Why I'm Riding With the Cops on the Next Cannonball

Cannonballing with the good guys on the Cannonball Memorial Run.

Cannonball Run

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the cops organized their own Cannonball Run? I’ve been wondering since I was ten years old, and that was the real reason I wanted to be a cop. After all, they can drive as fast as they want. Right? Law enforcement is supposed to be the enemy of all things Cannonball, so you can imagine my surprise when two men who claimed to be officers from California hit me up last year on Facebook, asking what I thought about what they were doing.

Ten seconds later I’m watching a live video from a page called Cannonball Memorial Run.

It was true. There were cops driving cross country. And it’s happening again, on Thursday, September 28th, leaving the Santa Monica Pier at 0800hr PST.

And this time I’m riding along to witness the whole thing.

How can they get away it? Because it’s for a good cause. The Cannonball Memorial Run (CMR) is a non-profit foundation founded by Sergeants John Bannes and Jason Hendrix of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. Yes, the same department involved in that horrific terrorist attack in 2015.

The SBSD has seen a lot of action, yet Hendrix, Bannes and their team are just like you and I once they’re off-duty. They’re fans of the original Cannonball Run film and race, and huge car guys. Hendrix would much rather talk about his Mustang GT350 than having suffered multiple gunshot wounds as a young officer.

Their goal? To raise money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty. Their plan? To drive from California to Washington DC, stopping briefly at 13 different agencies that lost officers over the last 12 months, to raise awareness about the financial issues facing the loved ones of the fallen. The car? There will be two rented Chevy Tahoes full of off-duty cops.

Really.

If the whole thing sounds crazy, trust me, it’s not as crazy as how and why they reached out to me last December.

Alex Roy/Facebook

“Is it cool with you if we use the Cannonball name?” asked Hendrix, wind noise nearly drowning out his voice the night he called me from the road. He sure didn’t sound like a cop.

Or maybe he did.

“No one owns the Cannonball Run,” I said, “except maybe Brock Yates, who founded it. But he’s dead. I guess if it’s in the spirit of it, it’s ok. What exactly are you doing?”

I still wasn’t sure I wasn’t being catfished.

“We’re driving cross country,” Bannes said, deadpan, sounding exactly like the cop he claimed to be.

“How fast?” I said.

“The speed limit!” exclaimed Hendrix.

Laughter in the background. I scanned the comments on their Facebook Live. Every one was from an officer or apparent family member, all offering words of encouragement.

“But why?” I asked, incredulous.

“Because,” said Hendrix, “I almost didn’t come home one day 21 years ago, and I knew what my family might have gone through. I didn’t want anyone else to have go through that. But 150 officers die a year. You know what happened in Dallas—”

“Murdered,” Bannes said in the background.

“—and these are men and women from all over,” said Hendrix, “of all colors, just doing their jobs.”

“And financial help never comes fast enough. For their wives. For the kids.”

“Husbands, too, you know,” said Hendrix.

That’s their point. Those 150 officers and their families are people like anyone else, but like all first responders, every time one of them goes to work it might be the last time they come home. No help is ever fast enough when an officer doesn’t come home because they were shot, or hit by a drunk driver, or killed in a single car accident, as thirty-five already have this year from the stress of racking up mile after mile between calls.

Which is why — although I’ve spent almost my entire adult life trying to avoid police — I accepted their offer to ride along this year to document their effort.

We Americans have so many freedoms, we often take them for granted. We can speak out. We can disagree, but in an era when too many would have us focus the differences between us, these chasms are instantly filled when tragedy strikes. At least I hope so.

In my efforts to seek glory on our highways, I made every effort to stay — literally and figuratively — below police radar, and succeeded. But a veteran Cannonballer once told me that even if you get away, if the police knew you were there, you failed. In that sense, I failed more than once, pulling officers off of more important duties all those years ago.

Which means I was in some small way responsible for the stress officers go through every day, and it’s my responsibility to go along to hear and tell their stories for a change.

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The 2016 Cannonball Memorial Run Team

The CMR will cover 4,000+ miles in 72 hours, from Santa Monica Pier to the National Fallen Officer Memorial in Washington, D.C.. Monday morning a patch presentation will take place at the office of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Yes, that Jeff Sessions, which means I’ll have to wear a suit instead of my traditional Polizei 144 jacket.

If you want to witness the start, be at Santa Monica Pier by 0745 AM on Thursday morning. The Sunday night finish in DC will depend on traffic and weather. If you want to meet up at any of the checkpoints on the way, here’s the list. The CMR and I will be publishing more precise ETAs for each of the 13 stops once we’re on the road. I can say from experience that no driveplan survives once cars start moving, but who knows? With two SUVs full of off-duty law enforcement driving cross country, and dozens of police agencies lined up to meet us along the way, this might go a lot faster than expected.

Or maybe not, if everyone who’s promised to convoy with us shows up. Will every law enforcement agency on the way be happy to see us? That depends on how fast we’re going, and where the on-duty boys stand between the letter and the spirit of the law.

It’s a good thing I won’t be driving.

I’ll be publishing more details Wednesday, and live location & video updates on TheDrive’s Facebook Page after departure.

You may donate to the Cannonball Memorial Run here.
You can follow the CMR online and on Facebook.

Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large for The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports and author of The Driver, has set numerous endurance driving records in Europe & the USA in the internal combustion, EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.