The Last Run Of The 2904!
After pictures and breakfast in Dumbo, Brooklyn on Saturday morning, we headed to the Red Ball to park the car again and watch the first contestants punch the clock and leave for San Francisco. The first wave of cars left so we finished some final preparations and killed time until our allotted start time. As the departure time approached we all took a walk down 31st street to investigate the traffic down to the Lincoln Tunnel feeder ramp. Things looked relatively clear and we decided the straight shot down the narrow one lane road was better than trying to fight with the more crowded 34th street route, even with it’s dedicated bus lane we could have used if necessary.
The Goal – Beat Richard Rawlings
The last thing I told the guys before we headed out was my time goal. I wanted to beat Richard Rawlings & Dennis Collins NY to CA time of 31 hours 59 minutes set in their Ferrari 550 Maranello back in 2006. Should we achieve this, it would also make us the fastest car to ever go coast to coast in a Cannonball-type competition. The only problem was this years route was 100 miles longer because it was going to San Francisco. I knew it was a lofty goal but one I really needed to shoot for. From my calculations it would require an overall average speed of 91-92 mph including our 3 planned fuel stops and driver changes along the route. No easy feat for sure, even harder in a crappy old Ford.
The Race Is On
At 8 pm I punched the Red Ball clock and ran out to the car like so many Cannonballers have done in the past. Miles would be driving the first leg as he had in 2015 and I would be navigating and spotting. Syed was going to sit in the back and get his first taste of what Cannonballing was really like. I jumped in the passenger seat and we were off!
As we made our way down 31st traffic was heavier than anticipated. Manhattan traffic is hard to predict and it was much worse than when we scouted it out an hour earlier. We pushed our way through traffic some, ran a couple stale lights and managed to hit the New Jersey border in 19 minutes.
New Jersey traffic was thick but Miles made quick work of it carefully making moves that were aggressive but not unsafe. Once traffic lightened up, Miles flipped off the brake lights so should I call out any potential Police ahead, he could get the car slowed down without the officer noticing.
Our Escort In Pennsylvania
About mid-way through New Jersey I messaged my friend Matt Happel of Sloppy Mechanics fame who was waiting in Eastern PA. The plan was to have him scouting ahead of us with reports of Police, construction and traffic conditions. He was watching our progress over the Glympse app and was waiting near the I-480 interchange. I gave him the go ahead to get moving and suggested he run with the speed of traffic and give us updates as he went.
Once we hit the Pennsylvania border things opened up and even with some construction zones we closed the gap on Matt and his wife Jaimie quickly. Things were all clear and as we got close he turned on his hazard lights so we knew which car he was ahead. We took the opportunity to give him a real show as we blasted past at 130 mph and continued on alone into the night. As a funny side note, I talk to Matt all of the time but this was the first time we “met” in person. I’m not making this stuff up.
Miles tore it up and had managed a 103 mph border to border average by the time we hit Ohio. VERY impressive given the stints of construction and the hilly, curvy roads in the state. In fact, this average speed was almost identical to what Ed Bolian and Dave Black had done on both their overall record Cannonball record of 28:50 from 2013. The CL55 AMG he was driving on that run was far more capable than our old Ford. We were FLYING.
Time To Put My Super-Spotter Skills To The Test
We reached Ohio at 4:00am. Reports of heavy police presence and people getting pulled over along the route on the group chat had us on a heightened state of alert. Miles decided he wanted to take a break and catch some sleep, so we needed to change drivers. Since my biggest strength lies in Police spotting, I decided to stay in the passenger seat. Syed slipped behind the wheel for his first Cannonballing experience. By this time he saw how things worked and was quickly driving like a professional speeder.
As we cautiously made our way across the most heavily patrolled part of the interstate in the country, I was vigilant in my spotting and ended up with 4-5 saves. We had 2 laser encounters in which I saw the Police beforehand and Syed was able to get his speed under control before getting nailed. We exited the state with a 95mph border to border average.
Upping The Average
Indiana came and went with a 99mph average. Syed was doing great and enjoying his time behind the wheel so we decided to keep him going to our first fuel stop in Ottawa IL. Miles’ brother Jake was slated to start scouting for us in Gary Indiana just before the border but we were moving so quickly he was only able to make it to the Lincoln Oasis in South Holland IL. before having to turn around and start scouting for us.
Calamity Afoot On The 2904
The reports from the rest of the field were endlessly entertaining and a reminder of the fragility of these cars. Ed’s limo’s fuel gauge had stopped working and they ran out of gas three times due to quickly declining fuel economy. The Pro-Touring Monte Carlo had blown a transmission and the Lincoln Mark VIII had hit a deer. Both teams with sidelined cars had rented Hyundai’s and were continuing on toward California.
