The message came across the police scanner in October 2006 as Alexander Roy was driving his 2000 BMW M5 west on Interstate 44 in Oklahoma: “I have a report of a blue BMW speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and driving recklessly. Be advised.”
The dashboard in Alexander Roy’s BMW has a laser scrambler and four global positioning systems, among other gadgets.
Roy said he heard it shortly after he and his co-driver, David Maher, had been exceeding 150 miles an hour. As Maher scanned the prairie through binoculars for a place to hide, the car’s radar detectors lighted up. They decided to exit the highway and feign a bathroom break while a support team in a Cessna overhead searched for the speed trap that would inevitably materialize.
Having temporarily escaped, Roy eased back onto the highway. As he approached two state police vehicles waiting on the median, he ducked to the right of a tractor-trailer in a move he called “the cross-country racer’s ideal police line-of-sight blocking position.”
The maneuver, he said, enabled him to break a 23-year-old illegal endurance-driving record by navigating from New York to Los Angeles in 31 hours 4 minutes. He said he recorded an average speed of 90.1 m.p.h. over a mapped route of 2,794
These and other moving violations are described in his memoir, which was released yesterday by HarperCollins. The book, “The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World,” describes a subculture of illegal endurance racing and efforts to break transcontinental records set in the 1970s and ’80s.
Because of the dubious legality and the absence of a sanctioning body, transcontinental and endurance-driving records are hard to quantify. Roy did not disclose his accomplishment for more than a year to coordinate with the release of his book, a difficult feat considering that bragging rights are among the only spoils of the pursuit. In the past two days, however, word of the run has surfaced on automotive Web sites, prompting debate about the record and about the safety of the attempts.
Roy, the 35-year-old president of Europe by Car, a high-end car rental agency based in New York, has achieved fame in automotive circles for participating in road rallies like the Gumball 3000 and Bullrun. Those events are successors to the 1970s Cannonball Runs that inspired the movie franchise.
The events are usually weeklong affairs that do not officially sanction racing but involve teams speeding from checkpoint to checkpoint.
A relentless self-promoter with a shiny bald head, Roy became known for driving in a mock German police car dressed as an officer. He reasoned the outfit could help keep him out of jail and win style points with judges and notoriety with fans. His co-driver, Maher, 28, works in banking and races in Porsche club events on weekends.
Last week, Roy displayed the in-car gadgetry required to make such a run, including a laser jammer to scramble police speed-enforcement equipment, ground-to-air radio, two night-vision monitors, four global positioning system units and a CB radio. A Westchester County garage does the after-market modifications on the standard M5, including the installation of high-performance brakes, a racing clutch and a 20-gallon fuel cell in the trunk to give the car a capacity of about 38 gallons.
Fuel stops and bathroom breaks — they made six on the journey — were a speedy choreography. While one of them pumped the gas, the other ran to the restroom. Nobody slept. Roy said a single traffic stop could have ruined the whole attempt.
“Getting a ticket takes 15 minutes,” he said. (He has gotten enough to know.) “That’s your whole margin of error on a run like this, and to have it happen would be a real confidence destroyer.”
The record he set out to break was 32:07, supposedly established on the 1983 US Express, a more covert successor to the Cannonball Run. That record, never officially documented, was brought to Roy’s attention in 2004 by the independent filmmaker Cory Welles. Roy took Welles along in the back seat to document his run.
It appears that Roy faces no legal jeopardy. The police in Ohio, for example, have six months to prosecute speeding violations, and an officer must witness the violation, said Sgt. Toby Smith, a spokesman for Ohio’s State Highway Patrol. The patrol has a reputation among rally drivers as one of the nation’s most feared.
“If someone wants to ’fess up afterward, there’s really not a whole lot I can do from a law enforcement standpoint,” Smith said. Mike Spinelli, managing editor of the Web site Jalopnik.com, said he was there when Roy left the Classic Car Club in Manhattan and had a colleague show up at the finish on the Santa Monica Pier in California.
“I was there for a lot of the planning, and I’ve seen all the evidence he’s presented,” Spinelli said, referring to video evidence, witness testimonials and time-stamped gas and toll receipts. “I’m about as sure as I can be that he did it without having been in the car with him.”
That said, another driving team claims to have broken the transcontinental record. In May, Richard Rawlings and Dennis Collins of Texas said they drove a 1999 Ferrari 550 Maranello, on a bet, from Midtown Manhattan to the Portofino Inn and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach, Calif., in 31:59. They said they covered 2,811 miles at an average speed of 87.6 m.p.h.
Roy and Rawlings are friends and longtime rivals on the rally circuit.
“When we set out, we believed the record to be 32 hours and 51 minutes, because that was set on the sanctioned route of the original Cannonball; that was the real deal,” Rawlings, the owner of a Dallas body shop, said. “Alex’s perceived transcontinental record is not valid. He didn’t stick to the route.”
Indeed, the Portofino is featured in “The Cannonball Run.” Glenn Bishop, the hotel’s general manager, said several races have ended there and that as recently as last spring, a dozen racers showed up early one Sunday morning but asked the hotel staff not to alert reporters.
Rawlings also said that Roy violated the spirit of the original Cannonball Runs.
“We didn’t put any prep into it; we didn’t have a chase vehicle or planes,” he said. “And we didn’t try two times and fail like Alex did. We just went and did it.”
Roy said he planned his venture for more than a year by mapping speed traps and construction zones before making his final run. He estimated the cost to be at least $75,000. He said he overcame any discrepancy of route with his faster average speed and what he called the “margin of legitimacy” between his time and the one set by Rawlings and Collins.
Brock Yates, an automotive journalist and Cannonball Run organizer, said he had not acknowledged any transcontinental records since the last Cannonball Run in 1979.
“I stopped the race, because I knew sooner or later that somebody was going to get killed,” said Yates, who also wrote the first Cannonball movie.
Still, he said, the routes would have to be identical for records to be comparable. Complicating matters further is that the Cannonball record was established in a race that started in Darien, Conn., instead of New York, to limit news media attention. But as drivers whittle their times, the threshold of a 30-hour run looms.
“If people want to try it, the roads are open,” Yates said.