By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
Then the gray-haired John Harrison turns to face the crowd, and Ficarra wraps an arm around him. Harrison raced in the 1979 Cannonball and these days sells real estate. He discovered the 2904 online last year and has been swapping e-mails with Ficarra ever since.
Today he's officiating as the grand marshal. "Please," Ficarra says with a flourish, "declare this toornament of endurance and efficiency open."
Harrison grins. "You guys are trouble."
At 3:48 p.m. November 7, Team Interceptor is off and running. We get our time stamp from the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street, the Cannonball's famous starting place. After lurching through Manhattan's knot of stop-and-go traffic, we ascend from the Holland Tunnel into New Jersey — then promptly make a wrong turn.
There's a hush in the car as the GPS system decides how to reroute us. "Recalculating," the robotic voice says. "Turn right on Indian Place." The voice is set to "Australian female" mode, whose name, the team decides, will be Sheila.
Within minutes, we've merged onto Interstate 280 and discovered that our right rear blinker doesn't blink. But the taillights work, so we're still street-legal.
At 4:31 p.m., someone farts and all windows slide down except the rear driver's side, which is broken and duct-taped shut from the outside. Chris LaCon is skeptical that this feature will lend credibility to our aura of a police vehicle. But something must be working, because cars ahead of us keep peeling off into the right lane to allow us passage.
Macfarlane is now weaving through traffic at more than 95 mph. In one downhill maneuver, he switches lanes too hard, and the car swoons. "The suspension can't handle that, Alex," Engledow says. "We will flip like a coin, and that's instant death."
"OK," Macfarlane responds.
"I'm just saying that because I've investigated those kinds of accidents, and they're terrible."
It is early evening in eastern Pennsylvania when Engledow blurts out, "Whoa, deer!"
A large antlered buck, in the glow of sunset, has sauntered into our path to gape at us, motionless. Macfarlane brakes and whips to the right without checking his mirrors.
Our leader suggests that the noise created by the deer whistles he bought for $4.50 and mounted to the front fender might have caught the buck's attention. Unfazed, he eases the Crown Vic back up to 115 mph.
"Dude," Engledow exclaims, "I don't think my heart rate's dropped below 85 since I sat in this car."
Late that night in Indiana, at the end of the first toll road, we pretend we've lost our ticket. A paranoid Macfarlane reasons that it's best the attendant not figure out that we traversed this section of the Indiana East-West Toll Road at warp speed. We might get ratted out to the highway patrol.
Fortunately, Team Interceptor managed to sneak through Ohio, notorious Smokey country, without incident. We've been far luckier than one racer in the 1979 Cannonball Run, who, while hurtling through the Buckeye State, earned himself three speeding tickets — all within the same five-mile stretch.
But for us, as Engledow puts it, Ohio has been "like driving down a bowling lane."
We cross the Mississippi River into Iowa just before 1 a.m. Major system failure comes a few hours later at sunrise. The battery has petered out, and the team huddles beside the car in the wet grass. We're figuring the alternator must have quit at some point, causing the car to drain every last drop of juice.
Macfarlane dials AAA only to discover his coverage expired a week earlier. As LaCon dispatches a towing company from his cell phone, the team captain sends out a text message to his rivals: "Fried alternator leads to total power loss in NE. 30 minutes of waiting for a tow and our overall average speed is still 81 mph. Consider yourselves lucky."
Engledow looks at Macfarlane and asks, "Are you crushed?"
Macfarlane: "I'm good."
Engledow: "I know this was important to you."
Macfarlane: "I just feel shitty that it's something I could've prevented. I could've had the alternator tested."
The tow truck arrives, but it only has room for two passengers. "If we leave two people, will you come back and get them?" Macfarlane asks.
"Absolutely not," replies the tower.
Engledow and I hike down the shoulder of eastbound Interstate 80 toward Lincoln, Nebraska. Eighteen-wheelers are buzzing by us. Engledow has brought his hand-held CB radio from the car and is begging truckers for a lift.
"Break 19," he yells into the receiver over the highway roar. "We had too many for a tow. Can you take us to the Lincoln exit?" One trucker responds that he only picks up girls.
Suddenly, Engledow makes an unhappy discovery: The Crown Vic has been towed, but we have the keys.
Within minutes a trooper pulls up and tells us to get in the car. On the ride into Lincoln he asks who we are and where we're going. I explain that our car broke down. He wants to know the car owner's name and what he does for a living. I respond that the car's owner sells adult toys.
"Adult toys," the trooper repeats back. I decide to stop talking.