Monday, September 13, 2010

The Cannonball Run, Real and Imagined

Cannonball runs are best left to car drivers, not motorcycles. That's because a cannonball run is too long for one driver to finish without sleeping. With a car or truck you are allowed to bring along a spare driver to go through the night. Of course this is allowed on a motorcycle too, but it is impractical for a second driver to sleep on a motorcycle. Although no doubt it's been done by somebody.

November 15, 1971, was the start of the first real Cannonball Run, a technically illegal coast-to-coast race dreamed up and made into reality by Brock Yates, the editor of Car and Driver Magazine. Brock and Dan Gurney (a race driver) won the first race in Ferrari Daytona with a time of 35 hours and 54 minutes, averaging 130 kph, and as Dan Gurney said "At no time did we exceed 175 mph."

There were several movies made based on the Cannonball Run. The first ones were "Cannonball!" in 1976 starring David Carradine, "Gumball Rally" with Gary Busey also in '76, and probably the best, which was "Cannonball Run" 1981 with Burt Reynolds.

In his August 1976 review of "Cannonball!", Roger Ebert made the comment that "If we can get Burt Reynolds into a Trans-Am with the devil in the back seat, we've got a winner on our hands." Although he probably knew that "Smokey and the Bandit" was coming out the next year, he could not have known that Burt Reynolds would star in the 1981 movie "Cannonball Run". But it made sense.

To me, the appeal of these movies is simply this: I have done 8 cross country one way runs by motorcycle, 7 more by car, 2 by motor home, and that's how I would want to drive if there were no cops on the road, and no family in the car. I am not condoning driving at illegal speeds, or driving until you fall asleep. But if there were no speed limits, I would often drive faster than what the current limits are. And at times, when I was on my own, and younger, I have driven over a thousand miles without stopping for a motel, just sleeping on rocks and picnic tables.

I can relate personally to one aspect of the Cannonball run. One of my favourite motorcycle trips roughly followed the Cannonball run, but not on purpose. A friend of mine had a friend who had moved to Redondo Beach California, and was living aboard his yacht in the marina. Unknown to us at the time, this marina was the location of the Portofino Inn, which was the actual finish line of the Cannonball Run. We made the trip there and back on two motorcycles in 9 days. The distance of the Cannonball Run was 4,608 km., starting in New York. Kitchener to Redondo Beach, California is 4166 km, which is not much less. We also came back, which I suppose, to be fair, a lot of Cannonballers did too.

We were both riding "six bangers", a 6 cylinder Kawasaki Touring bike, and I was riding a Honda CBX. He brought along a radar detector, as I guess he expected we may be exceeding the 55 mph speed limit from time to time. I'm not sure the radar detector was any real use, but we didn't actually get a speeding ticket. On the other hand, once we drove for about 50 kilometers in the middle of a desert, at a painfully slow 55 mph because the radar detector was buzzing like crazy. Finally I saw what was causing the detector to go insane. The road went right through the VLA radio telescopes 80 km west of Socorro, New Mexico.

During the planning stage of the trip, I just happened to see the movie "Earth Girls Are Easy", a parody of Southern California culture. In the movie was a rendition of the old song "Route 66". This song inspired me to change our route a little to look for the old Route 66, which used to be the first paved cross country road. On our trip, as we struggled to look for signs of the old Route 66, several locals told us that there were people trying to revive the old highway as a historical road. I guess by the mid nineties, this had been accomplished, and now you can find signs all over the place leading you to sections of old Route 66 that are now being preserved.

Here is part 9 of the movie Earth Girls are Easy. "Route 66" by Depeche Mode, starts at 7:24.

By way of explanation for the strange behaviour in this clip, Jim Carrey is playing the role of a shaved Martian. If you are curious, the rest of the movie is on youtube.

Picture 1: Poster of the movie
Picture 2: The Very Large Array (VLA) telescopes.


  1. I must have ESP. There is motorcycle cannonball going on right now that I just found out about. It's a coast to coast for vintage bikes:

    Cannonball Official Website
    Page 1/3 pics of the ancient bikes from ADVRIDER

  2. Well, the current 'Motorcycle Cannonball' just doesn't seem to be in the same league as Yates' and Gurney's ... LOL!

    Anyhow ... just reading your article was enough to exhaust me. My poor old bod just ain't up to those long daily runs any more :-(