Last summer the car gurus at Edmunds.com took advantage of Tesla Motors’ ever-growing Supercharger network to drive coast-to-coast in a Model S in 67 hours and 21 minutes, record time for an electric vehicle. Carl Reese, of Santa Clarita, California, thought he and his friends could smash that record. This past weekend, they claim they did — by nine hours and 34 minutes.
Reese and his fiancee Deena Mastracci sped across the country in their own red sticker-covered P85D with a high school buddy as a third driver and a team of three more friends in a rented Chevrolet Suburban backing them up as timekeepers and support drivers.
They drove 3,011 miles from Los Angeles to New York City in 58 hours and 55 minutes, including charging time, blowing away the previous records set by Edmunds and by Tesla’s own employees.
From left to right: Carl Reese, Deena Mastracci, Rodney Hawk, Anthony Alvarado , Johnnie Oberg, Matt Nordenstrom.
There are actually two records involved with their run. If what Reese claims is accurate — and his claims are backed up by detailed data from third-party auditor and sponsor GPS Insight — then the team not only beat the fastest electric vehicle coast-to-coast time record, but also the record for “least non-driving time to cross the United States in an electric vehicle,” meaning shortest charging time. That second one is the record that is Guinness-certified.
No central authority keeps the record for cross-country electric driving time, but Guinness World Records does credit the Tesla staff with the shortest charging time record of 16 hours and 31 minutes. Edmunds reported 14 hours and 40 minutes of charging, but didn’t submit documentation to seek the official Guinness record. (Guinness officials said they do not recognize speed records on open roads because they don’t want to encourage people to break traffic laws.)
Reese’s team logged a mere 12 hours and 48 minutes plugged in. They didn’t spend the $8,000 to bring a Guinness observer on the trip, but they hope their meticulously tracked data —and the car’s internal data, which they’re working to get from Tesla— will get Guinness to make their record official.
The cross-country run began with Reese’s team leaving Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, April 16, at 11:41 p.m. PST and ended with their arrival at New York City Hall on Sunday, April 19, at 1:36 p.m. EST.
The route was strung out among two dozen different charging stations. They covered it with minimal sleep, only stopping to charge the Tesla and gas up the Suburban. When and how much to charge the car was a matter of military-style planning; charge and stop times were carefully logged.
They drove through snow and through rain. They drafted the Tesla behind the Suburban NASCAR-style. They hit triple-digit speeds out in the Utah desert. They fought their way through traffic and a charging mistake that forced them to turn around. And they battled through the physical exhaustion that comes with driving for hours and hours at a time.
Reese can tell you how it feels, but he may need a nap first.
“Elated. Exhausted,” Reese told Jalopnik earlier this week. “Everybody has been totally exhausted, but I got up this morning and it felt like Christmas.”
The Reverse Electric Cannonball Run
“To understand this, you’ve gotta understand Carl,” said Rodney Hawk, Reese’s longtime friend and partner-in-crime who served as the third driver of the Tesla during the trip. “He always wants to do stuff the average person doesn’t want to do,” Hawk said. And when he does, he often calls Hawk, an Army veteran who lives in Pennsylvania.
A general contractor and green home renovator, Reese was practically born a gearhead. His grandfather and father owned gas stations where he would wrench on cars while he was growing up. Later his father owned a 22-acre junkyard, a car-lover’s paradise.
Reese and Mastracci bought their first Tesla, a Model S P85, last year. They had been driving a Range Rover Supercharged and an older Dodge Durango, spending about $1,000 on fuel alone. After crunching the numbers, they decided the Tesla would save money in the long run. The car now has about 13,000 miles on it, and in January they bought the P85D. (Reese also designed the aftermarket grille their car uses.)
The preparations for the cross-country run came together quickly. Reese had made a cross-country drive before, doing the 2011 Cannonball Run—the famed and often-imitated East Coast to West Coast drive—in a custom Land Rover outfitted with a 26-gallon fuel tank. He had been thinking about doing an electric version for nearly a year, ever since Edmunds set their record.
Long-haul driving has been a leading liability of electric vehicles. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: People don’t want to buy electric vehicles without plentiful charging stations to alleviate range anxiety, and nobody wants to build charging stations if there aren’t electric vehicles on the road to use them.
To combat this, Tesla Motors began building a network of fast-working Supercharger stations across the country in 2013, all of which can charge a Model S for free. Tesla claims a Supercharger can replenish half the battery, good for 253 miles when full on a P85D, in as little as 20 minutes, and new stations are being added all the time.
