For those of you who aren’t familiar with the kick-ass cult classic The Cannonball Run, you should probably check it out. It’s a ridiculous, totally over the top take on 1980s racing culture, highlighted by things like Jackie Chan driving like a madman in a suped-up Subaru and a couple of hard drinking, perverted priests in a Ferrari. It also stars Burt Reynolds’ magnificent mustache, the ugliest doctor you’ve ever seen, gratuitous amounts of sexual innuendo, and enough destruction to make a demolition derby driver blush.
What most people don’t know is that this nutty movie is based on an annual race orchestrated by a guy named Brock Yates, who happens to make a cameo in the flick as the race coordinator. Now in its 32nd year of existence as “Brock Yates’ One Lap of America,” this race-oriented road trip has morphed into a monster of an event, with everything from $1,000 retired cop cars to $850,000 Porsche 918 Spyders in attendance.
The coast-to-coast madcap dash of yesteryear with its condescending cops, Ferrari Daytonas, and 55 mile-per-hour speed limit protests is long gone. Today’s race is a far more organized track-oriented marathon, where teams of drivers hit a race course in a particular state, only to pack up and drive 10 hours to the next track multiple states away. While there is no penalty for arriving late to the hotel, checking your car into the track and getting it ready early the next morning is mandatory, so the more sleep drivers get, the better.
Naturally, there are a myriad of things to take into consideration if you are interested in partaking in this iconic American motoring event, so we recommend checking out One Lap’s website for details before hopping in head first. Things like conserving tire tread, making the most of available track reconnaissance time, and utilizing warming and cool down laps are all crucial to success, so be sure to study up in advance.
Sitting here at the National Corvette Museum on the outskirts of Bowling Green, Kentucky, I brace myself for yet another long haul, with Road America as my next target, a full 8.5 hours away, in Wisconsin. I’ve been on the road for the past four days straight, we’re only halfway through our journey, sleep comes in four-hour increments if at all, shower time is scarce, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be along for the ride. It may not be for everyone, but there’s a damn good reason why everyone says that all automotive enthusiasts should experience One Lap at least once in their lives.
1. Calling all cars
One of the beautiful things about One Lap is that since its inception, Brock Yates has insisted that as long as a vehicle is road legal, it can compete. The starting grid is home to every kind of car, with everything from 1,000-horsepower Corvettes and fully built BMWs to modified Toyota Sienna minivans and classic Porsches making the cross-country trek. Just remember that sometimes less is more; bone stock vehicles tend to be more reliable, don’t require as much setup and road prep time, and are less likely to catch the eye of local authorities.
2. Shenanigans and celebrities
You never know who’s going to make it out, and since this is the great granddaddy of road races, everyone from Top Gear USA host Rutledge Wood to world champion race car drivers like Craig Stanton make the voyage. Meanwhile, back in the paddock, there’s lots of goofing around going down — an inevitable side effect of repetitious sleep deprivation and too much caffeine.
3. Road trips rule
One of the greatest things about being an automotive enthusiast is being able to travel freely on some of the most scenic highways imaginable. While modern GPS systems will surely get you from one track to the next, it won’t always take road construction, toll booths, and enjoyability into account. All drivers are given a route book at the beginning of the race, and this “road bible” comes chocked full of driving tips, scenic route guides, police officer warnings, and contact info. So turn off that navi, and enjoy the drive.
4. You don’t have to be a pro to go
Long referred to as “the people’s driving event,” One Lap remains open to all drivers, as everyone from father/daughter teams and war veterans to weekend warriors and first timers are usually in attendance. Yates has always insisted on One Lap being an all-inclusive event, as it gives the inexperienced the chance to learn firsthand from some of the best cars in the world.
5. So many tracks, so little time
On average, you will attack at least 12 different tracks and attend various events over those eight days, with everything from road courses and skid pads, to hill climbs and drag strips on the menu. This is a great way for you to see what your car specializes in, and in the process realize what kind of racing you find most enjoyable, all while experiencing a multitude of trying environments in varying conditions.
6. The learning curve can’t be beat
According to One Lap organizing members, at some point competitors need to “accept the fact that this event will kick the shit out of them, and that it will teach them patience in the process.” You and your car are going to be pushed to the limits, and you will learn a lot from the people who are competing against you, as well as from the vehicle you are piloting. Everyone has a copilot too, so if you aren’t close to them already you soon will be.
7. Camaraderie and lifelong friendships are born here
Speaking of getting to know people, the One Lap group is a pretty tightly knit community, with quite a few contenders returning every year for decades on end. People come from all over the world to compete, and the stories you hear from the seasoned veterans are often priceless. Almost everyone in the paddock can’t imagine life without this event, and a common saying around the campfire goes something like: “Our calendar runs May to May, not January to January.”
8. You are making history
Just as The Cannonball Run was once inspired by an unorthodox, rag-tag road race, no one knows what the races of today will inspire as we careen across America in search of the next track. Winning One Lap gives you instant bragging rights, sponsor goodies galore, and one hell of a badass custom trophy, so brush up on those driving skills.
9. It’s never the same experience twice
Like a well designed video game, you never play the same level twice here, because even though it always starts and finishes on the same “Skid Pad” at The Tire Rack’s South Bend, Indiana plant, there are always new challenges and fresh courses to conquer. It’s an unpredictable, ever evolving experience, and just when you think you’re making great time and are going to get a good night’s sleep for once, the local authorities decide to make a random traffic stop because you’ve got out of state plates.
10. Because summer camp shouldn’t just be for kids
This really is summer camp for adults, and here’s why. Being that it’s only once a year, the reunion party is typically one for the ages, and seeing everyone’s inner child come out is great. After a year-long absence, lifelong friends are reunited once more so they can show off their cars, drink in the hotel parking lot, and goof around in between races.
You are experiencing something so unique that no one will ever understand unless they too are a part of it. Complete immersion is key here, so if you want to see what One Lap of America is all about don’t just kick it for a day or two and then split. Stay for the whole trip, and make some memories that are trophy-worthy.