Ride along with Jason OldeCarrGuy Carr & John CustomCarNerd Meyer as they put this episode into gear with Travis Bell tells the guys the story of his search for the Transcon Medi-Vac Cannonball Run Ambulance.
Travis Bell has had the Transcon Medi-Vac Cannonball Run Ambulance for 20 years and he just took it on the Southern Classic Run. Was he successful? Listen to find out!
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Get Out N Drive Podcast
2022-09-07 22:37:20 UTC
In this episode of the Get Out N Drive Podcast, we've got another crazy story from Travis Bell of Celebrity Machines. Make sure you stay tuned to the. Very end.
You're listening to the get out and drive podcast with John custom car Nerd Meyer and Jason old car Guy car will be bringing you gearheads everything you never wanted to know about. Cars and why they should be on the road and not in your garage. Are you ready to get out and drive?
As welcome back to another episode of the Get Out N Drive Podcast. My Name is Jason. OldeCarrGuy Carr.
And I am John Custom Car Nerd Meyer. Now I know we talked about the General Lee. What were you hinting to? To what you did this weekend? Or can you not say that yet?
So yeah, no, I can say now I couldn't say four days ago. The the hunt for the General Lee also started the hunt for the for a Blues mobile or also started the hunt for original night rider cars or also started the hunt for. You know, it was all Hollywood star cars for me and back it through. You know, when Jason and I were growing up, you know? A A television star car. When you generally get more fan mail than the than the people that drove the car and the generally received more fan mail than any actor on the show and Warner Brothers would send back a postcard with like a a tire track across it as generally as autographed back of the day to all the kids that would write in this the finding the fall guy trucks and finding this thing. So I for some reason every one of my goofy star cars that I went looking for was a Mopar and God help me. I've got more money and old Chryslers. I started looking for the Transcon medevac from the Cannonball Run. And I had no idea that the Cannonball Run was an actual thing, and the Transcon Medevac was an actual vehicle that raced in the 79 Cannonball run. And then in my hunts and and looking and looking and looking because if you if you can find the first General Lee, I mean hell you can find anything at this. Point and a map was just a place to start looking, so I tracked it down to a couple different things and and realized kind of what happened to the original transcomm medevac and then became friends with Brock Yates. I would call Mr. Yates, and this is, you know, Diamond P Sports Mr. Yates Brock Yates. You know, car and driver editor. Pit reporter for the 79 Daytona 500 when the greatest day, I mean, he would take my phone calls and he'd be like it's the disc jockey and I'd be like Mr. Yates and, you know, he's like it's *******. Like, oh God, he would. Yeah, but I would pick his brain about the transcon medevac, and he had a lot of information on how it was built and and who built it and and things, because, of course, he was the Co driver in the 79 Cannonball run with Hal Needham and his wife Pam was the patient, and Lyle Royer was the doctor. So that was. The final cannonball run that actually happened, but what they did is they handed all the teams, these little notepads and said if anything happens along the way, write it. So the howl and Brock took that and turned it into a script, used the same ambulance in which they broke down and it did not finish for Burt, Dom and and Farrah and I can't remember his doctor's name, but they all drove in the movie. So in the real 79 Cannonball run, the competitive race. Everybody was afraid of the greatest idea in the world. I mean because if you show up in a Lamborghini or Ferrari. You're going to get stuck in traffic. You're gonna get pulled over. It was always the gimmick that made the Cannonball run versus the speed versus getting there. Because of course you got to get from coast to coast, but how you get There is you. Know what do you do when you've? Done it all. You do cannonball so. Everybody was afraid of the of their great. Idea that they had but. They had the most ridiculous. Set up with a 502 big block Chrysler Mopar, a Dick Landy motor with a with a quicker transmission in a in a van that is less than a year old that they ordered that color orange and white. With these two terrible Aerodynic light bars on the roof. And, you know, Hellwig sway bars, built-in shocks and just a terrible idea. But it sounded like a Winston Cup car, and everybody got to it. And it was like scared to death. Like they're gonna put it on us. This is. The greatest idea, Needless to say. The 79 Cannonball went about. 100 feet and broke down and. They ended up breaking. Into a A an auto parts store at The Good Wife Shopping center to get the correct jets for the Holly 8:50 that they put on it back then and.
That's like a bucket with a. Hole in it.
