“Would you like to come along and set another Cannonball Record with us?”
Talk about an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was sitting across from Carl Reese & Deena Mastracci, having invited them to dinner to congratulate them for setting the EV Cannonball Record in April of this year driving their Tesla Model S from LA to NY in 58 hours and 55 minutes.
After nine years of regaling Cannonball fans with tales of my past glories, this was first time I had reached out to hear someone else’s feat of endurance driving. Coming from a world of internal combustion engines, police scanners, night vision and police disguises, their expertise in EV charge times, ambient temperatures, hypermiling and Tesla Supercharger parking spot selection was utterly alien to my understanding of how to drive across the United States as quickly as possible.
They weren’t speaking as EV converts. Mastracci grew up on NASCAR. Reese is an avid motorcyclist and car guy. They don’t see EVs in opposition to traditional engines. They see them as a means to an end. Where I saw the door closing on transcontinental driving records, they saw it opening, and as Reese explained the vagaries of EV performance optimization, I knew he was right.
I had given up interest in pursuing long-distance driving records. Since the day David Maher and I set the Transcontinental Driving Record in 2006—crossing the country in 31 hours and 4 minutes—I knew our time would be broken. I also knew it wouldn’t be broken by me.
The emotional and financial toll had been enormous, and I was prouder of the attempt than the time itself. As difficult as the drive had been, writing The Driver had seemed harder. Or so I’d convinced myself.
Then in 2013, Ed Bolian and Dave Black shattered our record in 28 hours and 50 minutes. Calls and emails poured in. Are you going to go again? I said no. I had to. My mental health depended on it.
My 31:04 had been difficult. But 28:50? Thirty hours had long been considered the Holy Grail of Cannonball times. Their 28:50 was an incredible time. Miraculous, even. Bolian himself admitted they were the luckiest Cannonballers of all time. No problems. No weather. No traffic.
That 28:50 record seemed insurmountable. Even if it wasn’t, what would be the point? I had my record. I was lucky enough to have joined the very small club of people who had actually made the journey—barring fuel stops—straight through. Our having bested Brock Yates’ and Dan Gurney’s 1971 record was irrelevant. Many people had done that.
What mattered was the personal satisfaction of a goal achieved. I’d gotten such nonsense out of my system. Any attempt against 28:50 would be fueled solely be ego, which, once it becomes one’s sole motivating force, is a very foolish torch to follow.
Still, I spent the next year attempting to deconstruct how Bolian and Black had done it. I kept looking for reasons to disbelieve, unable to set aside my pride from the preponderance of the evidence.
Applying Occam’s Razor, I came to understand exactly how 28:50 had been accomplished. They’d studied every every successful run from 1971 through ours. Having duplicated or improved upon every technical and logistical aspect of 31:04, they saw that all the preparation only got you so far. Thirty-three hours, or possibly even 30. Faster times meant you had to drive faster. A lot faster. And hope weather and traffic was on your side.
I then realized that what I loved most about Cannonballing wasn’t the speed or time. It was the planning, the logistics, and most of all, the technology. This realization cured me of wanting to disbelieve 28:50, let alone break it.
The 28:50 time demonstrated that internal combustion engine vehicles—once loaded with extra fuel and all the technology required to avoid the police—have reached the theoretical limit of what is possible in Cannonballing. One could drive faster, but the limiting factors in breaking 28:50 are very much out of our control.
Perhaps, with improvements to networked navigation and police location functionality via Waze, Escort or some heretofore unknown startup, technology might offer incremental improvements in police evasion, but I’m not interested in incremental improvements. I’m interested in the future.
I’d been eating lunch at a checkpoint in Colorado on Rob Ferretti’s inaugural AdventureDrives—a car rally for adults fed up with the nonsense that is Gumball—and the first such event I’d done in nearly eight years. I loved it, but the Thanatos within still lurked. Then I saw the headline: “Tesla...LA to NY...58 Hours 55 minutes.” I did the math. Under 13 hours of charge time. 45-ish hours of drivetime. The tail-end of historic Cannonball records, but a huge leap ahead of the prior record of 67:21, itself a leap ahead of the prior prior record of 76:05.
When records fall so far so quickly, the future is here. And so I invited Reese and Mastracci to dinner.
Their analysis of their EV record and how it could be broken made it clear. They also saw the future. They saw that huge gains were coming in EV technology, and that times would fall. They saw how their and their Tesla’s performance could be optimized.
If supercharger times required greater human endurance, they would push their bodies to the maximum through nutrition, exercise and sleep schedules. They studied every post on the Tesla forums to exploit Supercharger locations as they opened. They used aftermarket apps to forecast the effects of wind and temperature on cruising speeds and charge times. They had devised myriad solutions to overcome design restrictions inherent to the car. Having invited me along, they calculated the effect of my extra 200 pounds, and deemed it acceptable.
When I asked Carl if two people could do it, Carl made it clear: endurance dictated three. They were a team, and I would be the guest invited to share the driving. My weight might cost us a bit, but it wouldn’t endanger a new record.
This would be totally unlike 31:04. This was the first time I’ve ever embarked on a record-breaking attempt where I wasn’t in charge, I didn’t own the car and I had done virtually no preparation. The 31:04 record cost well over six figures, and required years of preparation in order to make an attempt, let alone succeed. A long history of prior attempts was there to guide us, and dozens of veterans volunteered to help us on both ends, if not in the car.
This time, Reese & Mastracci were the only experts. This would be my first time behind the wheel of a Tesla. I had virtually no idea how events would unfold.
And so on October 18th, 2015, with but two days of mental preparation and GoPro charging, I met them at the Portofino Inn, the hallowed finish line for several of the infamous Cannonball Runs. We would be heading east, to take advantage of the wind. This was my first lesson in something completely new. By 9:15 p.m. PST, surrounded by friends and witnesses, we were off.
Everyone who does such things is literally and figuratively driven by personal reasons, but the result for those who succeed, the output, is more significant than any record. The output is the best R&D and marketing any manufacturer could ever hope for.
When, in the same week Consumer Reports declared the Tesla Model S below average in reliability, the same model performs perfectly in the ultimate test of American automotive endurance mythology—96 percent on Autopilot—the future glows a little brighter for both EV and AD.
This isn’t about driving faster. It’s about driving better. And better is inherently safer.
That we set a new EV record in 57:48 matters not because I was invited along to do a third of the driving, but because it sets a new bar as to what new technologies are capable of when people choose to exploit their potential.
Where ICE technologies see incremental gains, EV will see exponential gains. As power density improves, superchargers proliferate and human ingenuity finds a way, even this EV record will fall.
As for Reese and Mastracci, approximately 36 hours after we arrived at the Red Ball Garage in NY, they turned around and drove back to the Portofino Inn, setting yet another record, this time for the fastest EV Round-trip LA-NY-LA, in 6 days, 6 hours & 22 minutes.
God bless them. Six days in a car? I’m glad I wasn’t in the car for that one.
Roy is really proud of coining the phrase “Autonomotive Singularity.” Roy is President of Europe By Car, the founder of Team Polizei, a columnist for Jalopnik, a host on /DRIVE and author of The Driver - which depicts his 2006 NY-LA Transcontinental Driving Record, accomplished in 31 hours and 4 minutes. He also the Producer of The Great Chicken Wing Hunt & 32 Hours 7 Minutes, was Chairman of The Moth from 2002-2007, won The Ultimate Playboy on Sky One, has competed in LeMons & the Baja 1000, and holds a variety of driving records which must still remain secret.
Top photo credit raneko/Flickr