Home » A Mostly Stock Mazda Miata Is A Terrible ‘Cannonball Run’ Car Unless Your Goal Is To Have Fun

A Mostly Stock Mazda Miata Is A Terrible ‘Cannonball Run’ Car Unless Your Goal Is To Have Fun

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Cannonball runs are wack, but they’re also all the rage these days. The allure of driving from New York City to Redondo Beach, California in one fell swoop is real, and the repeated record resets over the past few years show just how far enthusiasts are willing to go with preparation, planning, and all-out horsepower.

But there are other folks making runs that aren’t in it for blistering average speed. Instead, they’d rather just take it easy and enjoy the adventure aspect. It is, after all, a road trip. Recently, two good buddies took on the Cannonball for the challenge and potential glory, but moreover, just to hang out and have a good time.

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[Ed Note: I want to note that we don’t condone the Cannonball Run here. I see it as pretty much the automotive version of big-game hunting — a way for rich folks to get their thrills speeding across the U.S. while putting the rest of the population at risk. But these gentlemen that Peter is writing about in this story are clearly true car nuts, and averaging only 73.1 mph — 40 mph lower than the record speed. Plus, given that most of the trip is probably empty highway, one could at least imagine managing 73.1 mph without having to spend much time in the triple digits. And honestly, there are plenty of parts in the U.S. where triple-digits are safe. Still, the risks of such a drive aren’t just speed-related; without stopping for hotels, such an endeavor pretty much requires driving-while-fatigued, and that’s also something we don’t condone. -DT].  

Their rig of choice: A largely stock—including the fuel tank—NB-generation Mazda Miata. Here’s their story.

cannonball miata gaffer tape
Cutting down on wind noise by adding some gaffer tape – Jason Awalt

Setup and Preparation

“We’re both gearheads and had done some racing back before wives and kids,” Jonathan Blakemore, a live audio engineer from Mesquite, Texas told me over Instagram. “We both have a big appreciation for old school hot rodders and ’60s-’70s car and racing culture.”

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His buddy is Jason Awalt from nearby Fate, Texas, and works as a radio, film, and television teacher. They’d been friends for a long time, and in between lengthy sessions of playing Project Cars 2 during the pandemic, Jason picked up the blue NB as a fun daily, autocrosser, and track day whip.

One day about a year ago, while in line to buy a jack—Awalt’s jack had broken during a suspension job—the plan was hatched. “As we were standing in line he just blurted it out ‘Here me out, a Cannonball run.’” Blakemore shared. “I said ‘I’m in’ before he finished with ‘in the Miata.’” He thought he’d meant Awalt’s larger and more fitting Firebird Trans-Am, but no, it was apparent that Awalt had been thinking about such a challenge in the less-commodious sub-2,500-pound sports car for a minute.

Still, they agreed to make the run the following spring. Awalt’s 50th birthday was around then, too, so what better way to celebrate a major milestone?

Their prep was fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things. It’s “a mostly stock Miata with 170,000 miles on the clock,” Blakemore said. “We went through the whole car, changed all the fluids, bushings, ball joints, etc. before the run, though.” Then, they improved the ride quality by fitting Xida XL coilovers from Supermiata. “They cost almost as much as the car, but they were beyond amazing.” From there, it was just a matter of bolting up aftermarket wheels with some Hankook all-seasons, plus aftermarket gauges for monitoring vitals, a couple extra power circuits to run electronics and cameras, and most importantly: A nice pair of butt pads for the stock seats.

cannonball miata
Jason Awalt

The Run

“The journey was an absolute blast,” Blakemore said. “Neither of us really ever got super tired, and there were only a few really stressful moments. We did a good job at staying focused, sticking to our strategy, and keeping each other’s heads in the game.” Their strategy was to maintain the optimum balance of economy and average speed, minimize stop time, and stay focused. Their fuel stops are quite methodical: They exit the car and very methodically get to filling up the tank, cleaning the window, and checking/adding any oil.

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“It was also a very good bonding experience. We’ve been close friends for years, but doing something like this puts a whole new meaning on ‘ride or die.’”

As far as stats go, they averaged 73.1 mph. Because of the stock 12-gallon fuel tank, they were able to get around 300 miles per fill-up, and only had to stop nine times. 2,814 miles in 38 hours and 29 minutes. Spread out over the entire run, they were probably bookin’ it pretty well here and there, but 73 miles an hour seems quite tame and easy-going, and proves that you can still make a solid run by just being really quick and efficient when you stop. Like any long-haul trucker might say, the key is to not get out of the vehicle.

“We didn’t set out to try to break the overall record. It was mainly just to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and to prove to the world that it could—and should—be done in a Miata.”

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There were a few setbacks, too. Besides not having toll passes at certain points, the card reader wasn’t working at their first fuel stop. How convenient. Otherwise, Mother Nature threw down some bad weather on the west sides of Colorado and Utah, including some heavy rain. Blakemore estimates that weather alone tacked on 60-90 minutes.

cannonball miata
Triumph!

