How to Attempt a Cross-Country Record on Three Wheels
Want to double down on the most miserable cross-country driving record ever set? Of course you do.
Brian Daughdrill was 14 years old when he first saw Burt Reynolds flash that famous mustachioed grin from behind the wheel of an orange and white ambulance in "Cannonball Run." That was in 1981, but another two decades passed before he realized that the event upon which the movie was based was a real thing—the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an illegal, no-rules, get there as fast as you can cross-country race from New York City to Los Angeles that had been run several times between 1971 and 1979.
"The idea resonated with me and has been a theme most of my life—distance, time, endurance. Endurance, drive, will, stamina, planning—all coming together to prove, if to nobody but myself, that I have what it takes to do some distance-oriented thing," he said.
Daughdrill began logging 800, then 1,000-mile rides on his motorcycle, eventually joining the Iron Butt Association. In 2014, he rode from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, to LA. It was then that he began reading about the exploits of modern Cannonballers, having picked up a book by Ed Bolian detailing the 28-hour, 50-minute cross-country record he had set in 2013. But it wasn't until he read about The Drive's masochistic cross-country record, set by Alex Roy and Zach Bowman in an open cockpit Morgan three-wheeler in late 2015, that it clicked for Daughdrill.
"I wanted to build something not designed specifically for speed, but for endurance, and make it perform in a way no one ever contemplated," he said. The seed was planted. He wanted to have a go at the three-wheeler record himself.
The difference was that unlike Roy—whose Morgan three-wheeler had been handbuilt in a factory in England—Daughdrill's three-wheeler started as a bare-bones kit containing only a few basic parts and some vague instructions. After doing some research, Daughdrill decided to go with a DIY three-wheeler kit from a 40-year-old English company called Triking. He selected the Triking Cyclecar, a motorcycle-based design with a classic look like the Morgan's, only on a slightly smaller scale.
In October 2016, a large crate full of parts arrived from overseas at his house near Atlanta—steel chassis, suspension, brakes, body shell and not-very-cushion-ey upholstery. The rest he had to procure for himself—the 20-year-old Moto Guzzi Bassa engine, the wiring harness, the black walnut dash he made himself and all of the rubber bushings he used to isolate parts like the fuel tank from the harsh vibrations they would endure on the highway. Daughdrill had tinkered with his bikes in the past, but had never built anything from scratch—not even a kit. He had his work cut out for him.
"The Triking doesn’t come with a substantive build sheet or ‘plans,’ so it's mostly looking at photographs of other people's builds, emailing Triking—they're very helpful—and figuring out workarounds," Daughdrill said. "I had the wiring harness laid out on the living room floor for weeks as I tagged every wire and plotted how to connect everything."
Daughdrill says his wife was very patient during the months he spent toiling away on the Triking. Once he had the whole thing assembled and running, there was a not insignificant amount of dialing-in to attend to. There were shakedown rides to find the right suspension settings, electrical connections to check, fuel consumption to calculate. He drove hundreds of miles figuring out the Triking's quirks and correcting little problems.
With the mechanical component more or less figured out, Daughdrill worked on trip strategy and finding a co-pilot. Having read both Roy's and Bolian's books on Cannonballing, he knew that much of what he had set out to do would come down to precise planning. He examined the various possible routes over and over again, called gas stations along the way and asked them what their hours were, and he looked at satellite imagery to get the lay of the land at every planned stop. But there are many aspects of a journey—especially one that spans a continent—that can't be planned. Some fall to experience and others to fate.
His first choice for a wing-man was Roy, who demurred. "I considered going, but then I re-read the article about the run Zack and I made and realized how horrible it had been," Roy said.