It was the worst idea, and so they made it to Effingham, IL, and then it started spitting transmission fluid to a level that rivaled the Exxon Valdez. And then so they literally had the the cover on in between the two seats kicked over to the side. So they can keep transmission fluid. In it down the dipstick hole and they made it to the Palm Desert and it caught. And so in the Palm Desert is bells. Truck stop or I can't remember. Club Bell was what it did. Anyhow, has the Tyrannosaurus that and it's in pee Wee's big adventure. That's a truck stop in the Palm Desert and that's where the original trends come meet it back to the 1979 Cannonball died and it ended up getting towed.
And from the from the truck stop there to the Portofino Inn. So in 1979 it had a DN. That's. But they took everybody's little booklets and turned it into a script, shot the movie in 80 movie came out in 81. It's all these different stories that kind of actually happened with a little comedic twist. The ambulance is showing the breakdown in the movie and they're they're working on it, but they never finished. So for 45 years, the Transcom medevac. Just had a DNF, it did not finish, so I took everything that Brock told me because the original trans kind of medevac had been auctioned off to the NASCAR Women's Wives Auxiliary because Hal Needham owned Harry Gantz Gold Bandit #33 with Burt Reynolds. And Hal always told me, he said. If you ever want to lose a lot of money by a NASCAR team. And so I explained to them that I was rebuilding the transcom meta back. Exactly how they did it with the five. 02 the exotic transmission and a Holly 850 and they both looked at me and said no, why would you want to do that? Because they realized that everything that they went through, I was about to go through because. That experiment does not work, especially when you're putting a 502 big block in that little tiny bubble in the front of A78B200 sportsman. I am but I did I I did. I had a everything that they said that was in the book, and Mr. Yates and went. And as Mr. Yates, he had Alzheimer's and I was always afraid to call him because I knew he wasn't well. But I needed to know, like, things like the rear view mirrors. And they were these dinky. Little rear view mirrors and I was like Mr. Yates, I'm calling it looks the disc jockey and I'm like the two mirrors on the side. I've been chasing these mirrors down for like 8 months. He goes 1974 Opel Manta GT. And and I'm like. Mr Yates, you're not well, I mean, the, the your caretakers would have me send photos in for him to to, you know, Alzheimers is terrible and but he would remember those things and they would love it when I would call and talk to him. And so he was right. But they were 1974 Opel Manta 400GT mirrors and I have no idea why they're on the ambulance, but. They're on my ambulance. So we we to to the letter, did it built the built the van exactly like they built it? And it did not work and we have heating problems and the Holly 850 is horrible and just Dick Landy, it was not good. So I've had the van now for 20 years and we tried two years ago because there was doing Cannonball COVID runs. Because there's nobody on the road, man. I mean, it was so rad. Like you could get out and be like 3 lane at. Like whoo, everybody get off. Ohh God and you, you you know the Cannonball run record fell six times. In two months. And the current the current record is 25 hours and 39 minutes from New York from the Red Ball garage to the Portofino Inn. And in 79 they moved the starting line to The Goodwives Shopping Center in Darien, CT because the the only reason why they ever started at the red ball is that's where all all of car and drivers test vehicles would stay.
And when they found out that they were going to do another cannonball run in 79, he had all the photographers and everything waiting up the red ball. When everybody's up in Darien, CT, get ready to start this race. So a little Shuck and jive, you know? It's it's you. Know whatever. So the ambulance has never finished. And for me, for I I've always been a failure with the thing, because it's either never finished or it never started, because it sometimes it won't get its way out of the driveway. So we had to step back and be like, alright, we need to fuel inject. This thing and. We had Fitech come on for a for an attempt at Ed Bolian from Vinwiki, myself and John Ficarra. For car classics, we tried about 18, let's say no. We tried about two years ago and we left the Red Bull garage. In the ambo. Yes, made it through New Jersey and it made it to. Pennsylvania and broke down. And so it. It is had this never ending thing. And so we had the 2904. It didn't make it to the starting line. Had the sea to sea Express. I've left Ed Bolian in New York without a ride two times now, so. I was invited to do the Southern Classic and it is a competitive cannonball run and that was this last. This weekend, and that's why I'm able to chat about this thing, because the the cannonballers are like Fight Club, I mean they are the best people and they do not talk, they keep their mouth shut and they will say I would be like hey John, do you wanna get breakfast in New York tomorrow and then you would say as you would say as. Long as we get dinner in LA.
