The rearview mirror: a corny movie and a real race

Car & Driver cover photo of the drivers and their cars that competed in the 1975 Cannonball Run.

Cannonball Run: a corny movie about a legendary race. Raced four times between 1971 and 1979, this week in 1975 the third race was won by Jack May and Rick Cline in their Ferrari Dino 246 GTS, in 35 hours and 53 minutes, breaking the record by one minute.

While the real race died with its creator, the legendary Brock Yates, editor of Car & Driver magazine, many tried to revive it. However, there was only one “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash”, its name comes from Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, who set 143 off-road driving records between 1915 and 1933.

“Every motoring competition in the world is cluttered with a confusing heap of rules,” Yates wrote in 1971. “The Cannonball Baker had only one – All competitors will drive the vehicle of their choice, on any route, at whatever speed they deem practical, between the starting point and the destination.The competitor who finishes with the lowest elapsed time is the winner.

There was no cash prize; only the SK “Nutmaster” trophy – a free-form sculpture of wrenches, hammers and pliers made and donated by the SK Tool Company.

Brock Yates, who founded “The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash”. Photo credit: Car & Driver

Why the Third Race Matters

For fans of the fast and furious lifestyle, racing has become legendary. Yet the third race is significant for a reason: It’s the only one recorded for posterity by one of its driving teams: retired US Army Colonel Jim Atwell and Porsche Checkered Flag salesman Chick Stanton. , both of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

They knew about the event, held in 1971 and 1972. But Yates, who decided who would participate, suspended the race in 1973 due to the Arab oil embargo, and again in 1974 due of the speed enactment of 55 mph. limit.

That didn’t stop Atwell and Stanton, who train from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan, where the race begins, to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif., where it ends, taking meticulous notes in a ledger accounting.

Rushing coast to coast in 36 hours and 6 minutes, 12 minutes shy of Cannonball’s record, they earned a coveted spot in the next race, run in 1975.

To give himself the best chance of winning, Atwell got himself a new 1975 Porsche 911 Carrera. He also borrows his daughter Craig’s portable tape recorder to record their race. It remains the only live recording of the original race.

The starting line

Porsche salesman Chick Stanton, left, and retired US Army Colonel Jim Atwell before running the 1975 Cannonball Run.

Competitors could leave at any time during the start date. As the pair wait to begin, Atwell turns to his driving partner. “We’re going to catch Yates between here and Columbus,” he said on the recording.

“Okay, the stamp is on,” Stanton said as a Cannonball sticker is affixed to the windshield. “It’s Jim, let’s go.”

The tires squeal, the engine revs, the pulse races, the roar of the Porsche echoes throughout the garage as Atwell and Stanton find their way down the street. They make the first traffic light.

Man proposes, God disposes

However lucky, the pair had faded as they reached Pennsylvania. “The weather has been rough as hell,” Atwell says. “Lots of rain, scud, ground fog; and the fields are flooded on both sides of the road.

Compared to their 1973 race, they are already running slower. The rain lingered all the way to the Midwest, intensifying the pressure from the din of Citizens Band radio, radar detector and the non-stop cacophony of engine drone, road noise and Porsche exhaust barking.

Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, right, with his riding mechanic. Baker, after whom the race is named, set 143 off-road driving records between 1915 and 1933.

“While CB radio is a great warning device, it’s a pain to have to listen to it constantly,” says Atwell. “We’re both going to be deaf by the time we get to LA.”

What the cannonball needs

It’s hard to overstate the challenge of participating in The Cannonball Run. Drivers had to maintain a high speed while eating, drinking or sleeping little. They had to have several driver’s licenses, in case they were arrested and their license taken. And in a time before ATMs, they had to carry thousands of dollars in cash to pay for the resulting speeding tickets. Two other runners had already been caught.

“And now we’re tiptoeing out of Oklahoma,” growls Stanton, slowing to 75 mph.

“We try to behave long enough to get out of this state,” Atwell says.

Jack May and Rick Cline, winners of the 1975 Cannonball Run.

“It’s not easy when you’ve been like this for 10 hours,” Stanton replies with a laugh.

Get closer to a legend

“We went through every state with no difficulty,” Atwell said, noting that 911 made it easier. Being a Porsche, it is designed for endurance racing. That, and some luck, found them in California without the major problems that had plagued other Cannonball participants.

“We didn’t have to hit the brakes hard, slow the car down hard or swerve to avoid anyone; we haven’t even had a near miss with any guy,” Atwell said. “It was a very smooth and uneventful trip.”

“It was fun,” Stanton said as the pair reached the Portofino in 38 hours and 58 minutes. With an average of 74.5 mph, they rank 7th out of 18 cars. Among those who had also run the race was Bill Warner, founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, driving with experienced racer and IMSA veteran Tom Nehl. But the winners are Jack May and Rick Cline driving a Ferrari Dino 246 GTS across the country in 35 hours and 53 minutes, beating the record held by Gurney and Yates.

“It was over,” Yates wrote at the time. “The Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash had entered the annals of sporting detail, leaving future generations to decide what, if anything, it meant.”