I started the engine, the M5's tires kicking up sand as we pulled away. The CB radio-which had remained so quiet I'd forgotten it had been on since San Francisco-now lit up: "Ten-four on them sports cars... we got a bunch of 'em here at the Mart right now-"
"Nice," said Maher, "to see you pick up the pace a little."
AZ DPS DSPTCH: "Ten-four on those rally vehicles... southbound-"
"Maher," I said, my heart racing, "if we don't get some distance-"
"Cop on the left! Moving!"
AZ MOB B: "-just spotted another rally vehicle southbound 93-"
"Oh no," I said. "He's talking about us."
Route 93 South was perfectly straight. There was nowhere to hide. We stared at each other across the median. His radar wouldn't work until he made U-turn.
AZ MOB B: "-can someone confirm if these rally vehicles were involved-"
I craned my head. Not turning.
"Let's make a run for it."
-excerpt from The Driver
Somewhere west of Oklahoma City, about 1,400 miles from Los Angeles-
I'm in the passenger seat of Alex Roy's 2000 BMW M5, gyro-stabilized binoculars to my face, scanning Interstate 40 as Roy makes another surge toward the 120s. Even though I've been told we'd be taking it easy on our way to Los Angeles, Roy-who recently claimed to have broken the NY to LA trans-continental record of 32 hours and seven minutes with a time of 31 hours and four minutes-can't seem to help himself from going into record-breaking mode.
Roy reaches for the CB radio and asks: "Eastbound, eastbound, can I get a bear check?"
"Haven't seen nuthin' for the past 20 miles," is the response.
"Thank you," replies Roy. "Ramp check?" I put the binoculars down and look over my right shoulder to see if there are any cops waiting for their next victim. "Ramp clear," I say and we continue at a pace just a few clicks shy of his record run.
We all have our personal time/speed/distance records, be it LA to SF, NY to DC, or Chicago to Detroit. Imagine taking your best 400-mile run and multiplying it by seven, depriving yourself of sleep, replacing real meals with Red Bull and beef jerky and using the toilet every 600 miles (thanks to an extra fuel cell) when you hit a gas station.
That's essentially what Roy and his co-driver, David Maher, did in October 2006. They waited a year for some states' statute of limitations to expire and also timed it for the release of Roy's book: The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World, a memoir which delves deeply into his inspiration and motivation for attempting to break the 23-year-old record set by Diem and Turner in the 1983 US Express (successor to the Cannonball), and chronicles his exploits and hi-jinks on various Gumball 3000 rallies.
He says he's retired from Gumballs and Cannonball-type events and, if anything, his book is a cautionary tale of the sacrifices in time, money, preparation and personal relationships one must make in order to break the record. Someone breaking his record wouldn't necessarily mean he'd feel the need to reclaim it. If anything, he says he'd be the first to congratulate them on a job well done.
The sun has just set as we approach the Texas/New Mexico border. The Garmin GPS readout says we'll make it to LA by 6:30 a.m. That means having to slog through rush-hour traffic, which is unacceptable to Roy. We'll have to make up time.
The car we're driving is nearly identical to the M5, known as 144A, Roy and Maher set the record with. Like 144A, this car, 144B, is also a 2000 M5 with a Powerchip ECU that removes the speed limiter while adding a better-breathing exhaust system (Kelleners Sport for 144A and Dinan for 144B) and a firmed-up suspension via Bilstein PSS9s.
On the outside it's a stock M5, slightly lowered, sporting four antennae, four round GPS receivers at each corner of the roof, and front and rear bumper-mounted cameras. Inside, it's unlike any other.
Three Garmin GPS displays are within sight of the driver or co-pilot. As are two dash-mounted Alpine screens displaying images from the under-bumper mounted L-3 Communications NightDriver thermal camera. A Whelen Commander control panel lets Roy kill his brake lights or turn on the strobes (which he uses in other countries when playing fake policeman as part of his Gumball persona).
The CB radio is mounted cleanly in the headliner, a police scanner sits just aft of the gearbox and a Valentine 1 radar detector is mounted on the windshield with an extra display sitting at the bottom of the instrument cluster. On the left side of the steering wheel is the switch for the Blinder M25 front and rear laser jammers, which Roy says must be turned off if we're hit by a cop's laser. Two false readings will cause suspicion and jammers are illegal in many states.
We swap seats at the next gas station. Night has fallen, traffic's more sparse, a perfect opportunity to shave time off our ETA. Roy decides to sleep while I try to find a speed that makes up time, feels safe and isn't too conspicuous. Anywhere between 100 and 120 mph seems to be the M5's comfort zone. Brief forays past 120 mph seem gratuitous. Breaking endurance driving records seems less an exercise in top speed bravado and more a discipline in holding relatively high speeds for extended periods. The jammers, detector, scanner and CB radio provide the confidence to go faster, but the price is increased paranoia.
After a quarter of a tank, our ETA drops by a few minutes while average speed increases. Long intervals of silent, focused speeding are interrupted by CB chatter, scanner blurbs and junk signals picked up by the Valentine. The M5 feels like it owns the road-stable, secure, deceptively quiet, more eager than I am to go faster. The only limitations are the headlights. The car is simply out-running them, especially on long, drawn-out sweepers at speed. High beams can only be used when there aren't any cars in sight, which isn't often. I suggest to Roy that he change the stock fog lights for some driving lights.
We swap again at the next gas stop. Roy maintains the progress we've made. Our average speed is now equal to Diem and Turner's 32:07 time. We may even beat the West Coast's Monday morning traffic. Halfway through my third stint, fatigue starts to take over. Hours spent trying to see in front of the headlights has left me drained (gas station food stops haven't helped, either). Roy wakes up, opens a can of iced coffee and prepares for the final leg from Prescott, Arizona, to Los Angeles.
On his record-breaking run in October 2006, Roy had to make up time lost due to bad weather and an ill-judged gas stop, and this time it seems the dread of Angeleno traffic is spurring him on-or maybe he's trying to re-live that last stint. He goes on to average 100 mph for the rest of the drive, but we don't beat LA traffic.
Had we continued at that pace, we would've done 1,400 miles in 15.5 hours. If you double both numbers, that would be equal to running the route in the neighborhood of 32 hours. To be honest, it wasn't that hard.
That's not to say what Roy and Maher did was easy. After 15.5 hours, Roy and I felt the early effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation-the brain fade, the slowed reaction times, the hallucinations, the delirium, the speaking in tongues. Roy and Maher would feel the effects exponentially with each extra minute of sleep deprivation during their 31-hour run.
I ask Roy which was more important-skill or luck? He says all the skill in the world won't make it without luck and all the luck in the world won't make it without skill. He threw in a third factor, preparation, an area in which he has few peers. Roy practically walked the route using Google Earth, looking for potential police hiding spots and adding the locations to pace notes.
He's often asked if his record can be broken. He responds, without hesitation: "Yes." And when asked if he'd do it again, he often pauses before saying: "No, not likely." Sounds like someone looking for a bigger, more outrageous challenge than a mere 2,800 miles can provide.