The rules are simple: Drive from Manhattan to Los Angeles in the shortest time possible.
In a series of competitions known as The Cannonball Run and later, the US Express, drivers set out to conquer America’s interstate system in the pursuit of the outright record time driving from coast to coast. These were groups of competitors crossing the nation during the 1970s up until the early 1980s, at a time when the term ‘Supercar’ first entered mainstream use, and when a certain air of invincibility fueled an idea of what was possible behind the wheel of a car on the open road.
But like anything worth doing that doesn’t scale well, media attention, a major motion picture and a growing field of entries brought things to a close in 1983 with too much heat surrounding organizers and participants. The dream would start soon for one driver, whose search for a pursuit worthy of his passion was about to connect his efforts with some legends of the past.
Fast forward to Columbus Day weekend 2006, when persistence, providence and a something to prove brought Alex Roy to glory, breaking all previous record attempts across the US in a spirited (and highly illegal) drive in a heavily modified E39 BMW M5. Today, Roy’s experiences as a self made man on the open roads may precede him, but this film, the second in the Apex series from TangentVector, put his achievements in context. Using documentary footage from his own run as well as those who’ve put the hammer down before him, Alex and co-driver Dave Maher show what it takes, and while the in car footage may induce some highway law anxiety, ultimately this is a film about people who set the bar high for themselves and remember to enjoy the journey.
Narrated by Ice-T, APEX: The Secret Race Across America is a fun ride that skillfully intertwines Roy and Maher’s own run with vintage amateur and documentary source footage from drivers and their copilots dating back to the early days of the event. With eyes closed, and listening to the drivers from each era throughout the history of the challenge, it’s clear they are made of the same stuff. For many in the film, a record attempt across the US was the highlight of a lifetime, and it’s only the quality of the source footage that gives away who was driving when.
A lot has changed since 1983 when planning a record attempt in 2006: 10” Hella rally lamps on a Ferrari 308 doing 143 miles an hour? State of the art stuff 40 years ago. Roy’s BMW M5 underwent some serious upgrades for his run with night vision, a cockpit full of displays and interfaces, gyro-stabilized binoculars, and like those before him, radios. The gear from each era’s attempt does tell a story of the challenges they faced, and thankfully Roy’s record-setting attempt was filmed the entire drive. Thanks go to the storytelling of Mike Spinelli and the direction of JF Musial, who let nothing get in the way of the people and eras which were blended so well together in this film.
Not to be dismissed as a story about simply breaking the law, APEX: The Secret Race Across America also touches on themes around the pursuit of happiness and personal freedom, and in today’s era of the electric and automated car, the rationale for and origins of today’s speed limits are certainly relevant.
Alex Roy now speaks to audiences on road safety, is founder of the Human Driving Association, and is currently working to develop autonomous vehicles.
APEX: The Secret Race Across America debuts Sunday, October 20th at 7:30 PM ET on NBC Sports, and will be viewable on Netflix and available for purchase from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and YouTube.