Motorcycle racer Erwin “Cannonball” Baker left San Diego for New York City on an Indian Motorcycle on this day in 1914, his first of several cross country runs. Baker, the winner of the first race ever held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a motorcycle race, in which he rode an Indian), reached his destination in just 11 days, smashing the old record by 9 days. After the incredibly quick run a journalist wrote that Baker was faster than the Cannonball express train. The name stuck. To this day, cross country races, usually unsanctioned and outlawed, are known as cannonball runs all across the world.
In the 1970s, Car and Driver magazine sponsored five Cannonball Runs. C&D did not slate them as official races, yet they yielded massive crowds. Throughout the events drivers set numerous cross country speed records. The publication advertised the runs as a form of protest against the new 55 MPH highway laws that had recently gone into effect.
Today, the New York to California record stands at 25 hours and 39 minutes. IDrivers Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt set the current record in a heavily Modified Audi S6. They held the record previously, having set it in an AMG Mercedes, pictured above.