Modern Living: The Cannonball Dash

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One sunny morning last week, 2,890 miles, 35 hr. 53 min., and one $250 traffic ticket away from East Side Manhattan's Red Ball Garage, Rick Cline and Jack May parked their pockmarked white Ferrari Dino in front of the Portofino Inn in Southern California's Redondo Beach. Having shaved one minute from the previous transcontinental record, the partners became undisputed holders of the 1975 Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

The Cannonball what? Unsponsored, illicit, and carrying no prize money, the Cannonball etc. car race does not exactly compete in the public imagination with the Indy 500 or Le Mans. Yet, among dedicated speed freaks, the nontelevised non-spectacular has become something of a legend in the five tenuous years of its existence.

There are no rules in the Cannonball. Anyone is eligible to compete, in any land-based vehicle of any shape or size, at any speed. "God," sighs Brock Yates, senior editor of Car and Driver and one of Cannonball's founders, "the anarchistic barbarity of it all!"

Rabbit Hazard. In fact, the 18 finishers in last week's marathon, as well as many other racing aficionados worldwide, stoutly believe that the Atlantic-Pacific dash represents a blow for sanity; after all, the Interstate Highway system was designed for 70 m.p.h. travel and was later limited to maximum speeds of 55 m.p.h. Likening the speed curb to Prohibition, "which made criminals of us all," the ebullient Yates, who pooh-poohs the energy crisis, reasons that speed limits are "at best hypocritical, at the worst specious." In the spirit of Erwin George ("Cannonball") Baker, a fabled driver who made it crosscountry in the late '20s in 60 hours, last week's participants made no public nuisance of themselves, suffered no loss of life or limb, and racked up a total of only twelve tickets. To Winner Cline, the worst hazards after rain and a sandstorm were unwary rabbits. "I got one at 130 m.p.h., and another at 140 m.p.h., but it was the one at San Bernardino that did us in," he said, pointing to a cottontail crater on the Ferrari's fender.

First to arrive at the Portofino last week was a '73 Dodge Challenger driven by 1971 Winner Yates and fellow New Yorker Steve Behr. The Dodge was the first car to leave Manhattan, got lost south of Flagstaff, Ariz., and placed third with an elapsed time of 38 hr. 3 min. Blaming the loss on an ill-chosen shortcut, Yates complained: "I think we hit every state coming across except Alaska and Utah. And that road looked so good on the map."

Like most other entries, the winning cars had been fitted out with ultrabright driving lights, auxiliary fuel tanks, Scheel seats, heavy-duty shock absorbers, wide tires, Snooper units designed to pick up police radar and Citizen Band radio sets on which the drivers got warning of highway patrol cars ("Smokey Bears") from friendly truckers ahead. "The cops are really starting to get tricky," said Wes Dawn, 31, a professional racing driver from Los Angeles, who wheeled his Mercedes 4505L into the Portofino lot five minutes after the winner. "In Ohio the police all have C.B. radios in their cars—when you ask if the road ahead is clear, they'll give you the all-clear. Ohio is wall-to-wall Smokey Bears."

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