The Fastest Men across America

April 6, 2020


Time to Read: 7 minutes

I am losing track of days. On Friday I dated the email April 4. I only learned it wasn't April 4 when I texted my mom happy birthday and she informed me it was tomorrow. Anyone else going crazy?

From the lens of The Daily Thread

Dynamic Running

I don't have access to a gym right now. What I do have is a few miles of wooded trails in the neighborhood. Running gets boring. I spiced it up a bit.

ryan jumps over a gate while trail running

Ski Film of the Year

If the screenshot below is familiar to you, move on. Unless you want to watch again. Philipp Klein is a Spanish skier. COVID-19 cancelled his family ski holiday. He was disappointed, but decided to get creative instead.

A ski movie by phillip klein opening shot

From the journal of The Daily Thread

The Fastest Men in America

On November 10, 2019 at 12:57 am, a silver Mercedes slid out the Red Ball parking garage. 27 hours and 25 minutes later, it pulled into the Portofino Hotel. Three men had crossed the country in a car faster than anyone in history.

That can't be Legal

Nope. It's called a Cannonball run. It's not named after the 1981 Burt Reynolds movie. Daredevils have been Cannonballing long before Burt Reynolds grew a mustache.

Erwin Baker drove from Los Angeles to New York in 1915. It took him over 11 days. He did it again the next year in 7 and a half days. In the next hundred years, the record dropped 8 more times. The time to beat was 28 hours and 50 minutes. Set by Ed Bolian.

Don't Just Meet your Heroes. Beat Your Heroes

Arne Toman is good friends with Ed Bolian. In 2014, Ed said he didn't think his record could ever fall. Arne became obsessed with beating Ed.

Arne Toman is the cofounder of AMS Performance. He's no longer involved with the company, but he built it to squeeze as much power out of cars as possible. Arne has won 2 Cannonball competitions.

Doug Tabbutt sells exotic cars for a living. He knows a thing or two about going fast. He has also driven in Cannonball competitions.

They teamed up to beat Ed's record. To watch out for cops, the pair recruited Berkeley Chadwick. At the time of the attempt, Berkley was only 22 years old.

Faster than the American Express Algorithm

Arne and Doug averaged 103 mph for the entire trip. They stopped for gas 4 times. The 4 stops totalled 22 minutes.

At a gas stop in 2013, Ed Bolian's credit card declined. American Express Fraud Protection called him and asked if he was trying to get gas. He said yes. Amex said they checked flight schedules and driving times.

There was no way he could have gotten to the gas station in time based on his last charge. Ed assured them the charge was legit and told them to allow all charges for the next 48 hours.

The route was 2,825 miles. Arne and Doug only had to stop 4 times because they built a 45-gallon fuel cell and put for the trunk.

The team also had some help. 18 speed demons along the way were eager to pitch in. At one station, all the pumps were full. A lookout found a new station. He blocked off two pumps and swiped his card. He waited nozzles in hand when Arne and Doug arrived.

Some of the 18 lookouts watched for cops. Some sped along ahead of the team to clear the lane and also watch for cops. One of the lookouts was Carl Reese. He once set the coast to coast record on a motorcycle.

Getting Pulled Over

The team never got pulled over. But one of the lookouts did. He was travelling over 100 mph in his Lamborghini. He managed to talk the officer out of the ticket, claiming the car malfunctioned.

Instead of relying on smooth talking, the team relied on technology. They outfitted their Mercedes E63 AMG with an incredible array of police countermeasures.

The car had a built in radar detector, a mounted radar detector, and a laser jammer system. They even had an aircraft collision avoidance system. The collision avoidance system watched for police helicopters and planes. Berkeley, the young spotter, manned a pair of gyroscopically stabilized binoculars.

You know those signs on the highway that say "Speed patrolled by aircraft"? They're not lying. It happens. For the record, Doug and Arne encountered no such aircraft.

They ran Waze on an iPad mounted on the passenger side. A mounted iPhone ran another Waze. Two Garmin GPS units kept the official time. Friends monitored to verify the result.

To track police, they had a CB radio and a police scanner. The most intense piece of gear was a roof-mounted thermal scope. This allowed them to see heat signatures of cops sitting off the road. The scope sat on a gimbal controlled from inside the car.

Arne said the gimbal was more trouble than it was worth. They had to remove it during the day to avoid attention. The team's highest speed was over 180 miles per hour. At speeds like that, the gimbal's motor couldn't overcome the wind force.

The Secret Weapons

Amateurs are often seduced by technology. The advanced countermeasures no doubt helped the team. But the main reasons for their success are quite low tech.

The 18 lookouts along the way were invaluable. At one point, the AMG blew by a cop going over 120 mph. The team slowed down, expecting the worst. At speeds like that, you don't get a ticket. You go to jail.

No lights. The team called a spotter. He said the officer was filling up next to him at the gas station. He could hear the officer talking about the team on the radio. He said there was "a silver passenger car" moving at a high rate of speed.

The team knew they were safe. The cop wasn't chasing them and didn't have a good description of the car. They were able to speed up much earlier than they would have without that key information.

The Silver Passenger Car

The officer they passed was not an idiot. Arne designed the car to look exactly like a silver passenger car. An E63 AMG is no Ferrari, but it's not low profile either.

Arne needed to disguise the German performance machine. He covered the carbon fiber trim with silver vinyl. He covered portions of the taillights to mimic a Honda Accord. Arne also hid or removed the Mercedes logos.

The most crucial piece of equipment was a brake light kill switch. When police officers see sudden brake lights, they know you've been speeding. No brake lights? No suspicion.

In response to the officer calling the AMG a "silver passenger car", Arne knew his disguises worked. The team sped on. Since the car was pushing 700 HP to the wheels (up from the standard 550), they got back up to speed in no time.

Never Again

Asked if they would do it again, the team declined. Arne said, "I didn't want to break the record by minutes. I didn't want anyone else trying and I didn't want to do it again."

People will try again. There were 24 attempts to beat Bolian's record before Doug and Arne crushed it. The Cannonball community calls itself "a fraternity of lunatics." Lunatics don't believe in impossible.

This is safe. Hear me out...

In the 100+ year history of Cannonball, the worst injury ever recorded by racer or bystander is a broken arm. Driving a cannonball requires total focus. There's no room for distraction. There is no texting, there is no checking GPS.

There's no need to do anything but watch the road like a hawk. Other team members watch for cops and feed you directions. One police officer said he'd rather drive with 100 Arnes and Dougs than teenagers with cell phones.

What are your thoughts on Cannonball? Would you do it? Do you think these guys should be in jail? Do you think these guys are heroes? Reply and let me know.

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