Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Road Race
by Brock Yates
287 pages, $14.95
Motorbooks International, copyright 2003
by Sev Pearman
This book is for everyone too young to have lived in the 70s or for those who claim that the “Me!” decade was a cultural wasteland. Despite Watergate, Pet Rocks and the rise of the mullet, the 70s also saw the birth and death of the Cannonball Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. We know it today as the Cannonball Run.
The Cannonball is simply an open race to get from the Red Ball Garage in New York City to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach in the shortest elapsed time. Rules? The only rule was that there were no rules. Illegal racetrack motors, exhaust and tires; extra fuel cells, new-at-the-time radar detectors, CB radios, ruses, lies and downright balls were some of the tricks used by drivers in the four official Cannonballs.
Mr. Yates is the former editor of Car & Driver. He cooked up the idea on a whim, feeling hecould beat a documented time of 48 hours. His first shakedown run was in a ’71 Dodge van with 360 cu in V-8 dubbed “Moon Trash.” This attempt netted a total elapsed time of 40 hours, 51 minutes. He wrote his experience into his column, demonstrating that US highways were capable of safe higher speeds.
Yates’ exploit netted public outcry and interest. The offices of Car and Driver were flooded with letters of people wanting to know when he would do it again. In the fall of 1971, eight teams left New York including three vans and one motor home. The winning team of Author Yates and racer Dan Gurney drove a Ferrari Daytona to victory with a time of 35 hours, 53 minutes.
The die was cast. This book is filled with individual accounts of combatants from all four Cannonballs. You’ll read about exotic Porsches, Ferraris and Panteras. The Z-28, Gran Torino, GT 350 Mustang and Trans Am represent American Muscle. Motorcycles are represented by one team that relayed drivers pony-express style on a ’79 GS 850 Suzuki and stuntmen Loyal Truesdale and Keith Patchett attempt at a non-stop(!) run on a box-stock BMW R-90S.
The most entertaining accounts come from drivers of oddball vehicles including a Citroën DS, Volvo 164, Chevy El Camino and AMC Hornet. Despite a field full of race-prepped exotics, the 5th place trophy in 1979 went to the team driving a ’79 Chevy 1-ton Dually with a time of 34 hours, 52 minutes. Their consumption of 590 gallons of gas earned them the additional “Friends of OPEC” prize.
Perfect and hilarious, Cannonball! is a rare history that documents good men fighting the good fight. Special to this review, Brock Yates’ Cannonball! runs on eight out of eight supercharged, four-valve, high-compression cylinders.
What’s a Ferrari? – Excellent history of valiant road warriors
Walter Mittyvan – You’ll wish you were there.
Rider – Mandatory reading despite little motorcycle-specific content.