A Little Silver Surprise
Jake had spotted an Illinois Trooper in the median but other than that things were clear. Syed was cruising in the left lane in the 110-120 mph area making great time when we got a little surprise. Out of nowhere, Yumi and his wife in their Toyota Celica appeared and were almost in the back seat of our car! Man was did this wake us up. Apparently we had passed them while they made their first gas stop to fill their car and 30 gallon fuel cell. Later we would find out he had been watching our live feed on Glympse and held his car topped out at 123 mph in an effort to catch us.
Syed leaned on the throttle picking up the pace and we watched them fade away as we neared Jake up ahead and our gas stop. Little did we know this would be one of many encounters we would have with Yumi along the route. We then passed Jake and he began pursuit of us to the gas station. His modified Mitsubishi Galant VR4 should’ve easily been up to the task of following our old Crown Vic but he quickly reported he thought the turbo had blown so hopefully he would be able to at least nurse it to the gas station in order to see us off.
BAD Fuel Economy
As we neared the gas station the fuel light came on. This was our longest stint between fuel stops, 850 miles, but still it indicated we were really going hard. I was thankful I took the conservative route and went with the 3 stop fuel plan over the 2 stop plan I had considered!
Syed got us down to the gas station and we began the first fuel stop fire drill. Syed jumped out and headed to the bathroom first and to grab more ice for the cooler. I grabbed both sides of the fuel nozzles and got them both inserted into the fuel cell. Miles cleaned the windshield, checked the oil and tires. While that was happening Jake and Shana skidded to a stop next to us. When Syed returned Miles and I ran to the bathroom and back to the car and we returned to the interstate.
Syed was feeling good and decided to get behind the wheel and finish half of the night time driving and I would pick up the second half and cover the state of Iowa since Syed had some potential outstanding issues with the state which could be troublesome should he get pulled over. As we pulled out of the gas station I calculated our fuel economy at 12mpg. This was 2 mpg WORSE than the lowest mpg we had in 2015. I could tell from this information just how hard we were going!
Our First Time Vampire
As we blasted down the on-ramp and got right back up to speed. As we neared the first car out on the desolate road, I identified it as a Tahoe so we slowed the pace. As we got closer I realized it was a cop for sure so we stayed back and paced him from about 1000’ back. This was a real bummer because our next scout in Illinois, Jordan, was reporting heavy rain coming, which would further slow down our pace. We painfully drove the speed limit for the next 20 miles before the officer exited. A short time later it began to rain heavily and we made slow progress catching up to Jordan who was sitting waiting for us just across the Iowa border.
Rain, Rain Go Away
Since it was raining, our speed was slow and Syed kept driving until we found a rest stop to take a quick bathroom break. Syed was getting fatigued and needed a break so I hopped in for the rest of the overnight shift. Holding around 95-100 I made slow progress, eagerly awaiting Des Moines where things were drying up. As the roads got dry, my speeds increased significantly as the sun came up Sunday morning. With daylight upon us, I raised my cruising speeds up to a consistent 110-120 mph. With Miles spotting, we made quick work of the hilly, but straight, Iowa terrain.
Dropping The Hammer in Nebraska
When we got into Nebraska I really got things going. 130-140 mph were common in the open stretches between packs of cars and trucks. I also increased my passing speeds and we started to hear chatter from the truckers on the CB. Apparently we weren’t fooling everyone. We had a good laugh because if they only knew what we were up to… I took this as a hint of the threshold these truckers had to my passing speeds. For the rest of my time I backed it down a bit when passing them to hopefully avoid any issues with us getting called in.
We made up a lot of ground on my 600 mile shift and our overall average speed reached 90+mph. I got us to the second fuel stop in Big Springs Nebraska for another quick gas station fire drill.
Heavy Winds Slow Down The Pace
As we neared the Wyoming border I got ahold of our last scout of the trip. I had my friend Travis from Denver staged East of Cheyenne ready to lead us through the Eastern part of the state. He was reporting some construction and traffic but worst of all very high winds which were making the roads a bit treacherous. When we reached the border we realized what we were up against. 60mph gusts made it hard to hold anything more than 95-100mph. The construction and traffic also slowed us down making it quite a while before we reached Travis and his wife who were driving the speed limit up ahead. As we passed they took pictures and followed us for a while before turning around and heading home.
More Time Vampires
As we reached the midpoint of Wyoming things got even worse. We came up on the back door of a Wyoming Trooper in his Dodge Charger. He was driving below the posted speed limit and we got stuck behind him for the next 100 miles!. It was definitely the most agonizing experience as we watched the overall average speed taper off for the next hour and 15 minutes. I took the opportunity to catch a little nap in the front seat as Syed carefully kept his distance.
When the Trooper finally exited, things did not get much better. The winds were still terrible and then we saw alerts of low visibility from a wildfire. Great.
Making Up Time In Utah
Once we finally reached Utah we were ready to get on the West side of Salt Lake City where the roads were straight and flat. A quick last fuel stop in Park City Utah put Miles behind the wheel to make up some time. As we rode along I-80 next to the Great Salt Lake it was surreal. Miles held the car at 130 mph (the highest speed we could attain with the torque converter still in lock-up) for over an hour. Our overall average began to quickly rise as the miles clicked by. Miles made up similar time in Nevada and up to the California border.
