It sounded too good to be true, like something from a Burt-Reynolds-meets-Duke-of-Hazzard movie: A cross-country “Cannonball Run”-style road race, sponsored by a Southern “colonel” whose wealth comes from making copper moonshine stills, with a big $50,000 prize waiting at the end. And sure enough, as with most schemes cooked up by so-called “sovereign citizens,” it fell apart upon close scrutiny.
The race – dubbed “Cannonball One,” and described as a “coast to coast race from sea to shining sea” – required an entry fee of $90, and the website promoting it used weasel language about the prize, saying participants could “potentially win up to $50,000”. The competition, scheduled for June 1, had no check points, and any kind of road vehicle, including motorcycles, would be accepted. You could buy your entry tickets through eBay.
The man promoting the race, Vaughn Wilson of Alma, Arkansas, is a self-styled “colonel” who poses for portraits in a white Col. Sanders-style suit. He appears to make most of his income from selling copper moonshine stills that he custom builds to owners’ specifications, according to the website where he markets them.
If Wilson’s scheme sounds a bit outlandish even to ordinary members of the public, it was obviously outrageous to people in the auto-racing community, especially those who had participated in a variety of cross-country races themselves over the years. This included Matt Farah, senior editor over at the auto-racing website The Smoking Tire, who knew, as he described it in his subsequent piece, that “a proper ‘Cannonball’ in the traditional sense is a coast-to-coast, underground race. No hotels. No stopping. Invite only. Low key. Tell no one. Don’t advertise it, or we’ll all go to jail. Wait a year to release your time so the statute of limitations on speeding expires first.”
So Farah called Wilson up personally and recorded the call on video. At about the seven-minute mark of the video, Wilson launches into an attempt to recruit Farah into his scheme to manipulate what he calls “common law” in order to obtain large sums of money. Indeed, it appears that such schemes are the basis for the supposed $50,000 prize money for the proposed race.
Farah described what he learned about Wilson and his beliefs from the call:
- Wilson claimed he can't be sued because he's not running the race on public roads in the United States, he's running the race on public roads in America.
- The United States only exists in the District of Columbia, and everything else is "America," so the rest of the country isn’t covered by statutory regulations affecting "The United States."
- He can't be sued or held liable for anything non-violent because he refuses to acknowledge the existence of anyone that would sue him. He also claims he can't get tickets, and doesn't pay any taxes. This, presumably, is also why he thinks it's okay to violate Brock Yates's Copyright on the term "Cannonball.
- He can't be held liable for what someone does in their own car, even if they pay him to enter his race under the assumption that if they get to Los Angeles first, they win $50,000. He says that "recommending against speeding" is enough of a disclaimer to release his own liability.
- He can install GPS trackers in cars to prove who got there fastest, and there is no way the government can or will ever see that information, or be able to use it to prosecute.
- He claims he can't be arrested because he claims not to be a U.S. Citizen (but he's not a foreigner either. He just lives here, and is not subject to our laws).
- Offering a $50,000 prize for being there first is not encouraging people to break the law, only those with "evil in their hearts" can break the law.
Farah concluded, in his conversation with Wilson, that “I thought maybe you were stupid, but you’re actually just insane.”
Participants in a web forum devoted to Ferraris had a humorous discussion about who might have actually been persuaded to try joining the race (no one admitted to this). One noted that he had an email exchange with Wilson, querying about the liability issues, and had received this reply:
Hey Dave. There is a liability clause in the entry form. And it is not suggested for anyone to break the law. Also all rights are reserved. See UCC 1-308
Colonel Vaughn Wilson
All rights reserved
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These ideas and beliefs, of course, are classic instances of so-called “sovereign citizen” movement ideas – a belief system derived from far-right interpretations of history and the Constitution that originated with the Posse Comitatus movement. Movement followers believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which are mere products of an illegitimate government, and they refuse to pay taxes or heed normative licensing laws.
Wilson’s “Cannonball One” website promoting the race has been taken down and is now defunct. He has not yet responded to SPLC’s queries about the race and its status.