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Car and Driver: Cannonball Run Documentary in the Works, Filmmaker Needs Your Help

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Hal Needham Fake AmbulanceMore than just a simple cross-country auto race, the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was cultural happening, an automotive middle finger extended in the direction 55-mph speed limit and Washington’s encroachment on personal liberties. Instigated by Car and Driver’s own Brock Yates and Steve Smith, the original Cannonball Run was held four times between 1971 and 1979, its place in the annuls of unsanctioned automotive mischief set in stone almost exclusively through articles in C/D. Lionized in multiple films including the Brock Yates penned, Hal Needham directed, The Cannonball Run, the event also spawned several copycat events as well as the semi-legitimate One Lap of America series. Now the saga is being revisited again, this time in the ultimate of 21st-century symbol of affirmation, the documentary film. 


The news comes from a post on the website Motorreporters.com that claims a large stash of original photography from a Cannonball participant was recently unearthed in Germany, which in turn sparked renewed interest in the Cannonball and the possibility of producing a documentary. The problem, of course, is that the Cannonball was run in the pre-iPhone era, when capturing something on film or video was a formidable task that generally required bulky and expensive equipment. Still, several of the recently discovered photos clearly illustrate several people holding still and movie cameras, as well as an early video recorder, giving hope that there more undiscovered visual documentation still exists.


Cannonball 1979 Start BriefingThe filmmakers have put out the call to locate these materials, and are asking anyone who was present at key Cannonball locations such as the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan; the Lock, Stock & Barrel in Darien, Connecticut; or the Portofino Inn, in Redondo Beach, California, to check their basements and attics. Less specifically, they are looking for anyone who was present for the Cannonball parade lap held at the U.S. Grand Prix West in Long Beach, or simply, “anyone who was anywhere in between and has pictures, audio, film footage, home video tape, or just remembers the events,” to submit artifacts. The makers are also looking for any vehicles that may have run in the Cannonball, such as Yates’ infamous Dodge Transcontinental Medi-Vac van, as well as the trophies pictured here.


Cannonball victory banquetNot exactly helping the cause is the MotorReporters/RaceReporters’ rather vague website, which is light on credentials and official affiliations. It does display an endorsement for Germany’s Film and Media Foundation NRW (Film und Medien Stiftung NRW), a state-funded film institution that facilitates projects for both television and cinema productions. Although the site claims the Yates family is involved, it does not indicate how or to what degree. The Facebook page for MotorReporters/RaceReporters says the organization was founded by one Gero Hoschek in 1967 in Detroit, Michigan. Not so coincidentally, a quick look through the official competitors list in the Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Road Race, by Brock Yates indicates that a competitor of the same name piloted a Jensen Interceptor in the fourth and final running of the original Cannonball in 1979 (time: 43:47). Photo credits? You guessed it, Gero Hoschek.Parade lap of real Cannonball Run carsWhile we can think of few subjects that better suited to the documentary film format, it seems the project could be hamstrung by the clandestine nature of the event. The whole point of the Cannonball was to fly undetected, and nothing gathers rubberneckers and police like an unauthorized 140-mph car-to-car film shoot on the Ohio Turnpike. Still, the statute of limitations has long since expired on most of transgressions committed during the event, so if you have something to contribute, contact Gero Hoscheek at gr@motorreporters.com.


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