On January 30, 2014, Tesla sent out two Model S-es and a support team of more than a dozen employees to test the network. The Cross County Rally Team made it from LA to New York City in 76 hours and five minutes, combating near-zero degree temperatures, support van breakdowns, and a less-extensive Supercharger network than what we have a year later.
A Tesla spokeswoman said their run was done on the first cross-country Supercharger route that was in place, and was plotted to take drivers through some of the country’s most sought-after road trip destinations and thus less direct than it could have been.
Seven months after that, Edmunds vehicle testing director Dan Edmunds and photo editor Kurt Niebuhr shaved an hour and 17 minutes off that mark, driving a 2013 Model S, one of the long-term test vehicles the company purchased. Their firsthand account underscores the physical toll of such a trip; at one point author Edmunds realized had been at the drive nearly three times as long as the racers in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Beating the Edmunds time, Reese and Mastracci knew, would depend on one major thing — the opening of a Supercharger station in St. Charles, Missouri near St. Louis. Once that was up and running, it would allow them to take a more direct southerly route than the one Edmunds and Tesla had taken.
The backup plan was to use a charging station at a Four Seasons hotel in St. Louis, but that would have taken longer. Had the St. Charles Supercharger not been open, Reese said they still could have done it, “But we wouldn’t have crushed it as much. My goal was to set a record someone wouldn’t challenge for a while,” he said.
Reese also knew other people would try the run with that Supercharger open, so he wanted to beat everyone to it. Like all Tesla owners, he carefully monitors the openings of new Supercharger stations online, so when it went up and running on April 15, he quickly assembled his team.
“He didn’t have to push me to do it,” said Mastracci, a physical therapist, NASCAR fan, and Reese’s partner on several long road trips. “I’m always up for going anywhere.”
Reese’s support team consisted of his friends Anthony Alvarado, Johnnie Oberg, and Matt Nordenstrom, driving in a new Suburban LTZ from a rental car company at Los Angeles International Airport that shall remain nameless so Reese can hopefully rent from them in the future.
“We did not tell them what we were doing,” he said.
The support vehicle and its pilots were critical to the mission, Reese said. They served as timekeepers and carried snacks, drinks, and whoever wasn’t in the Tesla at the time, since only a driver and one passenger were allowed in the electric sedan to save weight.
With a notary public signing off on their departure time at Los Angeles City Hall late on the night of April 16, the team set off. Reese also documented the entire trip on a Twitter account, @EVrecordattempt.
“Any official attempt for a Guinness record requires either an adjudicator from Guinness to tag along, or you must have two witnesses as timekeepers,” Reese said.
They also needed video and GPS data, which they got using equipment on loan from the company GPS Insight. The team had a pilot and co-pilot logbook to record charging times, and the three timekeepers in the Suburban. “We didn’t want to do this and then miss something Guinness wanted,” Reese said.
Their voyage after leaving Los Angeles went like this: northeast out of California toward Las Vegas, into Utah, and on through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and finally New York through the Holland Tunnel.
Unlike Ed Bolian’s record-breaking run in an extensively modified Mercedes CL55 AMG — which happened in less than half the time — both the Model S P85D and the Suburban were stock vehicles. And because Supercharger stations are harder to come by than gas stations, and take longer to use than gas station fill-ups, planning the voyage took careful planning.
For one, Reese’s team never charged the Tesla with more juice than they would actually need for the next leg of the journey. Tesla’s current software includes a navigation system that calculates the range needed to reach your destination, so they relied on that to tell them how long to charge up.
Co-driver Hawk said they sometimes rolled in to a Supercharger station with between three and eight percent battery power remaining. Minimizing charge time also meant using no A/C, no heat, no radio, keeping weight to a minimum, and drafting behind the Suburban whenever they could to reduce air resistance.
That also meant being conservative with the P85D’s insane acceleration. Their average driving speed was just 65.4 mph, Reese said — way less than Bolian’s crazy illegal 98 mph average speed run.
“At no time did we ever exceed 123 mph,” and that happened out in the Utah desert, Reese said, paraphrasing a famous Cannonball quote from Dan Gurney.
When the trio wasn’t driving the Tesla, they would take turns riding in the Suburban, catching naps when they could — seldom restful ones, Hawk said. The key to keeping each other awake in the Tesla was good conversation. Coffee, energy drinks, snacks, and pure adrenaline helped too.
