Fred Ashmore rented a Mustang GT, crammed it full of fuel tanks, and drove from New York City to Los Angeles in under 26 hours, shattering the solo Cannonball record.
You’ll be forgiven for stifling a yawn as we delve into the details of yet another Cannonball record. And although the overall New York City-to-Redondo Beach, California record has allegedly been broken again by some folks who have not yet emerged from the shadowy world of hearsay and conjecture, that’s not the one we’re going to tell you about today. What we’re here to talk about is a record that’s so stupid it’s brilliant, and so crazy it’s just about what we’ve come to expect as the elapsed times on these ill-advised adventures have crept ever closer to the 24-hour mark.
We’re talking about a solo run. One man, one car, a whole lot of gasoline, and an alleged 25-hour, 55-minute elapsed time. That’s an average speed of nearly 108 miles per hour.
If you’ve been following our coverage, you’ll know that a lot of people got excited last November when Arne Toman, Doug Tabbutt, and Berkeley Chadwick destroyed a coast-to-coast time that had stood since 2013, behind the wheel of a superbly prepared, blisteringly fast 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan that carried them across this nation in 27 hours and 25 minutes. You’ll also know that, since then, we’ve offered limited coverage of the rash of coast-to-coast record attempts made since then.
And you’ll recall some measure of derision aimed at the trio (or quartet, who knows) of shteebs who borrowed someone’s daddy’s Audi, ratchet-strapped a couple of marine fuel tanks into the trunk, and blasted to glory while most of the country was closed as a global pandemic exacted its grim toll.
But while most of us were twiddling our thumbs at home during the COVID-19 closures (or mourning the loss of our jobs, or dying), a handful of scofflaw endurance drivers were busy making tracks from New York to L.A. Several of these were solo runs, and those of us in the know watched, amazed, as the time it took one person to drive 2800 miles nonstop plummeted from the low-to-mid-30s to just under 28 hours. Even those times, set only a few months ago, were blown out of the water recently when Fred Ashmore, 44, of Hancock, Maine, rented a Mustang GT, removed its passenger seats and other interior accessories, strapped in enough extra fuel tanks to bump the car’s capacity to around 130 gallons, and made the trip from the Red Ball garage in Manhattan to the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach with only one stop for fuel.
“The Mustang GT will not go any faster than 159 miles per hour,” he told Road & Track. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.”
It is important to note that Ashmore’s time, while impressive, is not accompanied by the trove of third-party-verified GPS data that has become the “standard” measure of proof in this non-sanctioned non-event. Hence the “allegedly” qualifier. But he did take a shitload of screenshots of his Glympse tracking app while he was driving (he sent updates to his brother, his girlfriend, and his refueling team), and the images do not appear to have been doctored. Consensus among those who know him is that Ashmore, while batshit crazy, is not a liar.
“When you look at a solo pursuit, that’s not really a challenge many people have taken on,” said Ed Bolian, whose 28-hour, 50-minute record stood until November 2019. “That’s so off-the-wall and superhuman, I find it a lot more entertaining to watch as a spectator.”
On a team run, the driver drives, and the passenger or passengers monitor the police-detection devices, man the gyro-stabilized binoculars, make calculations and corrections, and communicate with people on the ground.
“When you’re on a team, if you’re the spotter, you can take a break and close your eyes for a few minutes,” said David Simpson, a truck driver and author who set a 34-hour, 33-minute solo record in 2015. “On a solo run you don’t have a chance to unwind, even when you make a gas stop, because you’re just so busy the whole time.”
“In general, the risks inherent in making a Cannonball record attempt have been managed by meticulous planning and strategy,” he said. “We have always known that throwing caution to the wind and just going as fast as possible could be another route to success. Until now, no one has been crazy enough to accept the risk, and Fred went full send.”
Ashmore was lucky, and avoided the worst-case scenario today’s high speed drivers seem to be inching toward inexorably. Bolian is happy the Cannonball safety record remains—for now—unblemished.
Considering the amount of money previous record holders have spent on the aforementioned meticulous prep, Ashmore’s effort shines as an example of extreme frugality. He says he didn’t spend more than $3000 on his whole trip, including the car, its strapped-in, Facebook Marketplace-sourced fuel tanks (and fuel), and the electronic countermeasures that have become de rigueur for anyone wanting to drive at these speeds without landing in jail. It was a drop in the bucket next to the budget for Toman’s professionally-prepared AMG, or even the tens of thousands Bolian says he spent on his car and countermeasures leading up to his 2013 record run. Alex Roy, whose cutting-edge electronics predated the democratization of cop-spotting social media apps when he set the first of the modern records in 2006, is in another league altogether, budget-wise. (There’s a movie about that.)