And so that means, you know, we're going on. A kingball so. Taylor Hole, which is a a drifter. He's in formula D, he's incredible. He has a drift Cadillac, which is incredible. He puts on a thing every year. It's his fifth year called the Southern Classic and the Southern Classic is the Smokey and the Bandit run. And so in the movie, Smokey and the bandit, they leave from Lakewood Fairgrounds. Which is no longer there. It was high five buys arena and now it's called something else. But you know, remember Big Enos and Little Enos is about to their driver is about to win the Southern Classic and the Southern Classic is at Lakewood Fairgrounds. And they go to Texarkana, TX, and they get tourist beer. And then they run back to Lakewood Fairgrounds. They're supposed to do it in 28 hours. And so I was invited to bring the ambulance to a competitive cannonball event. With all the cannonballers. And to finally try to see and I'm like there ain't no way but some for the last year, Jared Pink, who used to be on wrench every day and now he has his own channel, he's always had his own channel, but it's been changed to the questionable garage just this big 6 foot Seven Hulk of a man that has more knowledge about. Every thing that makes a vehicle run then I have ever learned. So a year ago we had a dinner at Ed's house and he was my plus one. Jared was, so I'm 64. He's 6-7. We looked like these two big goofy get well, Ed 6-7. So I said hey. If we ever I want to try and get this phytec off of here and I approached Scott Kirk at Holley and Holley was really hoping that we would not complete the cannonball run on someone else's inferior product because they wanted to right the wrongs of 1979 with the Holly 850. That was on it. So they came on full board with the ambulance. With sniper Holley, sniper fuel injection and said look, if anything, anybody can complete one of these things we can and Mr. I dropped the ambulance off at his place in in Cleveland, GA, so for 11 months he worked on it and it went to Holley MoParty and things like that and tinkered with it and to get it. To where he thought it would be, it would go and I. It was a snowstorm. Last Wednesday in Indianapolis. Like I was literally going to back out last Wednesday and I said, Mr. Pink, do you think this thing will do it? And he said there's only one way to find out. So it is it is 1,374 miles from Lakewood Fairgrounds to Texarkana, TX. And then back to Lakewood. And so you have to drive there as fast as you can. And teams are released every 10 minutes, and you have to go there. But you remember you have blue laws in Texas, they don't serve alcohol till 7:00 AM. So you always want to kind of get your start time and. So you don't. Get there and we don't have to wait. For beer, which is ridiculous because then you're just adding time. So we left myself, Ed Bolian and Matt Bagley from octane addicts. He's Rob Pitts' former cameraman, and we needed somebody to document that this mess, in case that we broke down or in case it actually made it, which has never made it in 45 years. So we. And you know. Like lead one starting all this stuff you know finding lead one and now now owning that maybe. Around and when we fired it up it it, it was a completely different ambulance like it's and and still has the big Block 502 has a gear vendors transmission 4 wheel, disc brakes, Hellwigs sway bars, Bilstein shocks, ridiculous, but it's still a brick with two sails on the roof of it and it still drives horrible and still has a horrific driving position and. At 11:40, Ed Bolian and jumped out of the passenger seat clocked in at Lakewood Fairgrounds, and we're gone. So we're going as fast as the mighty ambulance would get there at at 21 minutes after 7:00 AM. We arrive at the Paradise truck stop in Texarkana, TX. So it made it to Texas and we get our beer. You have to get your beer and your receipt from that. You got your beer at at the Paradise. Get back in the ambulance. And turn around and start screaming back toward Atlanta and. It it hit it was, it was on rails like it has never been this fun to drive. I've always had a hate, hate relationship with this vehicle and. And we get to about 40 miles outside of Birmingham and you can hear a little valve clatter cause it's right there next to your knee. But every time we go up a hill, I'm like, man, the oil's going to the back into the pan. Maybe we should stop and put a. I mean we've. Been hammering this thing for 1000 miles at 85 to 100 miles an hour no matter what. So we pull in and. At this mom and pop truck stop, Long story short, lift up the hood and things have changed since the last time I looked at it, because all the holley stuff's on. We used to have like like this little ski ramp tube that would put oil in the in the trans or in the into the in the engine. So I pulled the stick. And I'm like, holy crap, I mean, we don't have. Any oil in this thing right now? So I you. Know put the little dipstick in it or