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When You Could Have ANY Car You Wanted...

The Story of the PRDA and the Cannonball Run ~ Chapter Three

By Brad Niemcek

Cannonball Van equals Ferrari.

So there we were, roaring westward with, as I remember, Oscar now behind the wheel. After the smoke had cleared, (see previous chapter) it was time for me to switch into publicity mode. I was to call a radio station in Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley and report on our progress. All of Oscar's fans in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area could keep tabs on us this way.

You know something? We found that there isn't much to talk about from the inside of a noisy van rolling westward on Interstate 80, unless you want to giggle about how fast you're going. So, we were delighted when the batteries died in the radio-telephone rig -- a big, cumbersome thing in an attache case -- somewhere in the midwest. Remember, this was 1971. Congress didn't even authorize the creation of the cellular telephone business until twelve years later.

We'd agreed to "report in" to the station from time to time at the request of a sponsor, Mrs. T's Kishkies. Mrs. T was really a guy by the name of Ted Twardzik, an old friend of Danny Zack, who named his pastry pockets after his mother, Mary. We were not privy to the deal between Danny and Ted. We were just glad that Danny had some help with this operation. [Google update: Mrs. T's -- Atteco, Inc. -- now ships an estimated 11 million pierogies a week to customers worldwide. I could find no reference to kishkis but believe they are just about the same as pierogies, only not as Polish.]

Danny Zack was no babe in the woods when it came to sponsorship deals. His Briggs Chevrolet dealership (he married into it when he married Joan Briggs) was perhaps the leading high performance dealer in New Jersey. To enhance the that high performance image, he sponsored the legendary Funny Car driver, "Jungle Jim" Liberman, and the famous John Greenwood Corvette road racing team, among others. You might say we were is a rather unusual addition to his promotional portfolio.

We were clueless about all this when Oscar got a letter from Zack, which said, basically, "I believe I am the only Polish Ferrari dealer in the world. We should talk." Zack had read about us in the New York Times in a feature story our good friend, John Radosta, wrote about the creation of the PRDA.

Oscar and I arranged an introductory meeting at the dealership in South Amboy. We met with both Zacks, Danny and Joan. They were both very nice and I can't remember much more about the meeting than that. I remember the Zacks as a nicely-dressed couple (Danny had been a musician) and that Joan asked as many questions as Danny did that day. But my memories of that first meeting go no further than that, maybe because at that point we had nothing to sell.

Brock Yates' column in the August Car And Driver changed all that. Danny Zack had told us to bring him a deal and he'd take a look at it. I called Oscar and Tony and proposed that we tell Danny that we wanted to race Brock Yates to California -- in a car Briggs would prepare for us.

I was pleasantly surprised when both Oscar and Tony agreed, and I called Danny.

"What kind of car do you want?" asked Danny. "I don't know. I'll get back to you on that," I said.

I liked the van idea from the start, especially if we could equip it with enough fuel to make the trip non-stop. So, we pitched the van idea to Danny Zack and he agreed.

You may recall that Zack first described himself as "the only Polish Ferrari dealer in the world." So why didn't I propose we do the Cannonball in a Ferrari Daytona Coupe, or something really cool like that? Like Yates and Dan Gurney did?

Well, I may not have been smart enough to figure out how much fuel a van would burn on the way to California, but I was smart enough to count how many people that would fit in a Ferrari. And since I was the only one of the three founding members of the PRDA with zero credibility in a Ferrari, I knew I would be the one left behind in New York, by default.

So, a van it was, and Danny Zack's crew at Briggs Chevrolet did a marvelous job getting it ready for the big event -- with a little help from Gulf Oil (McLaren team race fuel left over from the US Grand Prix), Goodyear (a special tire set-up) and even John Greenwood (a borrowed LeMans Corvette rear end). Oh, and don't forget the beer and kischkis party that Mrs. T's threw for us before the start.

How could a set-up like that not be a winner? We'll see.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | To Infinite And Beyond...

Brad Niemcek. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.