VESTAL, NY – Two local men are featured in a new documentary that chronicles the exploits of drivers in a secret cross-country race that took place 36 years ago.
Bob Sullivan, owner of 21st Century Pools and Spas, and his longtime friend C.R. Lee finished 4th in the US Express Race that took place in October 1983.
Driving Lee’s wife’s Pontiac Trans Am, they covered the 2800 miles from New York City to Newport Beach, California in 35 hours and 5 minutes.
Their average speed of 82 miles per hour factors in 15 gas stops along the way.
As first-time competitors, they didn’t realize that other racers had outfitted their cars with additional gas tanks to reduce the number of stops.
Racing mostly against Porsches and Ferraris, Sullivan and Lee drove the only American-made car in the top 10.
“We just raced. We weren’t thinking about world records, we weren’t thinking about anything but winning. And, as it turned out, we really excelled, being an American car, 15 gas stops, 35 hours and 5 minutes,” says Sullivan.
They also received the “Friends of OPEC” award for using the most gasoline.
Lee says the secret to their success was setting hourly goals so as to keep on a record pace.
They ran in the second U-S Express race, the final organized cross-country race of its kind inspired by similar Cannonball Run races of the late 70’s which inspired the Burt Reynolds movie of the same name.
The contestants mostly raced for pride, the winner received $5,000 to donate to a charity of his choice.
“It was fun. It was not for money. It wasn’t for prestige. It was just the camaraderie, something to do different. How many people can say they were in a Cannonball?” says Lee.
In 2003, Sullivan and Lee were interviewed for a low-budget documentary titled “32 hours, 7 minutes” about the race which spurred renewed interest in breaking the crossing country record set in 1983.
Their interviews have been repurposed into a new documentary called “APEX: The Secret Race Across America” which includes a history of Cannonball Runs, U-S Express and subsequent record-breaking individual efforts.
The film has already aired on NBC Sports Network and will be available on iTunes on Saturday.