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Pursuing the Cannonball Run record, drivers blast across the United States to claim the illegal transcontinental speed record. Underground racing drivers follow the famous route of the Cannonball Run Rallies of the 1970s. In 2006, Alex Roy shattered the previous record by using modern technology to meticulously plan his route and drive at speed through the night. Seven years later, no one had broken his record. Doing so would require a so called ‘fraternity of lunatics.’

Catching The Cannonball Record Bug

2001 Mercedes Benz CL 55 AMG V8 in a black studio. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images) Ed Bolian set the 2013 cannonball run record in a similar car.
2001 Mercedes Benz CL 55 AMG V8 | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Ed Bolian is an unassuming yet charismatic Lamborghini salesman from Atlanta, Georgia. In high school, Bolian interviewed Brock Yates. Brock Yates is the founder of the Cannonball Run. Bolian told the famous driver he hoped to set a transcontinental record. At 28 years old, Bolian finally took a run at his lifelong dream. He brought the one resource to his record attempt that Alex Roy had left out: a network. 

Before his 2013 attempt, Bolian prepared an old Mercedes CL55 AMG mechanically and installed the standard electronics: Radar detector, radar jammer, gyroscope-stabilized binoculars, and radios to scan for police. He said that arriving at the Red Ball garage with a well-tuned vehicle and team only earns you the right to “pull the lever” of the “Cannonball slot machine.” After that, traffic, weather, and law enforcement will dictate the final time. 

Ed Bolian Enlisted Help For The Cannonball Run Record

Driving at Night | James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images. Setting the cannonball run record includes high speed night driving.
Driving at Night | James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

In the face of uncertainty, Bolian made an unprecedented preparation: he enlisted an entire “fraternity of lunatics”–his nickname for his fellow speed enthusiasts. His team included a co-driver named Dave Black (one of his dealership customers). Their Mercedes also carried a spotter named Dan Huang. Bolian invented the spotter role to have someone to keep an eye on all the electronics, an ear on the police, calculated speed/fuel consumption, and man the binoculars. What’s more, other customers and acquaintances of Bolian’s scouted the highway ahead of the record attempt. 

While Bolian and Black drove, each scout radioed an “all clear” back to the Mercedes. The trio raced coast-to-coast, maintaining a moving average of 100 miles per hour (recording a high speed of 158) and only burning 46 minutes on stops. The 2013 team set a 28:50 record that would stand for six years.

Cannonball’s ‘Fraternity of Lunatics’

REDONDO BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Arne Toman, 41, of Chicago, left, Forrest Sibley, 31, Atlanta , center, and Ed Bolian, 30, of Atlanta drove the 1974 Dodge Monaco Bluemobile a 2003 Silverado V8 to a first place finish in 34 hours 16 minutes where they pose September 19, 2016 in Redondo Beach, CA. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images) Two holders of The Cannonball Run Record
Arne Toman, Forrest Sibley, and Ed Bolian during C2C | Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

How Did the Cannonball Run Record Start? (Cannonball History Part 1)

Many other members of Bolian’s “fraternity of lunatics” attempted to break his Cannonball Run record. Scouting for the car making a record attempt became standard practice. Some forward drivers even aimed to be pulled over to distract the police. 

From 2015 to 2019, these speed enthusiasts also organized an annual event: the C2C Express. The cost and speed of cross-country attempts had become too high for many. They aimed to lower both with a rally more in line with the 1970s Cannonballs: Entrants were limited to cars built before 1980 that cost less than $3,000.

Many C2C Express contestants even dress up for the race. One team drove a 1974 Dodge Monaco painted like a police car while dressed as the Blues Brothers. Another team made fun of their “land yacht” by dressing in vintage suits and captain’s hats.

Though many teams made runs at Bolian’s record over the next half a decade, none could beat it. It was the C2C Express that finally proved the perfect training ground for the next generation of Cannonball record holders. Read about the next generation and their camouflaged car in Cannonball History Part 3.