It was at this point I realized we had a shot at a 31 hour time. Leading up to this, I had figured on somewhere in the 33’s. It was also around this time the organizer messaged the teams letting us know it was time to take it easy and just make sure our old cars made it to the finish. He said after 24 hours of going hard, no one was going to make any significant improvement to their overall average speed. While I wasn’t planning to do anything risky, taking it easy wasn’t going to happen…
Miles was getting tired and understandably slowing down his pace as we neared the California border. I instructed him to pull over and I hopped behind the wheel of the P-71 Blackturd for the last leg through California and into San Francisco.
The Last Push For A Coast To Coast Record
As I descended the curving roads down through the mountains for the next 90 miles, I ran with the brake lights off to avoid appearing to be going too fast. When available I took up both lanes of traffic trying to get down to flat ground as fast as possible because the time credits Miles had made were dwindling back down due to the tight and winding mountain roads.
Once I got to the straight and flatter roads it was ON. Traffic was light to moderate and I carefully weaved my way through with Miles on the lookout through the binoculars. He masterfully called out potential Police cars over a quarter mile out. As I got these reports I’d ease up to the threat, we’d make sure it wasn’t law enforcement and continue on with the hammer down. He also warned me that he felt the transmission was feeling kind of funny when up-shifting into overdrive under wide open throttle. Much to his dismay, I ignored him and kept the go-pedal down!
We operated with military-like accuracy. We were on a mission for that 31 hour mark.
A Little Encounter With The Law
I quickly reached San Francisco and we were on track for a 31:45 time, pending traffic or problems. The road was up to 6 lanes wide now giving me lots of room to get around the increasing Bay Area overnight traffic. It was at this point I met a near disaster.
Running with the brake lights off thankfully, I noticed a Ford Explorer entering the road from a bridge service area on the left. I quickly got the car slowed down and composed but this Explorer was weaving in and out of traffic from behind. My heart sank as he rode up my back door hard. He sat close behind us for quite a while and I was sweating. Did they get a call about me as I blasted into town? If we got pulled over would I still make the 31 hour mark?
After what seemed like an eternity, the CHP officer pulled up to my left door, looked over, nodded and drove off! Oh my that was CLOSE! Thankfully he exited shortly after and I made a last push across the Bay Bridge and off onto the surface streets of San Francisco.
It was now 12:30am and there was hardly any traffic in sight. I’d pull up to a red light, look for any cars and roll right on through. Quickly yet carefully I made my way through town and up the rough streets to the Coit Tower where we would jump out and take a picture of the car. The timestamp of the picture and the time posted to the group would mark our finish time. As we skidded to a stop I jumped out of the car for the picture, Miles hit stop on the timer and it was over.
A New Record Time For A Competitive Cannonball-Style Event!
Our time? 31 hours, 45 minutes. 2916 miles coast to coast from New York City to San Francisco. 95mph moving average and an overall average speed (including 60 minutes of being stopped) of 92mph!
For my dad.
For my team.
We had done it. We won the very last The 2904 event AND set a new coast to coast record for a Cannonball-style competition! Second place came in with a time 2 hours behind us. 3rd place at 4 hours. We had won by a landslide closing out this chapter of Cannonball history.
But What Does This All Mean?
In a few months we will be 40 years removed from Brock Yates final Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Since then we have seen the variety of interpretation and personal attachment to the idea.
Cannonball was Genesis.
The US Express was all seriousness.
One Lap of America was a test of the cars and drivers.
The movies were all entertainment.
The Gumball 3000 and goldRush Rally are exotic cars and crazy parties.
Adventure Drives are a way to see the world via asphalt.
Bolian & Roy found a way to pay tribute and define themselves across a seemingly impossible task.
I wanted something more. I wanted to build the best car I could. I wanted to line up against the best. I wanted to feel the presence of competitive cars on the road. I wanted to strategize within a framework. I wanted to go fast but I also wanted to win. As I sit here reliving the most amazing 31.75 hours of my life and reminisce on the relationships, the significance, the setbacks, and the wide open throttle over miles of tarmac that led me here; I feel it all just wash over me.
A Lifetime Goal Achieved
I have done, and will continue to do, countless interesting things in cars. From the World’s Fastest Hearse, to an A-Team Van, to a Bluesmobile, to exotic cars, to an ex-cop/taxi/Cannonball car. For all the miles, all the memories, and all the destinations – pulling that car up to Coit Tower as the finish line of this race – that was it. One of the experiences that delivered everything I wanted, all I hoped it could be. Just what I needed during a year that has held more change and personal growth than I ever imagined could happen at my age.
I am blessed beyond measure to serve a God that lets us do crazy things like this and blessed to enjoy a win like this when we need it the most. Thank you to everyone who helped us along the way and made this possible for me. I love you all.
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