Lenox to host launch of long-distance Cannonball Run Rally


LENOX — Storied cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Porsche will be on display early Saturday on Main Street, the starting line for the 2016 Cannonball Run Rally.

The event marks the relaunch of the long-distance drive that includes high-end, late-model exotic cars, with a legacy and roots dating back to 1914.

The Select Board this week approved closing of a portion of Main Street from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday so rally participants can display their cherished vehicles before embarking on the road rally, which will end in Florida.

Drivers will have spent the previous night at the 1893 Wheatleigh palazzo-style resort in Stockbridge, celebrating at a launch party that includes dinner, live entertainment, "beverages of the adult nature, and everything else the venue has to offer at our disposal," the organizers stated in an online announcement.

The local display involving the brief Main Street closure was approved by the Lenox Select Board recently following a presentation by Kameron Spaulding, director of the town's Chamber of Commerce.

"It is great to have such a wonderful event choose to begin right here in Lenox," he said. "It really shows just how strong the attraction to Lenox really is."

And this could be another event to stretch the season of visitors to the Berkshires, he said.

"Having an event as well run as this one has been come to our town is something that we can all get behind," he said. "It should be a great weekend to take in the cars in a beautiful setting."

Organized by The Run Travel, based in Calabasas, Calif., which is revising the event, the rally is promoted as "a collective of like-minded individuals that want to drive unknown open roads, explore new cities and destinations and share this amongst other Cannonballers."

The California organizers reached out about originating the drive in Lenox after a member of the company drove through town and contacted the Chamber of Commerce and Wheatleigh last spring.

Spaulding assured the selectmen that the Cannonball Run "is not going to be an illegal race" in the tradition of the 1981 classic movie of the same name, starring Burt Reynolds.

The public has been invited to view the 36 cars lined up in grid formation on the street and ask questions.

"The drivers involved are very willing to let a kid sit in the driver's seat and take a photo," he said.

Spaulding said he had contacted Nejaime's Wine Cellar, Loeb's Foodtown and Lenox Coffee, the three businesses mainly impacted by the street closure. Spaulding said that the cafe may serve java by the road and that Joseph Nejaime, owner of his long-established business, is on board with the event and has become a local sponsor.

The Main Street shutdown would extend from the driveway of the Village Center parking lot that includes the post office, Nejaime's and other businesses to Housatonic Street. But the parking lot and Housatonic Street would remain open, Spaulding said.

Described as the oldest existing rally, the national organizers of the revived Cannonball Run state that "we intend on carrying on a tradition that still resonates with so many enthusiasts, and many to come. With over 48 years of combined rally experience, the Cannonball Run Rally collective will carry on the spirit of the legend in a rally format and be a truly unique experience in itself."

But in its current incarnation, the organizers emphasize to participants that "Cannonball is not a race. It is illegal to race or exceed the posted speed limit on public roads. Cannonball is a long distance road rally rooted in adventure and exploration; think of it as the ultimate vacation with your car."

Drivers beginning the route in Lenox wind up in Key West, Fla. on Oct. 21-22, and then Havana, Cuba. En route, stopovers include two-day sojourns in Hershey, Pa., White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Robbinsville, N.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Amelia Island and Palm Beach, Fla.

The rally originated in 1914, when Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker set the first cross country record on his motorcycle, completing a transcontinental journey in 11 days. Within a few years, he switched from motorcycles to automobiles and set a record in 1933 traveling from New York to Los Angeles in a Graham-Page Model 57 Blue Streak 8.

That 53.5-hour drive, unequalled for nearly 40 years, became known as the "Cannonball Run" and gave birth to the car rally.

"We believe in a notion that all cars and their drivers are created equal, and therefore we exemplify camaraderie to all," according to a mission statement posted at cannonballrun.com. "We embrace individuality, embody the movement that Erwin started, and now we will carry the torch."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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