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Coronavirus killed 336 people in New York City on Saturday, April 4, 2020. As America’s greatest city battled with the deadly pandemic, thousands of health-care workers and first responders left their families for another day, risking their own lives on the front lines. Countless more New Yorkers did their part by simply staying at home, where a not insignificant number likely fretted over how they would pay their rent or afford groceries in the face of an economic shock that has left millions of Americans unemployed.
This was the backdrop when, on that same Saturday, three (or possibly four) of this country’s biggest assholes loaded a luxury sedan with a trunk full of gasoline and charged across the country to claim a speed record that proves nothing other than their own self-importance.
To accomplish this feat of nothingness, the cross-country racers averaged nearly 109 mph on public roads for more than 26 hours. Their reckless speed was undoubtedly made easier by the disease that has also cleared traffic from American highways. Fewer SUVs taking the kids to see Grandma. Fewer trucks delivering new cars to dealer lots. Fewer police officers to enforce the speed limit. The Cannonballers—who have not yet come forward—surely thought it was the perfect time to race from New York to Los Angeles. In fact, it was the opposite of the perfect time.
In a moment when most Americans are making personal sacrifices for the good of their community and their country, the people racing from New York to LA on April 4 decided they were above it all. Not only were they exempt from all efforts to control the spread of coronavirus, these individuals took it upon themselves to endanger hundreds (probably thousands) of unwitting motorists in pursuit of their five minutes of internet fame.
We shoulder some of the blame for this particular style of stupidity. Car and Driver popularized the Cannonball cross-country sprint in the early ’70s. It was foolish back then, too, but not nearly as reckless. The fastest car from New York’s Red Ball Garage to California’s Portofino Hotel and Marina in 1971 averaged barely more than 80 mph. At the time, the Kansas turnpike had an 80-mph speed limit. Montana and Nevada generally didn’t post highway speed limits.
We’re older and wiser today—no longer that same magazine that once campaigned against making cars safer. Driving across the country is different now, too. The speeds required to set the record are too extreme. The traffic is too heavy. And the payoff—a few thousand new Instagram followers, maybe?—is too pointless.
The Cannonball Instagram account proved just how misguided the speed-record community is when it responded to the record claim with a post that read “None of these so-called-records [sic] have any value. We won’t publish them because runs in these days of #covid19 devalues [sic] the difficulty of the exercise. It could end up badly.” The post suggests that weaving through minivans filled with families is some sort of noble cause, like donating blood or sewing masks for the workers who have kept society running through this disaster. It also completely ignores the reality that any coast-to-coast run could very easily end badly.
Ed Bolian, who has held the cross-country speed record since November 2019, at least showed a glimmer of self-awareness when he told Road & Track, “Do I think this is the best use of time while the country is staying in during a pandemic? Probably not, but for me to say it’s awful is like a cocaine dealer saying a heroin dealer is awful.”
Bolian knows that he can’t condemn any record set during a pandemic for being unsafe or imprudent, because any Cannonball record attempt in the 21st century is unsafe and imprudent. Setting either record required extended stretches moving at well more than twice the speed of traffic. Hitting 150 mph or more on public roads isn’t something to celebrate.
We don’t have any hesitation saying that cocaine dealers and heroin dealers are both awful. The only difference between Bolian’s record and the one set on April 4 is a matter of perception. Please, we’re not in the mood for your wanton endangerment of the public right now. If right now is not a good time to jeopardize innocent lives by indulging in a selfish and hollow pursuit of notoriety, what makes that acceptable in better times?
Nothing. The answer is nothing. Even without the backdrop of a pandemic, racing across the country to set a record in 2020 is unconscionable and dumb.