The Cannonball record is not broken all that often. The recent 103mph average speed effort set with a modified Mercedes E63 was the fastest the New York to Los Angeles coast-to-coast trip had been undertaken since Ed Bolian and Dave Maher’s run in 2013, which itself beat a record set by Alex Roy and Maher way back in 2006.
However, Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt’s 27-hour and 25-minute blast from last November has already fallen. And it’s been done amidst even more controversial circumstances than usual, with the drivers taking advantage of the quiet roads caused by the USA’s partial Coronavirus lockdown.
Around 4 April an unknown team of drivers in an Audi A8L - fitted with additional fuel tanks in the boot - completed the 2826-mile dash in 26 hours and 38 minutes. This took 45 minutes out of Toman and Tabbutt’s time while increasing the average speed from 103 to 106mph. Ed Bolian and Alex Roy say they have seen footage of the endeavour and can confirm the so far anonymous claim is genuine.
However many precautions are taken, driving at the sustained high speeds necessary to challenge the record inherently involves risk. The drastic reduction in traffic this time could have - in theory - made the run safer, but at a time when the emergency services are already stretched dealing with a pandemic, this record brings with it a whole new set of moral questions.
“Most of us [Cannonballers] have decided that this was not the time to pursue something like that,” Ed Bolian said, albeit admitting, “Of course, that doesn’t give me the grounds to condemn a drive like that - I get the hypocrisy…just because their brand of law-breaking is different than mine”. Bolian also raised a point about fairness for previous record-holders and those who may attempt to break it in the future, suggesting the environment used for this run could be compared to doping in sports.
Meanwhile, NBC News quotes Alex Roy as saying, “A run now brings with it the unknown…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.”
The high-speed tradition of the Cannonball run has its roots in an 11-day coast-to-coast motorbike road trip by Erwin Baker in 1915. He trimmed that down on four wheels in 1933 to 53 and a half hours, setting a record that remained unbroken for 40 years.
The 1970s was the decade the idea was cemented into car culture, with motoring journalist Brock Yates founding the ‘Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash’ as a protest against the strict speed limits being introduced at the time. It inspired a film and multiple generations of drivers who sought to hold the record themselves.