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Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ethics...

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

By Brad Niemcek

Ethics?  We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ethics...

History has exposed the flaw in my thinking about how best to race from coast to coast. But, remember, the founding members of the PRDA did prove one thing: That we could average almost 80 mph from New York to California -- for almost 3,000 miles -- without getting arrested. Or even stopped by the police. And that was no mean trick.

Perhaps, you might say, we spent too much time worrying about that. I suppose that may be fair criticism. I say it "may be" because we did have some concerns.

Was it about getting arrested? Or did our concerns run more deeply than that? Could it be that Oscar, Tony and I had ethical problems with the idea of racing across country... about running the risk, as Brock Yates was so fond of saying, "of slamming into a school bus filled with children and nuns."

Nah! Remember, this was 1971. It was before the first "energy crisis" and before the "double nickel." This was the era of the GTO, the Detroit factory-fueled madness of the Trans-Am series, the high-octane stunts of guys like Evel Knievel and Joey Chitwood. Ethics? I had a course like that in college once but I don't remember ever pondering the ethical issues involved in flagrantly violating the laws of the highway.

I do remember having some doubts, but only briefly. They came and they went with remarkable ease, as I recall.

In fact, they evapoarated one Saturday night. My wife and I had been invited to a house party at her parents' home on Long Island. That gathering of sober, stable, mature folks would be a perfect place to gut check the idea. What, I remember wondering, would these good citizens at the party think about the Cannonball idea?

The answer came quickly and easily and I was stunned. All I had to do was describe the race to my father-in-law's friends, and their faces lit up. I ignited a buzz in the room. This group of 60-ish guys loved the idea!

Okay, that obviously does not qualify as an ethical review of the idea. All I suppose I accomplished was to forestall my worries that "responsible" people would think me a raving lunatic for undertaking such a project. The morals or the ethnics of the endeavor? Let's just say they remained unexamined -- at least by me.

I've asked Oscar and Tony -- recently -- whether anything about the Cannonball worried them at that time. Tony recalled that he had some concerns how the racing establishment might view his participation. Would they think him frivolous, undeserving of, say, a good ride at Indy?

Oscar is another matter. I remember nothing about his concerns back then and he deflected the question when asked about it more recently. Actually, itıs pretty difficult these days to get Oscar to think, or talk, about anything that does not interest him.

So, no, we did not spend time wondering about the ethics of breaking the law, or putting the financial stability of our families at risk. Or, for that matter, putting anyone else at risk either. We just did it!

And had a hell of a good time doing it.

But it should be remembered that Oscar and Tony only consented to do the Cannonball once. Brock Yates staged it a total of five times. Could they have been lured back to the competition?

You bet ­ but not for just another race from New York to California. We all wanted something much bigger - New York to Paris! More about that later.

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

Brad Niemcek. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.