1984 Paradise to Perth Cannonball

Peter Chernikoff, Tim Binns, Eddie Otto, Jeff Denmeade, Wally Chernikoff, Alex Davidson, Jim Davidson (Source: Alex Davidson)

Australia's first Cannonball Run was organised by Jeff Denmeade when he was just 20 years old. Denmeade has since gone onto a very successful career in motorsport, both as a race driver and with his business, Meadesport.

Denmeade was inspired by the US Cannonball Run and decided to see if he could organise a similar event in Australia. Like the US event, Denmeade's Cannonball ran "coast to coast". The start was from Surfers Paradise in Queensland, chosen "because it just seemed appropriate," and the finish was on the other side of the country, in Perth, Western Australia.

For a $300 entry fee, a maximum of 150 teams of 2 to 4 drivers were offered a chance to win the first of the planned annual events and take home a prize of at least $4,000.

There were no rules other than that the cars must stay on the ground (ie. no air transport).

The event was originally planned for August 12 but was rescheduled to October 22 to allow teams more time to prepare.

Seven teams had entered and they were to meet the night before the race at the Surfers International Hotel, which was also the starting point for the race.

Brothers Alex and Jim Davidson, and Eddie Otto, all from Queensland, entered Alex's 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.

Denmeade himself competed with brothers Wally and Peter Chernikoff, from Sydney, who drove Peter's "Brock" Commodore. They were joined by Tim Binns, who somehow landed himself a ride at the last minute.

When no other teams arrived Denmeade started making calls to find out where they were. Some entries had decided to pull out at the last minute, one team had written off their vehicle a couple of weeks prior, and another had just not shown up.

A Queensland truck driver who wanted to remain anonymous entered under the name Laurie Dryver and nominated his co-driver as Ralph Dogg, who turned out to really be a dog meaning Laurie was driving solo! When Denmeade got hold of him, Laurie said he was coming but wouldn't be there until 3 o'clock the next morning, in time for the start.

Denmeade asked the remaining teams if they still wanted to race and they all said they did.

T-shirt (Source: Jeff Denmeade)

On Monday, October 22, the three cars gathered for the start in the main street of Surfer's Paradise at 7 o'clock. There was concern that the police or media would be present, but there was none.

At the sound of one of the cars' horn, the three teams took off on a 4,400 kilometre (2,734 miles) high-speed journey to the other side of the country.

The three cars raced together out of Surfers Paradise and made their way out of Queensland and into New South Wales.

The Trans Am took a coastal route and the other two teams went inland.

The teams lost contact with each other and it wasn't until Port Augusta, South Australia when the Trans Am caught up with the RX-7 at a fuel stop.

The Trans Am then followed the RX-7, both travelling at 210 km/h (130 mph) or more, until they used their nitrous to overtake.

The RX-7 kept up until it suffered a tyre puncture.

The Trans Am then passed the Commodore which was at the side of the road having ran out of petrol. They were carrying extra fuel in jerry cans so were refuelling at the roadside.

Both the Trans Am and Commodore stopped for fuel, the commodore arriving just as the Trans Am was leaving.

But around 100 kilometres (62 miles) down the road the Trans Am started to suffer from fuel starvation and would not go above 175 km/h (109 mph) and the Commodore was able to catch up with them.

Both teams stopped to try and fix the problem with the Trans Am. After a half hour, the Mazda came along and also stopped.

A few tweaks were done to the Trans Am which solved the problem and all three teams took off again together, travelling across the Nullarbor Plain at 200 km/h (124 mph) just feet apart.

After the next fuel stop, the Trans Am had a half hour lead when Eddie Otto was stopped by police and booked at 138 km/h (85 mph). Eddie had been first seen at 154 km/h (96 mph) but was able to brake to the lesser speed by the time police locked in his speed on radar.

The same police officer also stopped Jeff Denmeade in the Commodore at 143 km/h (89 mph) not long afterwards. Jeff asked the police if he could drive a little faster and the officer said he was going in the other direction so it did not worry him!

Then after only another 100 km (62 miles), Alex Davidson was driving the Trans Am when he saw a car behind gaining on them. Thinking it was the RX-7 he went faster, only to find it was the police who stopped him after clocking him travelling at 184 km/h (114 mph). The police were considering locking Alex up overnight but he was allowed to continue but needed to return later to attend court.

They were warned that the police would be watching them so Jim Davidson took over driving for the remaining 100 kilometres (62 miles) to the finish in Perth and didn't go much faster than 120 km/h (75 mph), though they did not see any more police.

The Trans Am was the first to reach the finish at the Westos Hilltop Inn in Fremantle, Western Australia. Their time was 31 hours, an average speed of 142 km/h (88 mph) including stops.

The RX-7 arrived next, around 15 minutes later, followed by the Commodore another 30 minutes later.

The teams checked into the hotel arranged by the organisers and later met to celebrate over dinner – except for the solo-driven RX-7 which turned around and headed straight back to Queensland!

The following day the two remaining teams met for interviews and photos with a Western Australian newspaper.

The route

As it is today, approximately 4,361 km. Estimated travel time at legal speeds: 46 hours.

The Teams