Ashmore, who participated in a number of C2C Express races—the vintage-car Cannonball-style coast-to-coast rallies run between 2015 and 2019—was already known as a bit of a risk taker, and a low-buck one at that. A true artist with cars others would likely write off as junk, he cobbled together a couple of remarkable entries for the 2018 and 2019 C2C runs. In 2018, he stuffed the drivetrain and suspension from a late-model Crown Victoria beneath the body and frame of a ’63 Ford Galaxie coupe he found abandoned in a ditch near his house. He had to cut off and reattach the roof to install the 187-gallon fuel tank he had built for it, but once the car was running (and had been painted from stem to stern with garage floor epoxy), it carried Ashmore and his co-driver all the way to L.A. from New York without refueling, making theirs the only truly nonstop run to date (that anyone knows of). The next year, he picked up another basket case. It was a ’79 wide-body Mustang Cobra he says was a prop car from Miami Vice, and based on its initial appearance, had apparently been used in a scene involving drug cartels and a car bomb. He raised it from the dead by installing some modern (and very loud) guts into it in the span of two months, and pulled off a 31-hour, 47-minute time with two other drivers.
So the gasoline bomb thing was nothing new. Ashmore had simply refined his installation and fuel plumbing techniques and gotten into a modern car that was better able to handle higher speeds. To make it work in a rental car, he removed the rear seat and the front passenger seat to accommodate two of the extra fuel tanks he had acquired. He also stripped out the spare tire and jack and cargo area trim pieces and strapped the third tank—a 51-gallon behemoth—into the car’s denuded trunk. The two rear auxiliary tanks drained by gravity into the main tank through a factory access hole in the floor where the back seat was supposed to be. To get fuel from the third tank—the one riding shotgun on the floor right next to him—into the main tank, Ashmore used a small electric pump powered from the car’s cigarette lighter socket.
“You had a little bit of fuel smell when I filled the car, but nothing to any great extent,” Ashmore said. “I had everything ventilated pretty well.”
The benefit of having all that gasoline was practically no down time for refueling. A lot of it came down to planning. Ashmore says he had calculated his fuel consumption pretty well (the Mustang ended up averaging about 12 mpg), but instead of taking his chances at whichever gas station happened to be nearby when fuel ran low, he maintained contact with a couple of friends driving a pickup truck with 150 gallons of gasoline sloshing around in a bed-mounted fuel tank. They coordinated a meeting place just off I-44 and refilled the whole collection of fuel tanks in under eight minutes.
Other than that, and an approximately 25-minute wait at the agricultural inspection station entering California, he didn’t stop. If he had to urinate, he used empty Powerade bottles. Adrenaline and mental calculations for time, speed and fuel consumption kept him awake. He didn’t get pulled over by the police, although he says there was a close call toward the end that he avoided by taking a spin around a series of cloverleaf turns.
Compared with other recent attempts (excluding April’s white Audi record run), Ashmore’s setup was fairly low tech. He had a laser jammer system and a radar detector, but the only other goodies onboard were a tablet running Waze and Google Maps, an iPhone timer, the car’s built-in trip computer, and a CB radio. He actually used the radio to talk some truckers into moving out of his way.
“I think they thought I was in a pursuit vehicle, or else they might not have moved,” he said.
Ashmore nosed the car up to the famous-among-the-few-who-care sign at the entrance to the Portofino parking lot at 4:55 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. He had left the Red Ball Garage at 6:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time a day earlier. The lot was empty, so he took the obligatory “I’ve arrived” photos, parked down the street, removed the laser jammer heads, LED light bar, CB antenna, and auxiliary fuel tanks he had installed, and pointed the car east toward home. He says the few small holes he drilled to install all this gear would be all but invisible to the rental car company.
“He’s high on life right now,” said Arthur Ashmore, Fred’s older brother, who had kept in touch and advised him during the run. “Of everything we’ve ever done, this has probably made him the happiest.”
For his part, John Ficarra, who organized the 24 Hours of Lemons-inspired 2904—a series of Cannonball-style beater car rallies run between 2007 and 2017 as a low-buck response to Roy’s profligate spending and flamboyant showmanship surrounding his 2006 record run—regarded Ashmore’s feat with wry countenance.
“There are so many of these runs now, it’s hard to think of anything to say,” he said. “What is this, like the 47th one this year? I don’t want to take anything away from Fred, but I just want six months with no records.”