Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The ILLEGAL Cannonball Run

Do you remember the cheesy "Cannonball Run" movie from 1981 that starred Burt Reynolds? It portrayed a bunch of comical misfits who auto race each other across the breadth of the U.S from coast to coast. In reality, there is an outlaw Cannonball run that originated over thirty years ago - conceived by car magazine writer and auto racer, Brock Yates, and fellow Car and Driver editor, Steve Smith, in 1971. In modern terms, the idea is to speed cross the States from New York City to Los Angeles at an average speed of more than ninety miles an hour while escaping speed traps, troopers, and avoiding vehicular homicide. It wouldn't surprise motor enthusiasts to know there has been an ongoing, illegal, highly risky, and nefarious pursuit by a few racing car speed freaks/tech geeks to break the purported original Cannonball record of 32 hours and 7 minutes. The "record time" was recently surpassed in 2006 by Alex Roy, a wealthy heir, and devious, self-promoting speed junkie from New York with a time of 31 hours and 4 minutes. This successful venture by Roy exacted both a personal (his girl friend left) and financial toll, and required considerable planning along with high tech gadgetry - his BMW ride was tricked out with every conceivable radar/laser detector/jammer, police scanners, a CB radio, and GPS units etc., and he used aerial spotters in planes to boot. In fact, it may have demonstrated more technical mastery than driving skill. Who can't drive 100 miles per hour?

This whole, fascinating escapade is well documented in the November, 2007 issue of Wired magazine, but there seems to be a cult-like attraction to, and admiration of the whole enterprise embedded in the article.

The story is riveting, and there is a vicarious thrill reading the details of their record breaking run - but it still strikes a disturbing chord.

The Wired journalist came across as a fan boy in his prose - expounding on the impressive technical expertise, and daring of these clever criminals. And criminals they are. There are numerous bereaved families who have lost loved ones because of reckless street racing by impulsive, car crazed youths. The mayhem on highways continues daily, and now we have a disillusioned, money is no object, rich speed junkie, breaking a record that flaunted numerous laws, and likely endangered more than a few lives. All of that brain power put into a criminal enterprise. What a waste - just so you can become a cult hero.

I don't blame Wired for publishing the story. It's a compelling one with more than a little technical cunning, but all of that macho excitement generated by the chasing of a dubious auto record overshadows the significant death toll on our highways from speeding and other dangerous maneuvers.

That same GPS technology that helped Roy blast across the country should be used to track speeding objects on the ground, with the info relayed to local authorities who then might intercept these maniacs, because as surely as the sun rises every morning the next Cannonball run is being planned. Mr. Roy, you must be a bright fellow - you inherited significant wealth - you have some technical talents. Why not use them for a higher calling instead of acting out your infantile fantasies?

Of course this kind of moralistic quipping will fall on deaf ears in this car crazy, Nascar fuelled world. Your crew will be too busy dealing with the documentary(ies), fan mail, commercials and movie deals pouring in to worry about any backlash. Has BMW offered to sponsor your next attempt?

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