- E​rwin Baker, The man who gave us the name “Cannonball Run”. Source: goodsparkgarage.com

W​hy I Don’t Like the Cannonball Run

A​nd why I think it is harmful to the enthusiast community

B​efore I start this article, I have two things to say. This is an opinion. Something that can change, and by no means should be regarded as absolute fact. Also, I’m always open to discussion, but if you’re going to be the guy who just goes “YOU’RE WRONG” and then act like you’ve just destroyed me in a game of mental chess, please leave. I’m not going to respond to you. Your not worth anyone’s time. If you want to leave a respectable opinion in the comments below, please feel free.

I​ almost named this article “Why I Hate the Cannonball Run” before I thought better of it. I don‘t want to come off pretentious for one, but it’s got a little more to it than that. The truth is that the Cannonball Run has an extremely rich history that gave us motoring legends such as Erwin Baker, who is featured in the sole picture for this article. I have to at least acknowledge that the Cannonball Run is:

A​. An impressive feat

B​. Something that has contributed a lot to automotive history

A​nd while I respect the impact it has had on the automotive community, I can’t agree with what is stands for. My whole reason behind this article was another article that was featured on the front page of DriveTribe and written by DriveTribe contributor Daniel Berman. It’s a great interview, and the questions are pretty interesting. If you missed it, check out the link below.

I​n the comments of that article, I got into a couple of arguments. Some of them have been pretty respectful thus far, a few not so much. I know a lot of people, like me, think that the Cannonball Run is crazy. I know a lot of people think it’s great. It’s a complicated topic, and I can certainly understand that. I also understand that this article isn’t going to solve any of that. People will be arguing about this subject long after I post this article, but maybe it can at least start a respectful conversation. But you don‘t want to listen to me talking about how “understanding” I am. You want an explanation. Very well, I’ll get into it.

I​t’s not legal

I​ mean duh. Who knew driving coast to coast at speed well over 100 miles per hour was illegal. I just want to make a point here. It is HEINOUSLY illegal. I know, I know, people speed all the time, especialily car enthusiasts. I’ll get a little more into that later. All I want to do here is ask you, the reader, a few simple questions. Can you really say that the government doesn’t have the right to enforce speed limits? Can you really say that the speed limits the set are somewhat reasonable, if not completely justified? Are those limits not there for our safety?

I​t’s not necessarily a good representation of skill

D​on’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do any better. I think there’s just too much luck in it. Sure, there’s luck in all facets of motorsport. However, 60-70% of the time the best car/driver combination wins (depending on what type of racing it is). You don’t have a ton of control over what happens in the cannonball run. You could get pulled over. Boom, run ruined. You might have to abandon the run for weather reasons. Boom, run ruined. You might get caught up in bad traffic. Boom, run ruined. Sometimes, it just doesn‘t matter that you drove as fast as you can, or that the car performed the best it could. I acknowledge that this isn’t the best point I’m going to make here. Heck, it’s probably a positive for some of you. I just think it should be at least considered.

T​he risk factor

“​Oh, what a baby, scared someone’s gonna crash.” Yeah. You might argue that people speed all the time, but they aren’t going anywhere NEAR this fast. In the latest Cannonball record, an average speed of 110 mph, and hit a top speed of 175 mph. I don‘t know about where you live, but in my state, the speed limits are a little lower than 175. Imagine you are driving to work, and some guy flys by you at 175. You might not have seen him coming. Don’t you think that might be a little scary for some less experienced drivers? Wouldn’t it be possible for those inexperienced drivers to swerve and maybe crash? Then there’s just the pure insanity of 175 mph. There’s very little time to react. Take motorsport into consideration. Drivers crash all the time. DNFs are frequent, and contact happens often. You might say that that’s just pro racing, but those cars are better equipped to handle high speeds. They have the appropriate amount of downforce, the perfect chassis, and the complex suspension to handle the speeds they are expected to perform at. And things still go wrong ALL THE TIME. Maybe most runs are clean, but some aren’t. Maybe you’d argue that some of the drivers have the right amount of experience, but even for great drivers, bad things happen. I would have to be ignorant not to include that no one has ever been reported to have died or have been seriously injured in a Cannonball Run (Car and Driver; also thanks to Daniel Berman himself for pointing this out to me). While this may be true, with the growing notoriety and competitors, to me it’s only a matter of time. Doug Tabbutt and Arne Toman, experienced cannonballers and the most recent record holders, discussed the possibility of people seeing what they’ve done and thinking that it was easy in that DT article I mentioned (To see what they said about it, read the darn article I linked). With all of this growing popularity, it’s certain that younger, less experienced drivers such as myself are going to attempt to make their own record, and if one of them crashes, it’s going to be bad. It’s not like their havdn’t already been crashes on the Cannonball. It shouldn’t take someone getting seriously hurt or even killed for someone to go “okay, that’s enough.”

