The Cannonball record has been reclaimed by its rightful owners
With a new time of just 25 hours and 39 minutes pre-covid record holders Doug Tabbutt and Arne Toman have taken the record back for themselves
Over the past few months, the 'Cannonball Run' has been the subject of much discussion. Up until just a few months ago, the record had only changed hands three times in the last two decades, but in the time span of just six months, a seemingly un-ending plethora of both solo and group runs have all but annihilated any previous records.
You may remember that back in December of 2019, we brought you the story of Arnie Toman and Doug Tabbutt's 27 hour and 25 minute run across the country, beating the previous record by an unprecedented 85 minutes.
Alex Roy, Ed Bolian, Doug Tabbutt
But in April, a group of guys sped across the country in their Audi A8 at the height of the pandemic with a yet to be confirmed time of 26 hours and 39 minutes. Understandably, Doug and Arne wanted their record back, and on the face of it, that didn't seem like such a bad idea. They had the experience, they had the know-how, and crucially, they had their car.
Well, not exactly.
Earlier this year, the E63 they used on their original run was out on an unrelated scouting run in an attempt to help set the diesel cross-country record. Sometime that evening, they thought that it would be a good idea to get some fly-by shots of the diesel VW as it was coming past. The Mercedes pulled over to the side of the road with its flashers on as they waited for the car to come flying by. Unfortunately, as they were parked on the side of the road, a semi-truck with a driver who was likely asleep, plowed into the back of the E63 at about 40 mph, nearly running over Arne Toman in the process.
So the hunt was on for a new car, the recipe for which is quite well-known, fast, discreet, camouflaged, and preferably German. Arne and Doug settled on an Audi A6, which over three days was converted into a cannonball car with a remarkable likeness to an undercover Ford Taurus police car.
I won't tell you the rest of the story, you'll have to watch the VinWiki video for that, but what I will tell you is that Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt made history, by crossing the country faster than anyone in history, with a mind-bending time of just 25 hours and 39 minutes.
I sat down with Arne and Doug to discuss what went into their record-setting run:
DB: "Doug, when we spoke back in April, you told me that losing the record hurt. How long after the initial run in the Audi did you decide that you guys wanted to try again?"
Doug: "I think we decided before that run that we wanted to because we wanted to see just how fast we could go with no traffic, just for fun. But my wife didn't give the okay, so it was about two days after our car was wrecked, and we lost the record that my wife said, I think you should go try to get the record back because I don't like how you lost it, and how everything went down this weekend. So it only took me about 10 minutes to text Arne and say all right, let's find a car."
DB: "How long did that process of transplanting a bunch of gear into the Audi take?"
Arne: "It was three days. I took all the countermeasures out of my Ford LTD that I was going to run in the Sea to Sea express in 2019. All the countermeasures came out of there, the fuel cell came out of the Mercedes. I took a CB antenna and some other stuff off of my Ford Crown Vic, that that I used for the Cannonball before, and some of the some of the electronics came out of the Corvette."
DB: "How many spotters did you have this time?"
Doug: "About 35"
DB: "Did you have people stationed all across the country?"
Doug: "Yeah, they're staggered all across the country. We had an off-site team, essentially a remote team that was watching our feed and scheduling, running the communications with all the scouts."
DB: "So after Alex [Roy] set his record, 30 hours was perceived to be this artificial barrier that was put in, and after Ed [Bolian] set 28:50 accusations of him cheating, were out there, how does setting a time of 25:39 reframed what's possible?
Doug: "Well, I think that 27:25 kind of reframed what was possible, you know, all bets are off during the pandemic because, you know, you remove at least two factors, probably three that will delay you, you know, there is no construction, little to no enforcement in many states, and up to a 70% reduction in traffic, and that is a game-changer. So I think for us, it wasn't necessarily redefining what was possible, but just kind of saying, what's the handicap factor, for, you know, a pandemic because we'd already kind of set the bar during normal all circumstances, how much faster could people go with those factors removed?"
GPS readout verifying the time
DB: "In the future, will there have to be two parts of the Wikipedia page, Covid cannonballs and more traditional runs?"
Doug: "I don't think so, because the way we saw it, it was a sliding scale of advantage anyways. Even if you had Covid Cannonball then you'd have to say, Well, the first two weeks of Covid versus later on because traffic ramped up, and enforcement ramped up throughout the quarantine, there was no on and off switch where you said, okay, this is the core team, and this isn't the core team. Because even when we went to the west coast, it was as if everything was normal. So, I think people want to say that there's an asterisk, but where do you start the asterisk? And where do you stop that? How do you define that? Because there's too many other variables anyway."
DB: "You mentioned in the video that there was a different feeling in setting this record. Which are you most proud of. Obviously, 25:39 was much faster, but which gave you more of a sense of accomplishment?
Arne: "27:25 for sure, the record, the record had stood so long and so many people said that it couldn't be broken, So to beat that was far more of an accomplishment for me. You know, removing the traffic at least for the first two-thirds of this run proved to be a complete game-changer."
DB: "What would it take to beat your record?"
Arne: "Some sort of shutdown and again, people were so shell shocked when this Coronavirus shutdown happened that, you know, in the first like two weeks like everyone just stayed home. You know, I don't think that anything could happen where we can get people to stay home again."
"Unless cars started getting automated driving where they weren't in the left lane like I don't see how it could be beaten."
DB: "I'm sure plenty of people on the internet took it as, oh look, you don't need to spend all this money and all these years preparing. You can just go out there and do it. What do you think the risk is with that kind of attitude?"
Arne: "During this whole shutdown, that's what scared us most, I guess, in the Cannonball community is, especially the team that beat us, they went 26:38. You know, they had very little to any preparation. And that's what kind of scared us that, you know, people are gonna think that you don't because it's, for us, at least the way we look at it is everything is very calculated. It's like a military, very precise operation."
Doug: "Well, perception wasn't reality, either, because, you know, just because the news outlets didn't have any details of that run, they assume that there was no preparation, no experience and then you know, the lead driver is a very experienced BMW racecar driver. I don't know about his co-drivers, but you know, he's obviously very used to Cannonball, very capable vehicle. So it wasn't, you know, reckless or anything like that it just it appeared that way was the general public perception."