put the funnel and start putting. Or I put 1 quart in. 2 quarts in. I pulled it again and I go. Man, this thing ain't got nothing on the damn stick I go how? Low is this thing and I read it and as I'm putting it back in, it says Dextron. So I just put 2 quarts of oil in. The transmission. Oh whoops. So. We are 160 miles away from breaking the curse of the cannonball run from the train, breaking the curse of the trains kind of minute back. And I've just put 2 quarts of VRZ zinc oil, valvoline racing zinc into the trans and I called Jared and he goes, oh, where you at, where you at, how you doing? How are you doing? I said if I put 1/4 oil in the. Because things look different to me now. Than what I'm used to because he's done such a terrific job on this thing I said, is that bad? He said. We can run it through. We'll we'll fly. We'll get it. Well, it may tear up some clutches. We'll fix it so. What happens if I put 2 quarts in? He says. Have you started it? I said no. You said then all your oil is still in your pan. You said and you have a deep, deep well pan on that thing you said. Drain it right where you sit. And so I ran in the truck stop, I said. Anybody gotta ohh drain pan. And this is a mom and pop truck. No, I said. Kitty litter I mean anything because I'm at the one of the pumps, gas pumps and no, everybody looks at me like I'm crazy and I go polar pop cups like give me anything. So we have like. 20 of these polar pop cups, right and Matt Begley. I'm wearing all white because I'm in the I'm in the ambulance outfit's all white begley's got black on. I'm like, get under there, pull the drain plug because it's a deep sump pump a pan and I said. If we can get the fluid out of here, the oil is sitting on top, you'll see it. It looks like a like an oil slick. On top and he pulled it and it's nice and warm, but not like scorching hot. And it's coming out like water. Like you can't keep up with it. So there's one photo out there that'll probably be released that there is an absolute ecological disaster about 60 miles outside of Birmingham because. Once we couldn't we put about two polar pop cups worth and we just let it ride. So there was 6 quarts of transmission fluid and two quarts of oil underneath the ambulance. And just, uh, vaguely come back up. But The thing is, he says, start putting translate in it. So he put 6 quarts in it. I put 3 quarts in the oil where we were supposed to put it in it, and I walked back in and I looked at the folks I go Kitty. Litter, I mean like this. The spill underneath this thing is the. Size of two refrigerators. And I looked at them and they looked at me like, no, and I go. If you had a diesel spill at one of the diesel pumps, what would you do? Do you have a diesel spill kit? And they're like, we don't know what you're talking about. And I go, I looked at Ed. dude We tried, so fire it back up, fuel, oil pressure, everything. I backed up away from the ecological disaster that I left at some. Pump cause you. Know some mom is stopping there and some kids get out with his new shoes and just went ass over tits. And landed on because it's. I mean, it was just a mess, right? Just terrible. And so the last 160 miles. I drove it as hard as it would go and we got off at the 75. So we're 2 miles away. We're about to break the curse of the Transcon medevac and the competitive cannonball event. People have tried solo people. That's not a cannonball event competitive cannonball event, so we get off at the 75/75. But there that the North and South first exits Lakewood fairgrounds come down in the stoplight. And I'm like, sitting there, like, going like, and I'm kind of, it's kind of just a little hissing. And popping, but it's it's a little. Mad but, and I'm like, why the hell isn't any big going like let's it's green like. And here comes a real ambulance through the damn stop light at the same time. And so. But it's going my direction. So the car. Goes in front of me. I turn right and I will full code. My ambulance following his ambulance. Whenever his ambulance that was and. We had two miles. To go on a 2 lane Rd. and about. About 3/4 of a mile into that run to the fairgrounds, the ambulance turned off and I just lit it up and and lights and sirens and blew multiple stop signs at ridiculous miles an hour. And there was a downhill run into the fairgrounds and I knew we were coasting at that point. And we we pulled in and Ed jumped out of the passengers or out of the back end because Matt was filming everything and out of the sliding door clocked in and the current Cannonball Run record holder, one of them is is Doug Tabit. It's Arnie Toman and Doug Tabit. They did the 25:39 and Arnie was or Doug was filming and he walked around, he said Travis. How do you how does it feel to finally break the curse? And I was I was a crying. Disaster and I'm. I'm pretty tough right now. It was bad, but it was it. It was tough, but the generally stuff all led into looking for star cars and the