May 5, 1914 – Erwin “Cannonball” Baker makes starts first cross country run

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.

Dashboard of the record setting AMG from 2019. Note the 130+ speed. By Arne Toman.

In the 1970s, Car and Driver magazine sponsored five Cannonball Runs. None of them were slated as official races, yet they yielded massive crowds and numerous cross country records were set. The runs were advertised as a form of protest against the new 55 MPH highway laws that had recently gone into effect. Today, the New York to LA record stands at 27 hours and 25 minutes. It was set in 2019 by drivers Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt, and spotter Berkeley Chadwick in a 2015 Mercedes Benz AMG. They averaged 103 MPH over the 2,825 mile journey.

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