The unsung hero of the journey may have been that rented Suburban. Nordenstrom, a veteran of long haul cross-country driving, said the SUV only got turned off once or twice during the entire trip because they left the engine running while filling its tank.
“Heaven forbid you turn it off and it doesn’t restart for some reason,” Nordenstrom said.
Benefitting from a huge 31-gallon fuel tank, the Suburban pretty much only got gas during the Tesla’s charging stops, and even then it only needed gas every three or four stops. In the end the big SUV averaged a surprisingly decent 17.8 miles per gallon, Nordenstrom said.
When they stopped to charge the Tesla, it wasn’t so the team could rest. They sprung into their assigned roles, timing the charging stops, filling up the Suburban, quickly going to the bathroom, and getting ready to move again once the Tesla had enough juice to reach its next destination.
Speaking of the bathroom, certain biological realities can’t be avoided on the road, so the guys driving the Tesla had to make use of bottles to relieve themselves at times. Not Mastracci, though. She was able to hold it.
“I have a much more efficient bladder than these guys do,” she said, laughing. “Maybe it’s from working in the medical field all these years.”
After a full 24 hours, the team stopped in Salina, Kansas to let the Tesla reach a 100 percent charge, and there they spent an hour and 25 minutes quickly showering and grabbing food in two hotel rooms.
Road trips never go entirely according to plan, especially ones this long. An 18-wheeler’s tire disintegrated in front of them on the road, sending out debris that scratched the paint on the rear passenger door. They lost time in an infuriating Las Vegas-area traffic jam.
Their biggest mistake came when they were forced to turn around and get more power in Green River, Utah. Once they left the Supercharger station there, the Tesla’s software updated the trip calculations and told them to turn around and charge up more. Otherwise, they may have been unable to reach their next stop.
“I thought I screwed up the whole trip,” he said, but the setback only cost them about 45 minutes.
Breaking The Record
Reese said that he didn’t really know they were about to break the record he was at the last Supercharger station before New York City, about an hour from the city limits. Then he checked the time and saw they had been on the road about 55 hours.
“At that moment I knew we’d break it, but I didn’t want to jinx us,” he said. “I tried not to look at the time. I was so focused on driving safely.”
The timekeepers had realized it much sooner. Nordenstrom said he knew by Illinois that they’d break the record, short of any problems. “Everyone was holding their breath,” Reese said.
The team rolled up to New York City Hall on the afternoon of Sunday, April 19. A notary public vetted everyone’s IDs and signed off on the trip paperwork. “Once he put the stamp on that, everything started to sink in a bit,” Reese said.
After catching up on some badly-needed sleep in their hotel rooms, the team had a late dinner around 8 p.m., poured some wine, “looked at each other and said ‘We did it!’”, Reese said.
As Reese, Mastracci, and the other team members make their way back home — this time at a much slower pace — they said they’re still basking in the glory of the new record. Next they’ll work toward getting the record certified by Guinness and getting the car’s data from Tesla.
Mastracci said their run showcases exactly what’s possible as America’s charging network grows; it wasn’t even done in the most efficient Model S, she noted. In total they visited 24 Supercharger stations, one more than Edmunds.
“The car performed remarkably,” Reese said. “I’m doubtful we could have done it without a support vehicle, too.”
Oldham, the Edmunds editor, said it’s a sign of how EVs are evolving, both the cars and the network they depend on. “If somebody broke our record fair and square, then congratulations,” he said. “Records are there to be broken.”
Would Edmunds try to beat their old time, or Reese’s? Oldham said they don’t have their Model S anymore, but they do have a deposit down on a Model X SUV. “Never say never,” he said.
That’s the other thing about breaking a record: Now, everybody is going to want to break yours.
“I do think the record is beatable,” Mastracci said. “I think it can be improved with all the things we learned.”
Reese’s team said they’d be down to try again, and that they think they can do better. “If we turned around and did it today, I think we could beat it in another four hours, easily,” Nordenstrom said. “Heck yeah. I’d love to do it again.”
For Reese’s part, he said he’s okay with the fact that somebody will try to top what they did. “It’s somewhat expected,” he said. “Ask Alex Roy about that.”
That doesn’t mean he’s prepared to lose it forever, though.
“If someone breaks our record this year, they can guarantee I’ll be back out there,” Reese said. “I’m not even home yet and that’s what I’m saying.”
Top graphic credit Jason Torchinsky
Photos credit Carl Reese/Team Uber Qik, GPS Insight