Cannonball Run drivers fill Old Westbury Gardens with courage and class

Drivers Doug Tabbutt, left, and Arne Toman, center, set the current record for the fastest Cannonball Run in 2020 using the barren roads of the coronavirus pandemic to their advantage. They averaged 110 mph in their 2016 Audi S6, stopping for only 31 minutes on their 25-hour run from New York to California. // Photo by Sam Johnston/Long Island Advocate

By Samuel Johnston

Some 20 Cannonball Run drivers and their fans came from far and wide to Old Westbury Gardens Sept. 17 to check out a collection of souped-up sports cars and the people who drove them at historic speeds across the United States for a showcase and discussion about what it’s like to speed from New York to California.

It was the first time that the 200-acre Old Westbury Gardens played host to such an event, partnering with Mercedes-Benz of America to give Cannonball enthusiasts a weekend to remember.

The Cannonball Run is an unsanctioned, 2,700-mile coast-to-coast race that weaves its way across the flat plains of the U.S. Drivers have, at times, reached speeds in excess of 150 and 175 mph — or about a hundred miles per hour above the speed limit. Many drivers average speeds above 100 and even 110 mph. The fastest Cannonball Run came during the coronavirus pandemic — when streets were deserted — 25 hours, 55 minutes.

The Cannonball Run record holder, driven by Tabbutt and Arne in 2020. // Photo by Sam Johnston/Long Island Advocate

The first Cannonball Day panel included a variety of the original Cannonball record-breakers who discussed their experiences sprinting across the country decades ago. Among the speakers were Pamela Yates, husband of the late Paul Yates, who is an icon in the world of motorsports and Cannonball runs. He also inspired the 1976 comedic films “Gumball Rally” and “Cannonball.” And he is in the American Motorsports Hall of Fame and is considered one of the founding fathers of automotive journalism.

“I think there’s always going to be a need for speed and adventure…” Pam Yates said. “The need for a challenge is hardwired into human beings’ souls. That’s what Cannonball is all about, tapping into your adventure and our innate desire for a challenge.”

The Cannonball Run dates back decades. // Photo by Sam Johnston

Many of the drivers and enthusiasts credited their initial interest in Cannonball racing to the legacy of those who completed the early Cannonball runs. Today, drivers still compete and charge across the country at record-breaking times.

The second panel included a pack of modern-day Cannonball record holders, including Alex Roy, Ed Bolian, Dunadel Daryoush, John Ficara and many others. They discussed the progression and advantages of modern-day automotive technologies and how they benefitted from them in breaking Cannonball records through the years.

Alex Roy, a modern-day Cannonball Run record holder, speaking at the event. // Photo by Sam Johnston/Long Island Advocate
Cannonball Run drivers and enthusiasts mixed and mingled at Old Westbury Gardens. // Photo by Sam Johnston/Long Island Advocate

As Saturday’s Cannonball event wrapped up, there was still plenty to look forward to at the Great Marques Concours d’Dlegance car show on Sunday, hosted by Mercedes-Benz of America. More than a hundred classic and modern Mercedes-Benz cars were showcased on the green fields of Old Westbury Gardens. There were also about a hundred BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis in the show.

But the top prize went to Mercedes-Benz. Sean Lui won Best in Class for Touring with his 2006 W211 E55 Mercedes AMG. He was among four other winners decided by five judges, who thoroughly inspected each car in the competition.

“It’s truly spectacular to see all these beautiful cars and friendly people. This community is truly amazing, and I love to meet up with them all and catch up,” said Robert Hussey, section member of the of the Mercedes-Benz of America Board. “Some of these cars have so much history and hard work put into them, it’s so nice to be able to award and appreciate all of them.”

Sean Lui’s 2006 E55 Mercedes Benz AMG took home Best in Class for Touring at the Sunday car show. // Photo by Sam Johnston/Long Island Advocate

“It’s truly spectacular to see all these beautiful cars and friendly people. This community is truly amazing, and I love to meet up with them all and catch up.”

Robert Hussey, Mercedes-Benz of America Board

The weekend was one to remember for all those in attendance at Cannonball Day and the Concours d’Elegance. “I will never forget this weekend; it was truly special,” said Ken Engelman, marketing director for Mercedes Benz of America. “All these historic cars of beauty, performance and significance in one place for one weekend just feels like the stars are aligning.”