Well, the fuse has been lit on the 2006 installment of the splendiforously-titled Tire Rack Cannonball One Lap of America presented by Car & Driver (better known as 'One Lap'), and as usual, your trusty Autoblog contact is on the scene. We had high hopes for 'live-blogging' the Cannonball Run offspring this year via daily updates, but circumstances have conspired against us. At any rate, for those not terribly familiar with the event, here's the (kinda-sorta) quick and dirty:
Brock Yates, patron saint of modern American automotive journalism and founder of the original 'Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash,' created a weeklong national road rally in 1984 for gearheads and their hangers-on. In its original incarnation, the event was a bleary-eyed run around the perimeter of these United States. In more recent times (1992-present), One Lap has evolved into a more sophisticated setup that sees racers drive from racetrack to racetrack around the country (the route changes each year), with stops at major and minor tracks along the way. The race is essentially a 'rung whatcha brung' event in which cars of wildly varying description and capability duke it out in different racing venues for overall and in-class wins. The beauty of One Lap is its simplicity-- if you can find a state willing to slap a license plate on it, it's okay by Brock. Racers must attend a couple of track day schools and meet certain rudimentary safety standards (helmets, SFI-rated firesuits, etc.) and run on tires purchased from title sponsor The Tire Rack, but everything else is essentially fair game.
Entrants test the durability of their rides, their backsides, and their mental states not only with long transit stages, but also a good cross-section of events -- everything from road courses to ovals to drag strips. Transit stages on public roads are not timed or scored events, though generally there is at least one passage control along the way to keep things 'on the level.' By way of example, a few years ago, One Lappers were treated to a dirt oval, proving once and for all that auto afficianados haven't lived until they've seen a Lamborghini Diablo spraying muddy roostertails up over the catch fence.
Click through to the jump for more One Lap of America, including dozens of photographs!
The start of the race took place at the South Bend, Indiana digs of the Tire Rack, with registration, stickering, drivers' meeting, and late-night bench racing taking place on Friday.
The key for racers is simple: reliability. Reliable car, reliable driver, reliable navigator. In the past, exotically prepared, over-motored entrants have blown their wads (and their engines) within the first few races, taking them out of contention, and worse still, out of the fun. In fact, the beauty of One Lap is that it has remain largely uncorrupted by the forces that shape motorsports as a whole. Yes, if you want to run up front and compete for an overall win, you'll have to spend quite a bit of coin for a ride with gobs of horsepower (500 ponies seems to be at the shallow end of the drivetrain pool for a top-ten finish these days). But the guys that seem to have the most fun are often the teams who write out the fewest checks. There's a reason a core group of guys show up in everyday econoboxes... it's a blast.
Our group this year has a number of proven winners and hot-shoe drivers, along with a bunch of 'unknowns.' What's interesting is the relative paucity of certain cars that have been popular past events. Yes, we still have our share of Dodge Vipers, Porsche 911s, Chevrolet Corvettes and Subaru WRXs, but the number of Ford Mustangs (one, a factory-fettled GT500), BMW 3-Series (ditto) and such are conspicious by there absences. But there's no shortage of interesting cars-- everything from three(1!) Noble M400s to a pair of Ultima GTRs, a smattering of Lotus Elises, a Factory Five Daytona Coupe and a couple of masochists in a World Class Ultralite (read: 'Lotus Seven'). A couple of automakers have entered the fray as well, among them a three-car team from Honda-- a new Civic Si and a pair of the fiercest-looking Odysseys on record.
Your humble narrator has a longstanding relationship with One Lap, having staffed one of the event's two timing crews for something like 6-8 years. Simply put, we're the individuals responsible for keeping the lid on this thing, making sure that all of the drivers run as safely as possible, and that track times, penalties, and scores are recorded and posted quickly and reliably. Given that we trundle about the country in bone-stock press pool cars, the split into two teams of two cars allows us to stay ahead of the racers, ensuring that we can set up the timing gear, mark out the tracks with cones, etc. so that the racers can get on with things when they arrive. As such, we generally only make it to about 50-70 percent of the actual events ('leapfrogging' the racers around the country), so future 'Autoblog Travelogue' entries will focus more on road stories and such, and less in the way of blow-by-blow racing coverage. For that, readers would be well advised to check out the official website, www.OneLapOfAmerica.com, and Car & Driver magazine's Tony Swan, who is covering the event with the help of his wife Mary Seelhorst, competing in the Luxury Sedan class with a BMW-sourced M5.
But this year is a little different. Due to family illness with one of Brock's regular traveling companions, I'm stepping into the role of his co-driver, and thus will attend most every racetrack in the event, continuing to 'crew' at every other track with my timing team as normal. The upshot is less sleep, and significantly less time to send missives to our Autoblog readership, but hopefully you'll understand.
