'Cannonball' coast-to-coast drive record set amid virus shutdown

The team is said to have used a late model Audi A8 L to make the run in 26 hours, 38 minutes, beating a record of 27 hours, 25 minutes set late last year.
Atlanta car enthusiast Ed Bolian, who set a record in 2013 by reaching speeds of up to 158 mph in his coast-to-coast "Cannonball Run."
Atlanta car enthusiast Ed Bolian, who set a record in 2013 by reaching speeds of up to 158 mph in his coast-to-coast "Cannonball Run."

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By Dennis Romero

The tradition of dangerous, coast-to-coast driving record attempts has its most visible roots in the 1970s' Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, presented as a drunken, fraternizing party on loud, colorful wheels in the 1981 comedy "Cannonball Run."

A team of three anonymous people is believed to have taken the sport to the other extreme by using a relatively low-profile, unmarked, family-size sedan and taking advantage of freeways emptied by the coronavirus. They set what is believed to be a new transcontinental record of 26 hours, 38 minutes.

Not everyone is impressed.

Alex Roy, host of the No Parking Podcast and 2006 transcontinental record holder, says the latest run, reported to have taken place April 4 but which was revealed only in recent days, was irresponsible given the intent of stay-at-home orders across the country to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"These things are always irresponsible," Roy said. "The consequences now are very different. Any other time if one arrives safely, no harm, no foul — in theory. Morally questionable? For sure.

"A run now brings with it the unknown," he continued. "Did I touch a fuel pump, did I transmit the virus, did I contribute to the problem in an immeasurable way? Once you enter into the zone of doing such a thing today, one can never know if you can say no harm, no foul."

Atlanta car enthusiast Ed Bolian, who says he has seen documentation of the run and has therefore become the main source of news for the new record claim, says another asterisk for the coast-to-coast drive is that it was done amid an unprecedented lack of traffic. Is that fair?

"It certainly counts," he says. "It’s not as though they didn’t do it. Does that remain the mark to beat for the future pursuit of cannonballing?"

Bolian, who set a record in 2013 by reaching speeds of up to 158 mph in a 2004 Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG, said in a March 24 video on his Vinwiki YouTube channel that the national shutdown would be "the perfect time to go out and try to set the Cannonball record."

He said Saturday that multiple teams have attempted to set a new record amid stay-at-home orders.

Nearly a month before the Chinese government acknowledged the virus in late December, a trio in a 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan set the last record, this one going from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan to the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, California, which is the traditional Cannonball start and finish, in 27 hours, 25 minutes.

Arne Toman, Doug Tabbutt and Berkeley Chadwick appeared to borrow a page from Bolian by using a relatively plain-Jane vehicle. They also used GPS devices, radios, scanners, binoculars, custom gas tanks and an array of volunteer "spotters" to avoid unnecessary police or refueling stops.

The latest record was made in another "sleeper," a 2019 Audi A8 L, Bolian said. No stripes and no stickers for this car, he said.

"The days of flashy sports cars are probably gone with '80s," Bolian said.

He said he knows the members of the crew, but they want to remain anonymous for fear of being ostracized.

"Everybody understands if you became known for an attempt in this climate you would become the poster child for violating stay-in-place in orders," he said.