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Ed Bolian, centre, held the Cannonball Run record until 2019, completing the cross-country trip in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 30 seconds, driving at an average speed of about 160 km/h.

Ed Bolian

Cannonball Run records are on the rise. Don’t know what they are? Think back to the hit 1981 The Cannonball Run with Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin and Dom DeLuise, which popularized the American long-distance road-race challenge.

Car aficionados call it the Cannonball – it’s an unsanctioned, illegal race with no official rules and a large cult following. Traditionally, it starts at the Red Ball parking garage in Manhattan, N.Y., and ends at Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif. The goal is to drive from New York to Los Angeles as fast as possible, covering approximately 4,507 kilometres, depending on the route. The craze started in the 1970s, but since the coronavirus hit, there’s been a massive spike in attempts made and records broken.

That spells trouble. Bored thrill-seekers are taking advantage of nearly empty roads during lockdowns and putting innocent lives in danger. For what? Fifteen minutes of fame. It’s got to stop. It’s a blatant disregard for public safety. It’s ludicrous, dangerous and selfish to attempt Cannonball Runs at any time, but especially during a pandemic.

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Before the coronavirus struck, the record belonged to a team of guys who drove a modified 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG with 800 horsepower and massive fuel tanks on board. They drove coast to coast in 27 hours and 25 minutes in November, 2019. Since the pandemic hit, that record has been shattered – not just by minutes, but by hours, allegedly – at least seven times in only five weeks.

The current title belongs to solo driver Fred Ashmore, 44, from Hancock, Me., who recently claimed he shattered all previous records with a coast-to-coast run of 25 hours and 55 minutes in June. He chose a rented Mustang GT and replaced the passenger seat and interior accessories with fuel tanks (and 568 litres of fuel) to minimize pit stops for gas. He added an arsenal of equipment to evade police, such as radar and laser detectors – a common practice for many drivers who make the attempt – and he used empty Powerade bottles to pee. With his time, he averaged 174 km/h.

On the YouTube channel VINwiki Car Stories, Ashmore boasted about his record run. “Being a solo driver, a lot of people have asked me, did I put cameras or did I videotape the run? … I have to tell people, you know texting and driving is illegal. Can you imagine trying to drive and make sure that everything is refreshed, make sure your GoPro is running, make sure all of that is going on? It’s just not realistically possible.”

Texting and driving is illegal. But speeding and reckless driving aren’t? Wake up, buddy. Not only is this against the law, it’s endangering public safety and putting innocent people at risk – people like the much-needed essential workers who are on the road exhausted but determined to get to emergency rooms, nursing homes and hospitals to help patients battling and dying from COVID-19.

Driving triple-digit speeds for nearly 26 hours alone with no sleep is dangerous, irresponsible and downright stupid. Ashmore is a middle-aged man, 44. He’s not a kid who doesn’t know any better. Grow up. Act like a man. Who cares if you can drive fast and break a land-speed record? Street racing is illegal. Public roads shouldn’t be used for racing.

The guy who runs VINwiki, Ed Bolian, a former competitor who held the Cannonball record from 2013-2019, claimed on his site that “the biggest and most critical part of the pursuit’s history is the fact that over the past 50 years, there have been no accidents involving other cars, there’s been no significant injuries – nothing that we can be embarrassed or ashamed of.”

Cut the crap. These guys are felons. They’re breaking traffic laws. They should be put behind bars, lose their vehicles and drivers’ licences and face hefty fines. They shouldn’t be praised by car-culture enthusiasts on social media or get laudatory coverage every time a record is smashed. That’s just fuelling the fire and encouraging more record attempts.

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It’s only a matter of time before someone is injured or dies. The consequences could be disastrous: Think about the potential devastation from an accident at those speeds, especially with all that fuel on board. Essential workers such as paramedics, police officers and fire fighters have more important tasks at hand. Resources are stretched thin as it is. They don’t need the extra work.

Unfortunately, there probably won’t be a lull in Cannonball Runs any time soon, especially since dozens of American states are reimposing lockdown measures to combat the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Expect to see more Cannonball drivers hitting the road to gain fame, attempting to break a pointless record.

It’s never a good time for Cannonball Runs. They’re illegal, risky and reckless. But when more than 60,000 Americans a day are being diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitals are in danger of being overwhelmed in many towns and cities, it’s unconscionable.

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