Our mount of choice? A bright-red Ford F-350 Powerstroke dually extended cab in Lariat spec. Uh-huh. Last year, the Big Man rolled around in an equally crimson Bentley Continental GT. Not that we're complaining, mind. Regardless of the less-than-lithe ride, it's a credible long-distance hauler capable of putting away the miles like Kobayashi lunches down Oscar Mayers (a full tank is good for a perineal muscle challenging 600+ miles). For the record, Mazda is the official sponsor of this year's event, and as such, the rest of the crew is rolling about the U.S.A. in Mazda6 wagons and MPVs. While arguably not the sexiest of iron, they're well suited schlepping around of our timing gear, clothing, pallets of water bottles, playing cards, and a plastic barrel of what our resident Canadian staffer promises are 'Jube-Jubes.'
The start of the race took place at the South Bend, Indiana digs of the Tire Rack, with registration, stickering, technical inspection, drivers' meeting, and late-night bench racing taking place on Friday. Our group this year has a number of proven winners and hot-shoe drivers, along with a bunch of 'unknowns.' What's interesting is the relative paucity of certain cars that have been popular past events. Yes, we still have our share of Dodge Vipers, Porsche 911s, Chevrolet Corvettes and Subaru WRXs, but the number of Ford Mustangs (one, a factory-fettled GT500), BMW 3-Series (ditto) and such are conspicious by there absences. But there's no shortage of interesting cars-- everything from three(1!) Noble M400s to a pair of Ultima GTRs, a couple of Lotus Elises, a Factory Five Daytona Coupe and a couple of masochists in a World Class Ultralite (read: 'Lotus Seven'). A couple of automakers have entered the fray as well, among them a three-car team from Honda-- a new Civic Si and a pair of the fiercest-looking Odysseys on record.
Saturday, we kicked off with the first scored event, the wet skidpad challenge, run around the Tire Rack's own figure-eight course. Interestingly, the lower horsepower front-drive cars seem to get around better than the big-dollar rear wheel drive and all wheel drive setups. Last year, an elderly Dodge Daytona CS took top honors, and this year the same vehicle has repeated its success, with vehicles based on fwd econoboxes taking the first six spots (a temp-tag Hennessey Viper snagged 7th).
Since then, Brock, myself, and one of the event's trusty photogs (Steve Rossini from Highland Studios) shuffled our way westward a modest 100+ miles to the new Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois (near Chicago). It's a first-rate new facility with an interesting twist. Unlike traditional raceways, the Autobahn is set up like a country club, with membership dues giving the well-heeled essentially unfettered access to two first-rate roadcourses. Shallow pockets need not apply-- we hear standard memberships are $10,000, with an even more exclusive membership hovering somewhere around $100,000. Those with P. Diddy largesse can actually buy plots of land along the course to build homes or their own race towers and/or garages. Of course, the facility can also be rented, as One Lap attests. In fact, numerous organizations can be housed at once, as there were a number of car clubs sharing space with One Lap. Running on the other course? A Ferrari Club, an Alfa club, and what looked to be a Corvette collective as well. They brought along some neat toys... everything from an ex-Ferrari Challenge F355 and an F40 to a "How'd they plate that?" BMW Z1.
From Joliet, Brock and I pointed the F-350 toward Pacific Junction, Iowa, home of Mid-America Motorsports, home of a 2.23 mile roadcourse and surprisingly credible Philly Cheesesteaks. En route to the track, snapper Steve Rossini learned the error of parting company with 'Big Red,' Yates and I, as his rental Chevy Impala received a sheetmetal reworking courtesy of a wayward deer. Fortunately, it was quickly exchanged for an equally anonymous facsimile of the same.
Like the majority of its state, MAM is as flat as Gwyneth Paltrow, but thanks to its 15 turns, its about as entertaining and accomplished as well. Saturday's schedule actually held two 'events,' with each composed of three hot laps. Run groups are essentially established according to overall positioning, so the fastest vehicles run up front, generally in smaller groups to limit passing and carnage. In this case, given the size of the track and its excellent sightlines for the timing crew, we were able to run as many as eight cars simultaneously, only breaking a couple of cars and bending none. We finished early, which was great a great relief to many of the drivers, allowing them to head out for the next track, a hemmeroid-inducing 1,100 miles south.
'No Problem' Raceway Park, in Bella Rose, Louisiana (55 miles away from New Orleans) was the next stop on the agenda, but with Brock Yates Jr. and the 'B' team in control, Brock Sr. and I elected to get a head start on 1,200 mile jaunt of our own, leapfrogging the race to head for Savannah, Georgia. As this is written (Monday night), we're ensconced in a Dublin, Georgia Hampton Inn, about 100 miles away from Roebling Road, a nine-turn, 2.02 mile roadcourse, having just put down some authentic Southern cuisine at Sonny's Barbeque. Barring predictably heavy traffic in Atlanta, little has stopped Big Red or its crew from piling on the miles, and we're set for a pair of great events tomorrow.