The Amelia Founder and the Cannonball Run!
The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance was originally the idea of Bill Warner, and over the years Bill and his team have developed the weekend into a annual international highlight of the historic motoring world. Bill was hugely involved in the automotive scene long before the concept of The Amelia came along, and here long-time friend Jack May tells how they both competed in the 1975 running of the legendary ‘Cannonball Run’ - the winner was the first car to arrive in Los Angeles from the start in New York.
HistoricRacingNews.com’s exclusive live stream Presented by Reliable Carriers goes live at noon (local time) on March 10 to bring you the climax of the 24th Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance!
"Bill Warner’s citizens band radio crackled sometime around midnight on a rainy April 23, 1975. "Captain Marvel, this is Suwanee River Boy. Where are you? Any Smokeys along the way?" In the slang of the day, "Smokeys"were policemen. Warner’s CB call sign was Captain Marvel, rumored to be his highschool nickname, and Suwanee River Boy was a recent acquaintance, Jack May. They were separately speeding westward in New Jersey— competitors in the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash going for a cross-country record.
Warner, a photographer and writer for Road & Track magazine, and his co-driver Tom Nehl drove a 1971 Porsche 911T. Jack May and co-driver Rick Cline raced May’s recently purchased new 1973 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS. Manned by experienced drivers, both specially prepared automobiles sported driving lights, CB radios and fuzz busters. Warner’s Porsche had a heavy 31-gallon fuel tank that “splayed” the front wheels.
The Cannonball race, first run in 1971, was a madcap caper organized by Brock Yates of Car & Driver magazine. The event soon became a protest of the absurd 55-mph speed limit imposed by President Nixon. Wheeled vehicles were to drive from New York City’s Red Ball Garage in lower Manhattan to the Portofino Inn at Redondo Beach in Los Angeles—coast to coast. There were no other rules.
In 1975 the entrants ranged from serious to comical. The most colorful team drove a large Travco motor coach with six jovial drivers and a refrigerator filled with Italian food, wine and beer. Bill Warner and Nehl finished in 41 hours and 35 minutes. Jack May and Cline experienced some bad luck—slowed down by jail time, getting lost and misdirected, and obstructionist jackrabbits in Arizona. Even so, the May-Cline team made it to the Portofino Inn in 35 hours and 53 minutes, ahead of all 17 other teams and establishing a
As reported in the August 1975 issue of Car and Driver, Warner told Yates that they “underestimated the difficulty of the Cannonball. They ran at a relatively modest pace, figuring those less prudent would be arrested and they would cruise to a high finish.” The 1975 Cannonball was the last race with the original itinerary: Red Ball Garage to Portofino Inn. Now “Cannonball Jack” May and Rick Cline can claim the record for that original series. After a final official 1979 Cannonball with a different starting point away from the congestion of downtown Manhattan, Yates decided to discontinue the formal event. Among his reasons were more traffic and increased police action as well as monumental legal liabilities for sponsors and
Warner and May each went on in the next few years to race in numerous Sports Car Club of America events. In 1978 May won an SCCA National Championship after four consecutive Southeast Regional wins. In the August 1993 issue of Car Collector magazine, Warner and May collaborated on an article about the Cannonball-record-holding Ferrari Dino. As the 1970 Sports Car Club of America’s Photographer of the Year, Warner captured the photographs for the publication.
In early 1996, Bill called, "Jack, I am planning on sponsoring a Concours event at Amelia Island. I am counting on your support, and it will make me happy if you will drive over in your Cannonball Dino and participate." Jack said, "Captain Marvel, I am honored to be invited and will be there without fail, all polished up!"
The first Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in 1996 was sparsely attended with perhaps 2,000 spectators. Thanks to the efforts of May’s enterprising young son who worked the crowd for votes, the little Ferrari won the People’s Choice award!
May’s Cannonball Dino has graced the field at Warner’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance many times since Bill’s first invitation. Did Bill think of his Cannonball Porsche 911T when he showcased the Porsche 917 model at the 2010 Concours? At the 2016 Concours, Jack was awarded the Maurice G. Bauer Trophy for his Cannonball record finish.
Bill and Jack share a competitive spirit that comes from military academy educations and an abiding addiction to automobiles.Throughout the years, they have remained good friends. Living in Florida, they meet up at automotive events and talk cars. Jack does not let Bill forget what he said about his 14th-place finish in 1975, "We underestimated the difficulty of the Cannonball!"
Thinking back to that first race together, May said, “To this day, to me and so many others, Bill Warner is still our Captain Marvel.” He and Suwanee River Boy remain great friends—blood brothers of the Cannonball!"