Nicknamed “Cannonball,” when Erwin Baker set a record in 1933 by traveling from New York to Los Angeles in his Graham-Page Model 57 Blue Streak 8 car, it inspired many of his fellow—and future—driving enthusiasts, so much so that the Cannonball Run car rally was born and named in his honor in the 1970s. Though the cross country driving rally was discontinued by 1980, a re-booted version was created for launch this year, with 37 driving teams representing various regions from both the U.S. and internationally entering the event to take part.
Brothers Glen and Gary Smith simply couldn’t resist the lure of participating, and they came away with an award-winning performance at the newly established Cannonball Run Rally as result. The two serve as CEO and President, respectively of Magnolia Companies, the parent company of G. Smith Motorsports in St. Rose, a custom motorcycle and car sales operation, and news of the newly established event quickly piqued their interest.
The two drove from Lenox, Massachusetts to Key West, Florida as part of the eight day rally and impressed along the way, as the G. Smith Motorsports team received the event’s top overall honor. The winner was chosen by judges (the event is not a race, though driving speeds won’t always reflect that) and based on criteria including the total performance of the vehicles, drivers and team members and the car’s appearance, as well as the sportsmanship exhibited along the way.
“It’s an overall compliment to our entire sports operation,” Glen Smith said. “We had a really good time throughout, not just with the driving but having the chance to spend time with everyone and meet different people. Some guys got extremely serious with it and maybe tend to lose the flavor, but we took it all in. It was a great experience of the upper echelon of the automotive industry.”
The two brothers each drove a Callaway Corvette and communicated with one another and their team members through walkie talkies throughout the course of each day.
“The people behind it raised money for charities,” Smith said. “You had two people in each car and we had a drivers meeting each morning. Everyone was supposed to take the same route, if possible, but sometimes people veered off different ways. We all ended up at the same place (each night).”
The original Cannonball run ran from 1971 to 1979 from New York to California. That event was a timed race and technically unsanctioned, created in part as a celebration of the United States Interstate Highway System and a protest against strict traffic laws coming into effect at the time. There were no designated stops or checkpoints, and the targeted finished was measured in hours, not days.
The 2016 version is less about competition, a rally and not a race, and more about celebrating shared interests, enjoyment and camaraderie. To this end, the rally doesn’t technically end with the driven route; once the drivers arrived in Key West, the group flew by plane to Havana, Cuba to put a cap on the action.
Glen Smith recounted one exciting stretch around the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, called the “Tail of the Dragon.” That run entailed 311 turns in 11 miles.
“It really showcases the agility and performance of the cars,” Smith said. “We had cameras mounted in the cars to capture some of what that was like. You’re really moving.”
It was a unique experience, he added.
“We’ve done (cross country rallies) with our motorcycles, never with cars,” he said.