo Beach, a Los Angeles suburb, took place on the city expressways. Up to eight lanes in either direction, they wind down the hillsides and into the smog filled Valley of the Angels. There was plenty of room to slalom through the light traffic during this early afternoon hour. Nobody seemed to be bothered by our fast driving and snaky manoeuvres. No Smokies. Only the last few miles were a bit congested. But we found the Portofino Inn all right with the help of a friendly local who ran ahead of us in his Datsun 260Z all the way into the parking lot.

 

Applause from a good sized crowd greeted us, making me believe we did better than the record would show. After punching in the time card, I found out that we did 3,015 miles in 43 hours and 47 minutes with an average speed of 70 mph. That was only good enough for 31st. The winners already had washed their car and stood rested and freshly bathed alongside their Jaguar XJS.

 

Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough both active car racers (Heinz co-drove to fourth overall at Le Mans a few years back) and car dealers, had a smooth, trouble free journey in their Jaguar XJS, establishing much needed proof of its reliability. Except for their run-in with the truckers they had no problems with other traffic or police. Their time: 32 hours and 51 minutes, which figures into an incredible 97.25 mph average.

 

Second place went to a very unprobable team of three intellectuals from Harvard University, Tom Hickey, Al Alden and Mike Snyder, in their very unobtrusive Mercedes Benz 450 SEL 6.9 which crossed the continent only eight minutes slower. Those minutes were lost to credit card companies, as they attempted to use their charge cards to pay for the big amounts of petrol which the 40 gallon fuel cell plus original tank were capable of swallowing.

 

42 of the 46 vehicles started made it to the finish, a nice record of reliability for modern and not so modern cars. The most amazing of them was a 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith which supposedly was all original including her tyres. Only thing to fail was the electric fuel pump.

 

Mr and Mrs Kendall-Lane of the Britannia Chauffeur Service of Mayfair had brought the car over from London replete with professional driver, a tin of tea and a wardrobe of British leisure and formal wear putting to shame everybody in the race. Edwin Harmston, the chauffeur, wore a tuxedo at the very raucous victory banquet. A team of three relief drivers followed the Rolls in a Mercury estate car bought in New York just for the purpose.

 

At the Long Beach Grand Prix that following Sunday, all the Cannonball cars were allowed on the circuit for two parade laps. A hundred thousand spectators applauded and Cannonball accelerator feet started itching. The race management had to send the pace car out to slow us down.

 

The Jaguar, by the way, did not attend the victory parade. As Eoin Young reported in From the Grid recently, Heinz and Yarborough couldn't get any support from BL to enable them to stay over for the parade....

 

 

Motor, 2-6-79

Only seven competitors completed the run without getting a speeding ticket. One got five, another four. All told, Cannonballers picked up around 50 speeding citations. Ex-policeman and past winner Steve 'Yogi' Behr (author of The Ticket book and radar detector manufactures) spent nearly six hours in jail because he contested the 90 mph he was alleged to be doing in his Porsche 928. Reckoned he really was steady at 55 mph at the time.

Pamela Yates, Brock's wife, was the patient "victim" in their spoof ambulance that really did fox smokey. "We flatout bamboozled them", said Yates referring to an incident in New Jersey where they were stopped for doing 100 mph - and quickly waved on again. "If they caught us for impersonating an ambulance, we'd get life." Just in case, they'd taken the precaution of including a real live doctor in the crew.

 

There were several cunning ploys to outsmart the police. A couple of doctors carried a selection of pig's eyes in a box marked "rush to eye bank''; two Hollywood stuntmen, seeking sympathetic treatment, set off on their BMW motorcycle as temporary transvestites with the passenger wearing a blonde wig, falsies and a just married" sign; another crew carried a geiger counter (which they used in Pennsylvania near the overheating power station) in a vehicle marked "US Satellite Detectors: Radiation Beware" (no-one, it seems, took Yates's advice about wearing a lead-lined jockstrap on the Pennsylvania turnpike); one Ferrari had rear lights that could be blacked out "The police could see us coming on their radar but by the time they'd looked up, we'd gone without trace.".

 

The "Friends of OPEC" award went to the 5th-place Chevy truck captained by Dennis Menesini. Dennis the menace, voted the real mad-dog of this year's Cannonball, carried 165 gallons of fuel in a wild pick-up that had already logged 40,000 miles. It averaged 4.7 mpg - and outran a California Highway Patrol at 130 mph! Menesini, who made his mark right at the start by trail-blazing up an earth bank from the Lock Stock and Barrel's back yard straight onto the Freeway, was alleged to have unmercifully jammed the radar of other competitors, including the winning Jaguar.

 

Most popular radar detector used by competitors was the expensive Escort, made by Cincinnati Microwave. Programmable police scanners and police call directories were used by some crews, as well as CB radio. The average cost of car preparation was reckoned to be around £5000.

 

In the five Cannonballs run so far, over 350,000 miles have been covered by 250 drivers in 115 vehicles. No-one has yet been hurt, no non-competing road user has yet been involved in a mishap. "I'll never run the event again if anyone can show me that high-speed driving has a direct relationship to increasing highway deaths", says Yates.