By October 2018, Daughdrill had found a co-pilot—Lochie Ferrier, an MIT engineering student who had done a Cannonball-style event once before. He was as ready as he'd ever be. He had decided to make his record attempt along the traditional westbound route, rather than the Pacific-to-Atlantic route Roy and Bowman had taken three years earlier. So he had the Triking shipped to New York from Georgia, spent a day fiddling with it at Brooklyn Motor Works (the same shop where Roy's chronically malfunctioning Morgan can often be found) and hit the road with Ferrier wedged in beside him.
Unforeseen challenges arose almost as soon as Daughdrill and Ferrier departed the Red Ball garage—the now-traditional Cannonball starting point on the east side of Manhattan. GPS said it would take them 25 minutes to get out of New York City, but they misread the directions and ended up taking the wrong tunnel—the one choked with traffic. It took more than an hour to escape the gridlocked urban island to the relative freedom of New Jersey.
Stuffed into a cockpit even smaller than the Morgan's, the pair didn't face the bitter cold Roy and Bowman had to contend with, but they did start their run with a Pennsylvania-wide swath of heavy rain. They had to slow down because of decreased visibility. Sitting only a couple of feet from the road surface, every puddle became an incoming tidal wave as trucks passing in the opposite direction flung sheets of water at them. Protected from the wind and rain by just a pair of old-timey glass half-ovals, they found verbal communication nearly impossible. When open-helmeted shouts couldn't be heard, they made do with hand gestures. Ferrier hadn't considered how hard the leather-wrapped board of a seat would be, and Daughdrill hadn't thought about how difficult it would be to sleep in an open cockpit while wearing a partial-face motorcycle helmet. (Ferrier wore a full-face helmet, and says he slept just fine.)
Then there were the mechanical problems. The electrical outlet that powered their phones for GPS guidance crapped out. The nut that held the clutch pedal on the end of its cable vibrated off. A piece of the driveshaft came loose, causing a horrible vibration and a big slowdown. One of the brake reservoirs emptied itself somewhere along the way and they didn't have any brakes for a short time.
"By far the best memory I have was ripping down some mountain in the middle of the country and Brian leaning across from the driver's seat and yelling, 'No brakes!'" Ferrier said.
Daughdrill had also forgotten to factor in the extra weight his co-pilot would add. Fuel consumption took a 10 percent hit. Steering geometry changed and the handling got all wonky.
All of those hiccups led to delays, which changed the arrival time they had calculated. They had left New York at 3:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and rolled into the Los Angeles basin early on Sunday morning, pulling into the parking lot at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach—the long-established Cannonball terminus—at 8:14 a.m. Their elapsed time was 43 hours and 56 minutes—a little over two hours shy of Roy and Bowman's 41-hour, 49-minute record.
Daughdrill has developed a taste for three-wheeled self-flagellation. He says his wife isn't super happy to learn that he is already planning another run, but that's a common enough story among Cannonballers (almost all of whom are men; women have, it seems, found better and more useful things to do with their time). Once you make a run, and even as you're barrelling across the country, your mind is racing along with the car, thinking of all the minute adjustments that could be made to shave your elapsed time on the next go.
"Since so much of this is a mental exercise, I’ve now had 44 hours to think of a hundred ways to improve," Daughdrill said. "That begs for another trial, doesn’t it?"
Bolian set the bar pretty high with his 2013 record. Attempts have been made to beat it, but none have succeeded yet. In the meantime, Roy points out, people have begun claiming all sorts of oddball sideshow records: Fastest nonstop run (yes, some Mainer maniac named Fred Ashmore actually strapped a 187-gallon fuel tank behind the front seats of his '63 Ford Galaxy for that one); classic car record (sort of, since the car was powered by a modern, computer-controlled drivetrain); solo record, etc. And there's the three-wheeled record Roy claimed himself, no less quirky than all the other subordinate cross-country record classes.
What remains to be seen is if this three-wheeled madness catches on. Considering the amount of visceral suffering involved, it's unlikely. But when someone has an idea about building something and testing it against the achievements of others, it can be rather difficult to dissuade that person from pressing on.