A Good Excuse to Hang

What a fun journey to embark on with a good friend. Doing the Cannonball run in a largely stock NB Mazda Miata proves that you don’t need a ton of power to have a good time, and that it’s more about the experience than anything else. For more on this particular Cannonball attempt, Blakemore and Awalt documented the experience on their Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

Plus, as we get older and devote more time to our careers, families, and so on, it’s great when you can carve out some time with a good buddy and just tick off some miles. A good excuse to hang if I’ve ever heard one. Congrats to Blakemore and Awalt for safely traversing the Cannonball, and we hope their next run is at least a few minutes shorter.

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Pie
Pie
1 month ago

Where did the framed poster come from (has the canna ball time on it)?

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

Not surprised to see a divide of opinion on this. My two cents is a mild cannonball like this is mostly just good fun, with a few risks sure but largely well mitigated. But the record runs are properly dangerous these days. The nice thing about picking a Miata is it’s almost like taking a motorcycle, the only person you are likely to put in mortal danger is yourself, haha.

Chris
Chris
1 month ago

I love the Miata, but it is not a long distance highway cruising car. The engine in a 5-speed NB is spinning at something like 4,200 RPM at 80 mph. 2,814 miles of that constant drone would get really old.

Last edited 1 month ago by Chris
Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

We varied between 4,500 and 6,300 for the duration so it wouldn’t get too monotonous. ????

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Awalt

Problem solved, then ????

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

LOL. Not at all. It just varied in pitch.

Paul Brown
Paul Brown
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

Just swap in a 3.63:1 final drive with the 5-speed like I did. Problem solved.
3000RPM at 70, better performance and mileage, better gearing in all conditions. Add butt cushions, good shocks (I have KYB adjustables) and presto, long distance cruiser/sports car combined.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
1 month ago

I’m with DT. This really shouldn’t be a thing. Road trips should be entirely separate from speed and endurance races.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago

I would say the “road trip” portion was the drive to NY and from CA. The 2814 miles from NY to CA was most definitely a speed and endurance endeavor as we went as fast as we could for as long as we could given all the circumstances along the run.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
1 month ago

Sounds like a good time with good friends to me!

That being said, I can’t say I agree with DT’s rather schoolmarm-y editor’s note. Is speed in and of itself the most dangerous thing on the road? I think distracted driving probably contributes more. Two guys with racing experience setting out to do this are likely safer at high speed than most people driving down the highway staring at their phone.

As for the tired driving issue – that’s why you don’t generally see people attempt this alone – all of the recent records have been set by 2 or 3 man teams. It’s far from clear to me that anyone is driving while exhausted on these things.

The mention of “rich people” is a head-scratcher as well – does that describe most of the people that attempt it even for the record?

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  PresterJohn

Prester John, Thank you!

We were definitely safer and more attentive for every second and every mile than 99.9% of the drivers I encounter on my daily drive.

Traditionally, I think “Rich people” described a good portion of the Cannonball attempts. We had a great respect for the Cannonball before our run and an even greater respect after. We wanted to show that two “average” people with a good plan and dedication to an idea could achieve something without “endless resources”. Even if A Miata isn’t traditionally the “right” car for a Cannonball Run, it was the car we had, and as it turns out, it was the right car for us. It was one of the best times in our lives, and the next one is definitely going to be just as memorable.

DaChicken
DaChicken
1 month ago

Looks like a fun time! Nice to see a “normal people” trip like that. I want to do a Route 66 road trip one of these days and need to add this to the list (at a sedate pace, though. lol). 73mph average over that distance seems pretty good without having super prep or a crew when including all the stops needed.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  DaChicken

DAChicken,

You are absolutely correct! 73 mph over 2814 miles is way faster than most people realize. We were sitting above a 75 average until we hit the snowstorm in Denver and the monsoon in Utah.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 month ago

73 is a pretty tame average speed to hit. That’s not exactly legal in the eastern US but nobody bats an eye at cars doing 75 in a rural 65 mph area. Probably just Tuesday in the western US where the speed limit is sometimes 70-75.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago

73 mph was our total average over 2814 miles including 9 fuel stops and a snowstorm.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Awalt

Not trying to downplay what you did! Just trying to point out how it’s entirely possible to average that speed without hanging out a giant flag for law enforcement attention.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago

I understand. No worries. But I will add, due to the snowstorm and extremely heavy rains we ran into that cost us about 1.5 hrs, good portions of the run weren’t really all that tame.

MEK
MEK
1 month ago

The most I’ve managed in my NB is about 10 hours more or less straight. The car was reasonably comfortable for the ride but it’s the noise that gets to you in the end. Cruising at 75 the engine is twittering away at about 4k and the drone is inescapable. I don’t have a hardtop so that may improve things slightly but still I think if I was trying this I would have popped for the 3.9 rear diff out of a 6 speed car (the 5 speed uses a 4.3) to get the highway revs down a little. Yeah it would make the car slower, but I think it would be a welcome tradeoff for all the long miles on the highway.