I​t makes car enthusiasts look bad

I​ know some of you might not be concerned with this one, but nevertheless, it‘s one of my points, and at least to me, it’s a valid one. We think the people who do this run are cool. We praise them as heroes. We glorify the outlaw persona. But these dudes are criminals. The best we can do to preserve and protect the car enthusiast community is to make it seem like a safe place and fill it with people who have good reputations. Even if you don’t think that the Cannonball Run is representative of the car community, you probably know that people won‘t see it that way. It‘s the loudest voice in the darkest room. People are going to look at the Cannonball Run, and they are going to categorize us as criminals. The car community already has to deal with the onslaught of EVs and the end of self servicing. I don’t want to see it have to face being called a criminal as well.

C​ongratulations. You made it to the botton of an incredibly long winded article. Now you know why it’s a rant. At the end of the day, this article is just the beginning of a discussion that might even outlive me, but I hope at the very least you found this article informative and entertaining regardless of whether it changed your mind at all. Again, feel free to leave any (respectable) arguments or mistakes I’ve made (i‘m sure there’s plenty) in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and take care!

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Comments (38)

  • Couldn’t agree more.

    It was originally a middle finger to the government over the 55mph speed limit. Brock Yates and Dan Guirney ran a Daytona. It was a stunt. A salute.

    Today it has become downright dangerous. I have done some mighty stupid speeds on public roads in the past but it was wrong and could have cost lives. I understand the precautions these people are taking and I applaud them for building in a safety factor. But it is still not right and will end in tragedy if it continues. I for one have tuned it out for these reasons. It was funny once. Now it is a dangerous circus. 👎👎

      1 year ago
    • Right. Especially now more than ever, people are going to think it's easy and try it on their own without proper preperation. Law is universal. What applies to one person applies to everyone, no matter who you are, and the truth is that this is...

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        1 year ago
    • Spot on!

        1 year ago
  • Actually, you didn't even have to go to all that effort for this. Anyone with common sense, a drop of responsibility in life and over 14 (mentally) couldn't agree more with you.

      1 year ago
    • I agree with you but as a 15 year old a ago I definitely had enough common sense to realise that it is stupid

        1 year ago
    • I meant mentally... There are smart kids and stupid men.

        1 year ago
  • Pretty genuine argument. But I think what scares me more is people doing things like this with wayyyy less prep than Doug and Arne. These guys plan for years and have a network of spotters for safety. They only speed to 175mph when they’re literally seeing nothing with their thermal imaging cameras for like a mile. They also avoid overtaking with excessive relative speeds. Doesn’t make it any more legal, but it’s better.

    I hope these speed run attempts become more organized and more legal like rally stages and closed roads.

      1 year ago
    • I agree. Even though it would be nearly impossible to get permission to close off all major highways along the Cannonball Run, I think it’s possible that people could get some sort of federal permission. The government has previously...

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        1 year ago
  • Agreed. I personally think some speed limits are lower than necessary, but I don't want to celebrate criminals.

    Great writing by the way.

      1 year ago
    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked the article. I think the US highway system definitely needs it’s speed limits to be reevaluated. I think it’s below the threshold for safe driving, and that a speed limit should be a limit. While I’ve never seen...

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        1 year ago
    • Plus there is a difference between being out for a drive a putting your foot down a bit, and going out with the purpose of sticking a big middle finger to the law and your fellow road users.

        1 year ago
  • I don't think it's a rant, but a pretty legit complaint. If you think about it every continent with a car culture had it's historical illegal races.

    In Europe it started in the dawn of auto-mobiles with similarly long distances, but then they were converted to road races and when the most famous road races were banned too, the whole scene morphed into rallying. Street racing almost made a comeback in the '80s with the roaring popularity of tuning, hot hatches and ever more powerful engines, but then that was cut off too.

    Japan also had it's illegal races, although with very strict code of ethics. And then in the blink of an eye it all disappeared by 2000. Some guys still fought to keep that culture alive, but the illegal racing part pretty much vanished as meetings are strictly controlled by police.

    Even the Middle East was a well known hotspot of such races and shows about a decade ago but as far as I'm concerned it was purged out, there are no longer Lamborghinis and Porsches racing on the roads of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

    It's really just the US that's holding on to the macho legend of speeding. Sure it's fun, but not all fun and pointless activities are worthy to preservation.

      1 year ago
    • Sadly, there is no Tribe for “Reasonably critical complaints,” lol. All jokes aside, I totally agree. Illegal racing is vanishing. Rightly so, even though I respect what it represented, and the things it gave us. I think the enthusiast...

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        1 year ago
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