First Cannonball Run

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Gurney/Yates Win First Cannonball, Polish Racing Hierarchy Finish Close Second. By Brad Niemcek - Competition Press & Autoweek, December 1971.

Redondo Beach, Calif., Nov. 17, 1971 – Dan Gurney and Brock Yates co-drove a Kirk F. White Ferrari Daytona coupe to a new unofficial record for cross-country vehicular travel here today. In the process, the team outran a field of seven others to win the first official Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

Gurney, the "retired" veteran of international racing, and Yates, a senior editor of Car & Driver magazine, covered the distance between New York City and the Portofino Inn on the Pacific Ocean here in 35 hours and 54 minutes.

They were only 53 minutes faster than the second-place finisher, a Chevrolet Sportsvan entered by Briggs Chevrolet-Ferrari, South Ambory, New Jersey for the three co-founders of the Polish Racing Drivers of American, Tony Adamowicz, Oscar Koveleski and Brad Niemcek. The PRDA team covered the distance in 36 hours and 47 minutes.

In fact, less than two hours separated the five fastest finishers, even through the event was run through rain, snow, sleet and got at various points long the routes the teams traveled.


The Cannonball Baker event conceived by Yates as a whimsical gesture of defiance of the regimen of contemporary traffic laws was run without accident or injury, but the law did take its toll.

Four of the eight teams received a total of 12 speeding tickets along the route. The most remarkable among them was a citation given to Gurney in Arizona for allegedly doing 135mph in a 70mph zone.

But the leading ticket-takers were the third-place finishers. Larry Opert, Ron Herisko and Nate Pritzker of Cambridge, Massachusetts, received six tickets, talked themselves out of a seventh and narrowly escaped jail for allegedly stealing gasoline at one point in their journey to California in a 1971 Cadillac - in a time of 36 hours and 56 minutes.

The Cadillac, by the way, was a "drive to deliver" type picked up in New York for delivery to an unsuspecting owner on the West Coast.

Herisko explained later that the stealing incident was the result of their haste and a "misunderstanding" between them and a sleepy gas station attendant.

Koveleski, a director of the Motor Racing Safety Society, pointed out that the RPDA went ticket-free "because we endeavored to remain within the speed limit at all times."

The PRDA van was equipped to run the distance without a fuel stop, having started from Manhattan at 12:11am on November 15th with 298 gallons of Gulf No-Nox on board. But the team was forced to stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico to take on 78 additional gallons of fuel.

The fourth place finishers were runners-up in ticket-taking. Tom Marebut, Randy Waters and Becky Poston of Little Rock, Arkansas received four speeding tickets during the course of their 37-hour 45-minute trip. One of the stops took an hour and 45 minutes. Marebut explained the delay was caused by a young Pennsylvania State Trooper "trying to talk Becky into staying behind with him."

Only three minutes slower was the 1969 AMX driven by two brothers, Tom and Ed Bruerton of San Pablo, California. The team went ticket-free. The brothers said later they "stroked it, because they already had 90,000 miles on the enigne." The AMX finished fifth in a time of 37 hours and 48 minutes, only 3 minutes slower than the Little Rock van.

Sixth place was won by the infamous "Moon Trash II," a Dodge van that Yates originally intended to enter. Driving instead was Kim Chapin, the writer, and Steve Behr, an SCCA club racer from Wellsley, Massachusetts. Behr’s girlfriend, Holly Morin went along as an "observer."

The team finished the event in 39 hours and 3 minutes, even though an estimated two hours was lost when the drivers sought a way to replace a badly chunked tire in northern Texas. Only a conventional wheel-tire combination was available as a spare for the faulty Cragar mag wheel-mounted wide tread. The team did not have conventional lug nuts or wrench for the replacement.

The last of the teams to finish was also the largest. Bill Broderick, public relations director for Union 76 Oil Co., organized a 27-foot Travico motor home for the event and entered it with Pal Parker, the racing photographer; Bob Carey, editor of Circle Track and Highway magazine; Phil Pash, motorsports writer for Chicago Today and Joe Frasson the independent NASCAR Grand National driver from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Travico van arrived after 57 hours and 25 minutes on the road with a police escort at the Portofino Inn. Broderick explained the only incident his team encountered was a highway detour, which caused a sudden maneuver by Fresson and resultant spilling of a large pan of hot lasagne on the van’s shag rug.

Failing to finish was an MGB-GT co-driven by Bob Perlow of Baldwin, New York and Wes Dawn of Venice, California. The MGB suffered transmission failure near Columbus, Ohio.