Bqpqfb
Bqpqfb
1 month ago
Reply to  MEK

Came here to write this too. Wifey and I did 10 hours in our NB – with the top down- and were exhausted. Happy and exhausted. Then did it again on the return trip four days later. Probably won’t repeat.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  MEK

Wind noise and 6K rpm for as long as we could manage definitely took a toll on the senses. To say it was loud and trying would be an understatement.

MEK
MEK
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason Awalt

If you’re going to try it again, I’d go for an NC next time. The transmission has a bit longer legs so they are a little more sedate while cruising.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  MEK

True. NC is also a better “highway car” with the extra weight and creature comforts. For the current Cannonball Miata, we have plans to swap the rear end for a 3.9 vs the 4.3 and a few other things that will definitely make the next attempt both more tolerable and result in a quicker time.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
1 month ago

I love a Miata as much as the next (normal enthusiast) person, but Miata Is Not Always The Answer. Square peg, round hole and all.

It becomes ever more apparent as we age, I should point out.

Congrats to our Fearless Travelers, regardless. I don’t think I could accomplish that. Maybe when I was younger, like when we bombed the entire east coast in 24 hours between Boston and Orlando in a 1980 Ford Fiesta without air conditioning.

These days? I’m old and I like my comfort. Good on ya for picking the torch up for us old farts, you two. Keep that fire alive.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dudeoutwest
Joe L
Joe L
1 month ago

When I moved from Pennsylvania to California about a decade ago, I drove my Challenger stopped each night and stayed in a hotel. But if you count my on-the-road time, I managed about 2,650 miles in 39 hours, almost 68 mph average. Not bad, I think, considering that time did include fuel and bathroom breaks, as well as picking road food. 12 hours from Harrisburg, PA to East St Louis, IL, then another 12 from there to Amarillo, TX, and finally 15 hours from there to Costa Mesa, CA.

I don’t remember what I ate the first night, but I had one of the best steaks I’ve ever had at The Big Texan in Amarillo the second night – $29.99 for a 12 oz filet!

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
1 month ago

It’s not a real Cannonball unless you are wearing an adult diaper, peeing in old water bottles, and going on Ed Bolian’s Youtube channel to tell everybody how great you are.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Mynack

Eh, I pee in a water bottle on my way to work. Everyone does this, right?

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago

Feels like I’m missing a joke in the topshot. “Canonnonball”?

Rod Millington
Rod Millington
1 month ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I hope they never change it, and it just becomes one of those things that is brought up at random.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago
Reply to  Rod Millington

Aw, they fixed it! 😀

That’s okay – the original is in #story-feed on Discord. Yoink!

Last edited 1 month ago by A. Barth
Rod Millington
Rod Millington
1 month ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Canonnonball will live in our hearts forever.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rod Millington
Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

To easy, they had a roof!
Lotus 7 , now that would impress.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
1 month ago

I think I’m too old and used to life’s comforts, like eating proper meals and sleeping in a bed at night for 7 to 8 hours. I’d love to do a “Cannonball” but know it’s just not in the cards for me.

That said, a brisk road trip across the continent using a fun machine … I’m on board for that. And while not a real Cannonball Run, I’d record the driving time (minus meal and sleep stops) just the same. Not to brag. Not to pretend I did it. Just for my own edification.

I completely admire what they did here, and the pace at which they did it.

Last edited 1 month ago by LarsVargas
Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  LarsVargas

Thanks! We really did it just to prove it could be done in an old Miata. It was one of the absolute greatest times we’ve had in our lives. Next time will hopefully be a little faster though.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 month ago
Reply to  LarsVargas

Try a Lemons Rally, sounds like more your speed.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago

I’d love to do something like this in an early 50’s Caddy. Maybe a Series 62 convertible?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Also, I’d want to do it sans interstates or Google Maps.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

I’d really hate to hit an animal, like a moose, at high-speed in a Miata at night whilst tired from lack of proper sleep (or, in any vehicle in any condition of being awake)

Sackofcheese
Sackofcheese
1 month ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

I hit a deer in my NA in the dark while fatigued at highway speed minus what I was able to slow down. 12/10 do not recommend

10001010
10001010
1 month ago
Reply to  Sackofcheese

I hit a possum at about 80 in an NA Miata one night. No left hand shoulder and a car to my right so I tried to just straddle it but the Miata was too low. Not the same as hitting a deer or a moose but that possum striking the oil pan was solid enough that I had to get out and check for leaks after.

Jason Awalt
Jason Awalt
1 month ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

We only had one “Close Call” with a wild boar crossing the road in the middle of the night about 18 hours into the run. At speed, it looked like it was 3 inches in front of us and seemed to be the size of Godzilla. In reality, we didn’t have any trouble missing it, but it definitely reminded us to stay on our toes.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 month ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Hit a deer at 75 in my Grand Cherokee. Just had a 1 inch crack in the bumper cover and knocked loose a driving light. The other 6 cars that hit the wildly spinning carcass were all totaled, Deer was then shredded by a tractor trailer and then ended up under a Chevy Bolt.

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