 

Dan Gurney and Brock Yates still hold the record for the "fastest" ticket. In 1971 they were booked for doing 165 mph In their Ferrari. Several drivers claimed they exceeded 150 mph this year, though the winners took it fairly steady, cruising most of the time at 100 mph. They averaged about 12.5 mpg.

 

The most economical car on the Cannon-ball was a Lotus Esprit which was reckoned to have done 28 (US) mpg from coast-to-coast. Not even the Mercedes diesel could match that, though the Turbo Merc finished well up in 9th place with a time of 36 hours 19 minutes. Who said diesels were slow?

 

 

Eoin Young, 'From The Grid', Autocar 79

WHEN YOU THINK of the small fortune that British Leyland spent on trying to build a performance image in Europe through the corporate competition programme with the XJ12 coupe, it seems a little incongruous that the company should be saddled with a major racing success that they (a) can't capitalise on and (b) categorically refuse to acknowledge. An XJS V1 2 Jaguar driven by Leyland dealers from Tampa in Florida won the Cannon Ball Baker Sea to Shining Sea coast to coast 3,000 mile trophy dash in just 32 hours and 51 minutes. The previous record was held by Dan Gurney and journalist Brock Yates at an average of 81 mph in a Daytona Ferrari in 1971, although they admittedly ran through six hours of snow that year. The XJS has been bedeviled by problems of unreliability in the USA so perhaps the Corporation could be forgiven their official misgivings about being involved, but I gather that when the XJS had not only stayed in one piece but set a new and gloriously unofficial speed record, the Corporation refused to provide anything in the way of assistance to the crew when they wondered if some support might be forthcoming to enable them to stay over for the victory parade of cars before the Grand Prix at Long Beach. Result: no XJS in the parade. The Corporation will surely plead that the Cannon Ball run has always been beyond the pale of legal competition and therefore they cannot be overtly involved in support, but you would have thought that a little encouragement for what could turn out to be British Leyland's biggest triumph of performance and reliability in years would not have come amiss. A typically American footnote is that the 6.9 Mercedes that finished second only eight minutes behind could have won if they had paid for the petrol with cash instead of waiting for payment by credit card across the country..."

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From: http://www.stripersonline.com/surfta...d.php?t=425083

 

 

I have just the event for him.

 

'Duck - here comes the Cannonball!' by Gero Hoschek, Detroit

 

Autocar 5-5-79

 

ON APRIL FOOL'S DAY 1979 the fourth "Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash" ran from New York to Los Angeles. .."

 

That's what one gets for Googling! Find permanent records of past transgressions....

 

 

In any case, nice to read my old work again. This brings back great memories. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat but grinning because I dreamed again about that adventure!

 

 

But would someone please edit this post to credit little me, the author, who was the Autocar Detroit, USA correspondent in those years:

 

Dr Gero Hoschek.

 

 

PS: IM me if you have a link to a reproduction of that article. Would like to download it with photos.

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Where did Burt, Farah, & Dom finish?

 

They were excused from the active participation but were at the finish in Redondo Bch if I remember right. Linda Vaughn, also shown in the film (the big-boob race queen), sure was. In any case their actual movie vehicle (fake Dodge ambulance) was running in the race with Hal Needham (the film's director) and Brock Yates (famed US auto journalist and its screenwriter) driving, and buxom Pamela Yates (played in the film by Farrah F) acting as the 'patient' with 'cysts on her lungs', the diagnosis given to inquisitive cops by the certified doctor on board (I kid you not).

 

 

 

But it DNF due to tranny problems and arrived at Redondo Beach's Portofino Inn in King Harbor on a flat bed truck, just like in the film. A lot of the characters in the film were caricatures of actual race participants (including my humble self) and many of the adventures and locations immortilized on film were factual, even some of the dialog, like Yates' (playing himself) speech at the start. The girls in the Lambo Countach were pure fiction though. Rent the DVD "Cannonball Run" sometime. Sure a more exiting road movie than, say, "Rainman".

 

 

 

There is a list of actual finishers of all Cannonball races somewhere on the 'net. Try Googling "Zoeltner, Andy"

 

Dr Gero Hoschek, Cannonball participant in 1979 and proud of it!

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This is what happens to a Ferrari Enzo:

 

 

 

ferrari_enzo_crash_005.jpg

 

 

 

ferrari_enzo_crash_006.jpg

 

 

 

ferrari_enzo_crash_003.jpg

 

 

 

Also the Cannonball is still being run.

 

Only now with pretty toys like Ducatis and Porsche 911 GT2's that have been tuned. (There's a cute video on the web of a bunch of kids trying to keep up with a GT2 and then getting stomped. Along with some Euro Canonball footage of an Audi RS4 blowing the doors off a BWM M5.)

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.... Along with some Euro Canonball footage of an Audi RS4 blowing the doors off a BWM M5.)

 

 

Sorry - a stock RS4 does not blow the doors off a stock M5. Unless, the M5 is E34 or E28 1994>1988.

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Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico we passed in darkness again, the second night of this trip. No more Smokies here. The only danger on these roads seem to be animals crossing, both cattle and wild ones. The road is covered with blood stains everywhere from all the creatures that get run over here all the time. "One cow has enough blood for a mile"

 

cwm31.gif

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