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The legend begins with Erwin George Baker. Baker was born in Indiana in 1882. Throughout the 1930s, he became an extremely popular motorcycle and automobile race driver. Cannonball BakerAmong the many accomplishments in his prestigious career; he won the first ever race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, placed 11th in the 1922 Indianapolis 500 and became the first commissioner of NASCAR. However, he gained his greatest notoriety in 1915 after a New York to Los Angeles drive which took 11 days and 7 hours. It was this intercontinental drive that earned him the nickname “Cannonball” after the famous Illinois Central railway car, “The Cannonball”. In 1933 he would make the cross country trek again, but this time, he’d do it in only 53 hours and 30 minutes, a record that would stand for almost 40 years. “Cannonball” Baker would pass away in 1960 as one of the most revered and popular automobile and motorcycle drivers of all time. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Brock YatesFast forward to 1968. Brock Yates is an executive editor for Car & Driver magazine. He writes a scathing article called “The Grosse Pointe Myopians”, which critiques the auto industry, its management and its products which makes him infamous within the auto industry. Then, in 1971, Yates, along with fellow Car & Driver editor Steve Smith, decides to create an unofficial, and illegal, intercontinental road race. Inspired by the travel records of Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, the race begins in New York and ends in Redondo Beach, CA. Officially dubbed the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, the race would serve as a celebration of the US national highway system and also a protest of the soon-to-be passed 55mph speed limit. Yates wanted to prove that careful drivers can safely navigate this country’s interstate system at high speeds in much the same way the Germans do with the Autobahn. Yates also believed that if Erwin Baker could complete the journey in a record time of 53 hours and 30 minutes over unfinished roads and horrible conditions, then a modern driver should have no problem doing it over the uninterrupted expanse of the national interstate system.