“APEX: The Secret Race Across America” shows how impossible is done on four wheels

In the mid-1970s, the great people of Oklahoma, as well as the rest of the country, were told that President Nixon’s 55-mph National Speed Limit “saves lives, fuel and money.” It was a rather minimalistic solution to the 1973 oil crisis. By that point, anyway, the challenge known as the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash had run at least three times. Yet the infamous cross-country endurance race founded by Brock Yates and Steve Smith of Car and Driver fame turned out to be only the qualifiers for the main act: the U.S. Express runs held between 1980 and 1983.

The daring acts that just kept outrunning the FBI came to its climax in its final year, when the team of David Diem and Doug Tuner drove their 1980 Ferrari 308 GTS across America in 32 hours 7 minutes. Somehow, the car’s Magneti Marelli electric system played nice with their four Hella rally lights. However these runs, as it turned out, were not the end of cross-country record attempts.

Cory Welles Ferrari
Cory Welles

Without definitive proof of Diem and Turner’s run in the ’80s, many doubted that a Rosso Corsa Ferrari really crossed America at such extreme speed and in broad daylight. So you have to wonder what was going through Alex Roy’s head almost three decades later, when he started to figure out how he might neutralize the punishing traffic conditions of 2006—and claim the Cannonball Run record for his own.

The film APEX: The Secret Race Across America took the good part of a decade to finish. I asked director J.F. Musial about the reasons why. He told me that the film’s never-before-seen period footage came via Cory Welles’ father and his friends, including Rick Doherty, the organizer of U.S. Express. Yet this documentary went through a number of rough cuts:

“[There were] many questions from inside and outside the production team about how much we should show and what stories to tell,” Musial says. “A lot of great segments got cut not because they weren’t good, but because they didn’t fit into the 90-minute story. That was the hardest part. Being selective with what stays and goes.”

Alex Roy
Máté Petrány

What Musial delivered is a tale of not just the past but also of a man of our times. Roy, fresh from winning a British reality TV show, became disappointed by the shallowness of the Gumball Rally era. He decided to make his mark on history with a blue BMW E39 M5. Roy added Bond-shaming gadgetry and aerial support to a stealthy car designed for the German Autobahn, so that it could be deployed in a much less forgiving environment—the American Interstate.

Dave Maher Speed

APEX: The Secret Race Across America showcases the sheer force of human will, while proving all heist movies right in that you’ll need a team of friends to turn an insane and very illegal idea into a cunning plan. The hard part is executing it without disaster. In Roy’s case, he was so thorough and dedicated that when the moment came, luck had no chance but to be on his side. Somehow that luck lasted for 31 hours and 4 minutes.

The film could very well resurface controversy, particularly around the dangers and risks this kind of reckless activity poses to the general public. But if you’re the laser-focused person behind the wheel for this kind of brazen attempt, it really doesn’t make any difference whether you’re seen as a hero or a villain afterwards. It’s about breaking the record. It helps to have a good attorney, too.

Narrated by Ice T, APEX: The Secret Race Across America debuts on NBC Sports on October 20 at 7:30 p.m. EST. Buckle up.

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