Cannonball Baker on his way
across the country in 1914.
Man among men,
lunatic among lunatics
If there was ever a role
model for an outlaw cross-country race, it was Cannonball Baker. He
had a thing about driving cross country that bordered on obsession.
He did it numerous times and was the first to do it on a motorcyle
in -- ready for this? -- 1914.
Jeez, 1914. Woodrow
Wilson was the new president, we hadn't yet been sucked into the
Great War, and it had been only six years since Henry Ford delivered
the first Model T to a customer. But there was Cannonball, astride a
big, 61-cubic inch Indian V-twin, laboring mightily across the
continent in abominable conditions. Twice he had to shoot pursuing
dogs with a handgun, once he pushed his out-of-gas heavyweight for
miles in 119-degree heat, and he routinely wrestled with muddy roads
that he described as "plowed fields." It took him 11 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes to travel the 3,379 miles,
most of them standing up -- the Indian's "suspension" consisted a
semi-flexible frame designed to soak up shocks.
Why did he do it? Well, why
He also did it on four
wheels, which must've been a piece of cake compared to the bike
ride. In 1915 he drove from Los Angeles to New York in 11 days. The
next year he dropped his record time to seven days. In 1922 he
teamed with a mechanic and drove a Templar racing prototype across
country in six days, 17 hours and 16 minutes.
In 1933, at the age of 51,
he did it in less than three days, a remarkable achievement. To
quote Brock Yates:
". . . Nothing even
approaches, in my opinion, the incontestable pinnacle of
transcontenental driving--the run of the marvelous Ernest G.
"Cannonball" Baker in the spring of 1933. Then aged 51, Cannonball
drive a new supercharged Graham from New York to Los Angeles in 53
hours and 30 minutes. Alone! Yes, driving singlehanded, without the
benefit of a centimeter of Interstate, and enjoying very little in
the way of smooth pavement, plus having to traverse every blasted
small town along the way, he made the trip at an average speed in
the neighborhood of 60 mph!"
Baker also competed
hillclimbs and races, including the Indy 500, finishing 11th in 1922
driving a Frontenac. He was later the first commissioner of NASCAR
and presided over the early wild and wooly days of the circuit.
Can't think of anyone more qualified.
Cannonball Baker died in
1960 at the age of 78. He is buried at the Crown Hill Cemetary