whole reason why I was down near Lumpkin Campground Road again because we had our award ceremony at at AMP Atlanta Motorsports Park. I had driven by Mr. Shaw's place. Again, and I haven't been there in in, you know, 20 plus years and it it's completely different now. So yes, that weekend last week and I'm I'm hunched over because it was the worst driving position. But I've been trying for 20 years to break the curse. I promised Brock Gates that I would break it and we broke it. So I don't know now with with it if we're going to cause right now I'm driving Brock and House ambulance and it's never been my ambulance, so it's probably time to modern Hemi this thing because. We got 6 miles to the gallon. We had to stop 7 times. If you include the initial fill up, we stopped 8 times to do 1,374 miles and so it's probably time to, you know, keep it Mopar. But but get a get a modern cop car like with like an eagle heads on it and we have news to modern Hemi. So yeah, the generally turned into that. I've driven the Blues. We go through the mall, I mean. We've done a lot of stuff with old Chryslers and Old Hollywood star cars. And like I said, if we would have not as we originally talked been kind of sat on my face, feet, hands and been like. There's so many hurdles. Where do you even start? Wait, wait, wait. If I want to find days of cheap, what I begin. It's probably gone by now. If we would have had that mindset to begin with, the car would have been crushed. And gone by now.
So Travis, if people want to listen to more Travis Bell stories, tell us how they can find you on social media.
Well, hopefully we'll be back on the Get Out N Drive Podcast well. If you guys. Are are sick, are not. Listen to me talk about all my goofy adventures, but of course I'm retro disc jockey on Instagram and then. I own a company called Celebrity Machines, so every Hollywood Star car license plate from Back to the Future, to Ghostbusters to movies that aren't even out yet, like the new Transformers and things like that. We do the plates for and we also do the plates for movies and or shows like the Mayor of Kingstown. That's on Paramount and things like that. So we produce all metal stamped. Hollywood license plates. And then of course, having a goofy friend named Ed Bolian who is probably one of the greatest people that I've ever met in my lifetime and and just made all his own luck. He's terrific. He owns Vinwiki and which turned from an app into a into a YouTube channel, and the app is still very, very neat. You can find in the. History of your own car. And or someone else's car, and you'll hear me. Jab it on there. About the one that got away or something like that and I'm kind of the one that that generally grounds the channel because there's some pretty interesting people on there with vehicles that I would never be able to afford. But then I will say, you know, I'm really upset that my Geo tracker got away or something. So and then of course, if you guys have me back, we'll find some more ridiculous. Stuff to get after.
Well, we we have to, we have to. We'll we'll keep in touch and we'll get you on the schedule and maybe you'll find some other ridiculous things. So awesome.
We have a. We have a go Kart race in my backyard in April and it's called the backyard 400. I have a 1/3 paved road course in my backyard and all the go carts have to look like Shriner carts. They all have to have a body on them and they can't be more than 6-1/2. or 212 so and every year, the winner of the backyard 400. Wins a 1989, Chevy Cavalier convertible Z24. So we gave one away last year, we have this year's. Ready to go the night before is the You Ass Nationals, and that's the same go Kart that you have to race the day after in the backyard. 400 we had Ben come up from New Zealand to drive last year. We have Sam Hart coming from the UK to drive this year and then of course Jared Pink is a 6'-7" Man, that's going to drive in the Go Kart race too, so.
Any any Canadians?
That reach yet? Not yet if.
You're ready to come over.
I mean you can. You can be the first to plant the flag of Old Canada and the winner circle of the backyard 400, so that's mid-april. You'll find information on that on Facebook and it is absolutely ridiculous. People camp, it's like Talladega and it's just the greatest thing and. That my neighbor is the pace cart driver. Like it, it is absolutely fun. So if you know.
Jason, did Jason do they sell go karts on racingjunk.com?
They may sell racing.
Because I I think I I think I think. I'm leaving. It's been great talking to. You I think I think. I'm going to go over to racing junk and try and find me a go Kart and jam the Get Out N Drive go Kart together and head over to Travis's place.
Love to see you, Jason. You gotta find him a car. But it's gotta be a Shriner cart. You know, it's gonna have a body on it.
There you go. Well, fantastic having you on here and stay in touch.
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