Over the next few weeks, we are going to take you from the genesis of the endurance road trip to the modern international road rally. Each day we will share a bite sized history lesson about the development of this motorsport. We hope that you’ll join us for this absolutely fascinating ride.
Yesterday we discussed the 1970’s The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. These five races grew with such immense popularity that organizer, Brock Yates, was obligated to shut it down after the fifth run in 1979 - a completely understandable action at the time. The races had grown too dangerous and the liability was beyond reason. Had the line really been crossed? Was the limit reached? Read on to learn what The U.S. Express thought about such limits.
A 2874 mile race kept in hushed circles for nearly thirty years - The U.S. Express was an invitation-only, underground, racing event. Prospective racing teams had to fill out an application, submit an entry fee, and then hope to hear back via telegram if they were accepted.
After the final Cannonball in 1979, Rick Doherty, a veteran of the ‘79 and ‘75 races, brought together the most “extreme baddasses” of the previous races (in addition to a few lucky readers browsing the classifieds) and let them loose on America’s highways.
The first U.S. Express ended at the beach in Santa Monica, a route slightly longer than Cannonball. Doherty won the first U.S. Express with co-driver and famous game designer, Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims, etc) at the wheel of a Mazda RX-7. Their time was 33 hours, 9 minutes.
The audacity of the drivers was admirable and raised the bar for rallies after it. Competition was fierce. Regular drivers were doing a football field every second and a half. Racing was not these participants 9-5 job. They weren’t Burt Reynolds millionaires. To wreck, injure, or fall under police pursuit would cause serious issues.
Understanding the gravity of the event, teams went to great lengths to gain an edge. Most cars had front and rear radar, multiple scanners, kill switches for lights, homemade radar jammers, 50-60 gallon fuel cells, and some even attempted early night vision! In a race like this, preparation typically held the key to success.
The ‘81 race started in Long Island, New York and finished in Emeryville, California. The winning team consisted of David Morse and Steve Clausman driving Morse’s gray Porsche 928. The Porsche won in part due to an early snowfall closing the Donner Pass for several hours to vehicles without chains. The Porsche wisely carried special plastic chains and was able to proceed while others had to wait for the pass to open. The team would go on to win the 1982 race as well.
Despite the increased length, the fastest time recorded was 32 hours 7 minutes, in the 1983 race, 44 minutes faster than the fastest Cannonball, and stood as the “official” cross-country record until it was broken in 2006 (we will discuss that at a later date). Yes, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker’s transcontinental road record was shattered.
Doug Turner and David Diem drove a Ferrari 308 across the country in 32:07. A truly remarkable feat, even today, These 32-hour outlaws had become the fastest humans ever to cross the continent.
When legendary driver, Bobby Unser, was interviewed about the possibility of a transcontinental United States run, he gasped, “To go from New York to California in 32 hours? It’s unbelievable!”
Nothing came after the ’83 run. Once the record was broken and got in the news, many of the drivers were freaked out about press. Doherty thought someone else would pick up the reins in ’84. No one did. A few smaller copycats attempted such as the “Four-ball” and another, but transcontinental rallying essentially died (we will also cover these later).
A documentary, 32 hours 7 minutes, has been in post-production for a number of years. Director, Cory Welles, has continued to release snippets of footage, clippings, and news about the U.S. Express. The film, while plagued by delays, is set to release very, very soon.
In the trailer for the film a quote really sticks out,
“Everyone knows there are dotted lines on the road. At about 130 they’re solid.”
This solid line exemplifies what these drivers were willing to do in the name of competition. The U.S. Express saw where the limit was, shifted up, and bravely sped past.
Tomorrow, we will discuss the Maximillion Cooper’s audacious road trip. Yes, you guessed right, we will be discussing the 1999 Gumball 3000. The first of them all!
- Wikipedia - U.S. Express: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannonball_Baker_Sea-To-Shining-Sea_Memorial_Trophy_Dash#US_Expresshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannonball_Baker_Sea-To-Shining-Sea_Memorial_Trophy_Dash#US_Express
- 32hours7minutes.com - http://www.32hours7minutes.com/
- YouTube - 32 Hours 7 Minutes: http://www.youtube.com/user/32Hours7Minutes?feature=watch
- Facebook - 32 Hours 7 Minutes: https://www.facebook.com/32hours7minutes
- The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World by Alexander Roy http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0061374997?ie=UTF8&tag=maseffdea-20&linkCode=shr&camp=213733&creative=393185&creativeASIN=0061374997&qid=1336679454&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1