Fred Ashmore drives his 1979 Mustang Cobra, in which he set a world record on a coast-to-coast race. COURTESY OF FRED ASHMORE

Hancock man completes his Cannonball Run

HANCOCK — Last month, Fred Ashmore arrived in Redondo Beach, Calif., high on adrenaline.

Ashmore, 43, was part of a team that had just set a world record in a coast-to-coast race known colloquially as the Cannonball Run.

Just 31 hours and 47 minutes earlier, he, his brother Arthur, and friend Travis Hilton left from Darien, Conn., in a 1979 Mustang Cobra. They weren’t particularly tired when they finished the race, despite having made no stops except to fuel up three times.

“None of our hotel rooms were ready,” Ashmore said, adding they were too excited to sleep after the trip anyway. “We had to wait almost 12 hours to get a hotel room.”

“Cannonball Run” is the name of a 1981 comedy starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise and Farrah Fawcett about a group of teams that race cross-country. It’s based on an actual race called the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, which originated in the 1970s.

Since then, groups of automotive enthusiasts have organized and run their own versions of the race from time to time. Calling itself C2C, Ashmore’s group was founded in 2015 and dissolved after his record-setting race to avoid becoming too large.

In May, Ashmore said, he found his vehicle in Florida through social media.

“It was a shell that was underneath a palm tree,” he said, adding the car had been used in the 1980s TV show “Miami Vice.” On July 12, exactly two months before the start of the race, Ashmore, his brother and his dad, Fred Sr., began rebuilding the car at an out-of-pocket cost of about $2,300.

“Having my shop, I had a lot of parts around to build this,” said Ashmore, whose family owns Ashmore’s Automotive Repair on Route 1 in Hancock. Additional parts came from another Cobra purchased as a parts car. Friends helped with modifications such as one that allowed the car to carry 70 gallons of fuel — considerably more than what the original 17-gallon tank could hold.

The goal was to build a car that was period correct and see how close they could come to the record held by Ed Bolian of Atlanta, which was 32 hours, 5 minutes.

Racers start at the same location but not at the same time. Ashmore said start times are kept secret, though both the start and finish must be witnessed so time can be accurately recorded. Teams were permitted to take any route they wished.

Ashmore acknowledges that the race is on the wrong side of the law. Both street racing and speeding are illegal.

The high-speed race is criticized due to safety concerns. But Ashmore said one of the more than 30 competitors was a team of police officers.

Ashmore said his team averaged 96 miles per hour, hitting speeds in excess of 140 on the open roads out West. The car averaged 12 miles per gallon.

“My whole, sole focus is on what I’m doing,” he said, describing the journey. He and Hilton took turns driving the 2,860 miles. Ashmore’s older brother, Arthur, rode along and assisted by observing and noting road conditions.

Ashmore said his team did not take the time to stop for food, though they did carry water and some snacks. Ashmore himself didn’t eat anything to avoid having to take bathroom breaks.

“If you don’t eat it, it doesn’t have to come out,” he quipped.

Ashmore, who has taken part in the race twice before, said the race is considerably different than driving cross country on one’s own. Racers must be prepared to deal with fatigue, geography, the elements, traffic and potential breakdowns which would not be critical for someone not competing.

As part of the event, racers donate money to charity. Following this year’s race, competitors gave $7,000 to the Cannonball Memorial Run, which advocates for police and offers support to families and precincts of fallen officers. They also gave $5,000 to the Brock Yates Memorial Fund, which funds research and provides support and care for people with Alzheimer’s.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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