After we set the New York to Los Angeles Cannonball Record in 2013, I was contacted by a gamut of cross country aficionados. Some were past Cannonballers, some were contemporary aspirers to hold the record, others just loved the movies and the idea. One highly interesting phone call was one with the organizer of an event called The 2904.
Their previous run was actually just two weeks after our 2013 drive. They have done cross country drives six times over the past several years and they added a very interesting twist – the budget is $2,904. That includes buying the car, the gas you use, tolls, food, repairs, etc. For the sake of safety, they allow additional spending on lighting, suspension, fuel systems, brakes, tires, etc. The budget corresponds to the total mileage of the original New York-San Francisco route .
It seemed like a very interesting challenge. Given that we averaged over 100.2 mph during our drive, I was also interested in seeing the route again at a slightly slower pace. The organizer of the event contacted me and said that he thought that me coming along would be spice things up for the regulars. Their fastest times ever were in the 37 hour range so although the spirit of the drive is to race, the budget limits the law breaking in theory. Although they had done NY to San Fran in the past, they decided that a more traditional Cannonball route of Red Ball to Portofino made more sense.
I thought that it would be a lot of fun, particularly if I could find a car that would at least pay tribute to the strategies and ideas that we used in the CL55 on our record drive.
I found this 2002 Mercedes S55 on Craigslist that seemed like a perfect salvage title, double accident, airbags deployed, frame damaged, formerly $100,000 now $1,500, 12 owner, candidate. You can see the insane build of the car in this exhaustive link.
I began the process of building it into something useful for a drive like this. I knew that I would need a co-driver that was considerably more mechanically competent than I was. Ever since the 2013 preparation of the CL, I had become friends with the shop foreman at my local Mercedes dealership. Clearly not fully understanding the implications of such a statement, he once told me, “If you ever do something crazy like this again, I would love to come along.” I made the call.
The rules permit non-permanent electronics such as a radar detector, navigation system, and a CB radio. That is where most of their participants stop but we decided to go a bit further. For the drive we will use:
- Valentine 1 Radar & Laser Detector w/Bluetooth
- Cobra CB Radio + Antenna
- Used/Dated Blinder Laser Jammer (counted in budget)
- Used Laser Interceptor Jammer
- 2 x 7″ Garmin GPS units with XM Traffic
- 2 x iPhone 6+ Running Waze, SpeedTracker & YaV1
- Tethered WIFI iPad running Google Maps & Weather Radar
- 4G iPad running Waze
- 2 x 99 hour timers
- Motorola Bluetooth Microphone & Interface
- Misc 12V splitters, mounts, wiring
- A GPS Tracking Device
To get the car ready we did a comprehensive service, upgraded the brakes, installed good tires, nearly avoided replacing the ECU/EIS/Key/Shifter, repaired several components in the air suspension, modified the fuel cell to 75 gallon capacity, relocated the exit path for the full size spare tire, and did a whole lot of cleaning.
Our third driver would be a muti-Gumball 3000 veteran named Chris. Chris led us through Ohio on the 2013 run. We decided to call our team Ahab, Nemo, and Jonah in the Great White Whale. The 2904 calls for whimsical team names.
When he found out that I was interested in going, Dave Black asked if he could come along. He was the co-driver on the 2013 drive. Dave bought a 2003 Mercedes CLK430 Cabriolet with a leaking hydraulic pump for the top, a broken seat, banged up bumper, shot wheel bearings, and 185k miles. I also invited a friend and future Cannonballer named Dan. Dan bought a haggard Audi A8 to come along with his friend Justin. Hoping to set a solo NY to LA driving record, another fried with the Cannonball-common name of Dave found a salvage title 1995 Lexus SC400 to join in the fun.
Some grocery shopping:
The four motley Atlanta representatives all set out for New York a few days prior to the event. Before we could leave, though, we had a fuel vapor issue.
The drive up to NY went well and we got to test out most of the systems.
The Friday before departure, we did some exploring of New York. We got settled into our tiny, bathroom-down-the-hall hotel rooms at Hotel 31, just 500 feet from the Red Ball Garage on E 31st St.
We made a practice run out of the city and visited some of the spots out in New Jersey where we had staged before the 2013 run.
Improvised aero enhancement strategy and makeshift fender liner attachment.
Earlier that day, someone turning next to me had added a lovely foot long scratch along the two driver’s-side doors.
We knew that we would have some weather to contend with.
Obligatory Red Ball team pictures:
On Saturday, we gathered everyone who had made it to New York to compete in The 2904 for a photoshoot and then a launch party in Brooklyn.
The assortment of cars was fascinating.
John, the organizer, showcasing “The Crappy Trophy.” There was also some Indian Leg Wrestling for starting position.
Those of us with early departure times went over to the Red Ball to stage.
At precisely midnight, we set off.
The first few hundred miles went very quickly.
And we settled into a nice stride.
Great moonlight for the trip.
And we finished. We made the 2,804.3 mile drive in 32 hours 2 minutes 6 seconds. Our average speed was 88 mph. My wife, Megan, flew ahead to meet us at the Portofino.
Update – The Official Times have been released. Our official time is 32:05. The official end point was the receipt of a text message photo of us at the finish. We remained victorious and still ahead of the 32:07 competitive event record.
Here is our event envelope that we filled out with our times in each state. We missed our time entering West Virginia.
Dave Black and his co-driver Forrest, arrived just after us in CLK.
Team P71 BlackTurd from Chicago finished third. They took the northern/I-80 route and had to contend with traffic in Iowa and the Rockies in second gear.
We were slightly battle scarred from the trip. I tapped a mirror on a construction barrel in a merge.
Coming in 4th was David Simpson who also set a new solo NY to LA driving record. Check out his epic write up of the trip here.
Our 4th Atlanta Team had a tire issue that delayed them for several hours. They arrived a bit later.
Here is a video of the arrivals and interviews with the teams at the Portofino produced by Peter Musurlian.
And we spent the next day hanging out around LA waiting on the others.
Lots of tired faces.
After the rest of the teams made it we headed over to a local bar to have a bit of a closing party. I delivered a few remarks. Everyone had a blast. It was a beautifully organized event that truly exemplified the spirit of the Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
It was a fantastic experience. This was the first truly competitive event since 1983 and we set the fastest time ever in competition. The little S Class the could got us there and we took home the W. A huge thanks to my co-drivers Dave “Klink” and Chris. Amazing job by the whole team.