Ed Bolian’s Record-Breaking Drive

Mj 618_348_coast to coast in 29 hours
Courtesy Ed Bolian

We were lucky. Very lucky. The only bad weather we hit was a light sprinkle in the middle of Pennsylvania. Other than that? Clear skies. We decided on Route 40 and left New York City at 9:55 pm. It took us 15 minutes to cross Manhattan from the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street – the same start of the Cannonball Run, an unsanctioned transcontinental race that began in the seventies. But once we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, we were cruising. Jersey flew by. Pennsylvania, too. There, a buddy of mine drove about 200 miles ahead to scout, relaying information about construction, cops, or any other holdups. That helped us set the pace: about 150 mph on the straights from there on out.

Of course, we had our own setup – a control panel linked to our equipment: three radar detectors, two laser jammers, a CB radio, a scanner, and two nav systems; three iPhones and two iPads running apps like Waze. We’d slow when the radar signaled, use the CB to pass truckers.

In the car with me were my friends Dave Black and Dan Huang. Dave and I drove; Dan was in the back. His job was to interpret the data, keep an eye out for cops, and monitor fuel.

That’s why I decided on a 2004 Mercedes CL55 AMG. It’s powerful: supercharged five-liter V-8, 302 horsepower. Twenty-two miles to the gallon. But what really sold it was the active suspension, which levels the car several times a second. That was important because, in addition to overhauling the car – replacing every filter, fluid, suspension component, brake pad, and plug – I fitted a pair of 22-gallon fuel cells into the trunk. A pump ran from the cells to the main fuel tank so that we could transfer reserved gas from one to the other during the drive with the flip of a lever. This meant a lot of shifting weight. But we never felt a thing.

There was no music, no game of “I spy.” Our only conversations were about the drive: “Is that person braking?” “Is that lane open?” We had water, snack bars, smoothies, and a few bed pans. I nodded off for a total of 40 minutes. Dave slept for an hour and a half. That’s it.

Dave and I switched off every 300 miles or so. We’d pull over, pee, and change seats. Those stops totaled 18 minutes. We filled the tanks three times along the way, using two pumps simultaneously. The first time took nine minutes; the second, 12; the third, seven. The only reason the second stop took longer was that AmEx froze my credit card. They didn’t think I could’ve traveled from one station to another as fast as I did.

Our scariest moment happened on a long, desolate stretch of Highway 40. The sun was setting and it was hard to see. I was coming up on an 18-wheeler at 130 mph and started to pass. The driver didn’t see me and switched into our lane. I swerved, and sped by with two wheels on the median.

When we saw the sun rise halfway through Missouri, that’s when we figured we had a shot. Just hours before, we’d been in the woods of Ohio. Our pace was insane. In Oklahoma, we realized that if we maintained the speed limit for the rest of the trip, we would still break the previous record of 31 hours and four minutes set by Alex Roy in 2006. But there was always the chance of something – a ticket, a flat tire. So we pushed.

The last leg was miserable. We were tired; the car smelled. But we knew we had it. By a lot. Near L.A. we voted on whether we should take it easy. We decided to go for it, driving 100 mph through the city. At 11:46 pm, we hit the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, the finish line of the run. The manager must’ve thought we were nuts. Up pulls this car with millions of bugs splattered on it and rock-chips in the windshield, and three filthy guys emerge asking for photos. We didn’t have any champagne. Only Denny’s was open. I had an omelet. Dave and Dan got Grand Slams.

The GPS company tracking us confirmed our exact time: 28 hours, 50 minutes, and 26 seconds. All the variables lined up, and we had luck on our side. That, and we drove much faster.

– As told to Matt Berical

Ed’s Road-Trip Report

Distance Traveled: 2,813.7 miles

Average Speed: 98 mph

Top Speed: 158 mph

Gasoline Used: 201 gallons

Tickets Received: 0

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