May 3, 2020

May 3: Sammy Davis Jr Drives A Race Car Dressed As A Priest (And Everybody Wins)

Car and Driver Map
On May 3rd, 1971, the now infamous cross country race, known as The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash  (or simply Cannonball Run), began in New York City and ended at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California and was repeated four more times in the 1970s.

   The Cannonball Run was an unsanctioned automobile race conceived by race car driver Brock Yates and Car and Driver Magazine editor Steve Smith as a protest against proposed strict U.S. traffic laws known as the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act (that went into act in 1974).

Each race was chronicled in Car and Driver Magazine, detailing the races and strategies of each team, including one team disguised as priests who drove a Mercedes 280 SEL sedan, which they claimed to be "the Monsignor's car" as a way to evade long delays and speeding tickets by highway patrolmen.
The fastest time recorded during the 5 races was 32 hours and 51 minutes and the worst recorded accident reported in Car and Driver was a spilled lasagna dinner, but later in his memoir Yates  mentions several incidents including a totaled Cadillac stretch limousine resulting in a broken arm suffered by famed female racer Donna Mae "Pink Lady" Mims.

One of the most important discoveries in the cannonball Run races was that the highest speeds did not  necessarily give drivers an advantage.

  The Cannonball Run races inspired several movies including Cannonball, The Gumball Rally, and Cannonball Run starring Burt Reynolds with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin as the Flying Fathers, the team that raced in priest outfits. Cannonball Run was one of the highest grossing films of 1980 and two sequels, Cannonball Run II and Speed Zone, followed.