32 Hours, 7 Minutes: Q&A with Driver Dave Maher

32 Hours, 7 Minutes is a documentary that takes its title from the US transcontinental speed record, set during the 1983 US Express (a secretive race from New York to LA). A successor to the famous Cannonball Run, drivers were essentially breaking the law nonstop, driving as fast as they could to get across the United States. The total distance? 2,874 miles.

I first heard about the movie way back in 2004, back before YouTube even existed. Over eight years later, I got wind that the movie was finally complete… and was able to get a hold of a reviewer’s copy, soon after its release.

I so enjoyed the film, and was so taken with it… that I ended up corresponding with the film’s director, Cory Welles. In the documentary, Welles teamed up with drivers Alex Roy and Dave Maher to verify the record time in a rather unique way: by attempting the trip themselves. I was so interested in the process and the story that I ended up doing a long Q&A with Cory.

Through her, I was able to get Dave Maher’s contact information. And after reaching out to him, introducing myself and talking about my interest in the film, I pitched the idea of doing an interview via email. Dave was gracious enough to indulge my questions, and agreed to the Q&A that follows (below).

Note 1: While the words and text are all Dave’s, I’ve made small adjustments in terms of spelling, grammar, and line breaks.

Note 2: If you haven’t seen the film yet, be warned that the Q&A contains some spoilers. FYI.

For those of us not well-versed in the racing world, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship to Alex Roy and Team Polizei 144?

I am crazy about driving.

I grew up on a farm in NJ. My first car was a 1992 GMC 1500 Z71 pick-up truck. The reason being was that if I had a pick-up I could get a farmer’s license and drive a year earlier. I couldn’t wait! I still have the truck and it is in amazing condition, and serves as my tow vehicle for track events and race days now.

I live in New York city and own 7 cars, only three of them have license plates and are registered for street use. The rest are race cars or projects. I am a BMW and Porsche Club member, and do driving instruction for club track days. I was also a staff instructor for NJMP during time between jobs on Wall Street, 2 years ago.

I am currently working on a project to transfer some of the skills used on the track for people to use on the street. I find there is so much knowledge that can be applied to street driving that would give drivers far greater awareness of their surroundings and how to use their cars, and identify and predict behavior of other drivers in a way that generates confidence behind the wheel and creates a safer and incident free traffic environment.

I met Alex in 2003. We were brought together by girls we were dating. I heard he was looking for a co-driver to do the Gumball and I wanted to do the Gumball. It was simple. That was my relationship to Polizei 144. The Polizei scheme was all Alex. 144 was our entry number for the Gumball. I was Alex’s first co-driver.

When Alex and Jonathan Goodrich first set out on their attempt to break the record, were you among the team members that supported them on the run? Were you jealous that Goodrich was asked, and you weren’t?

When Alex was attempting to break the record the first few times, I had no idea he was even up to it. It was all a secret. I was doing my thing getting into real forms of racing, on the track.

Alex and Goodrich had been doing Gumball and Bullrun for all the years in between. He and Jon were very close, long-time friends. My relationship with Alex certainly didn’t trump that. So, no, there was no jealousy.

How did Alex go about inviting you to join the record-breaking attempt? Did you take a lot of time to deliberate and think on the offer, or was it something you immediately wanted to do?

He invited me to his apartment to give me a Team Polizei bomber jacket. Unloaded all the details of his Cannonball adventures and such to me, and said Jon didn’t want to go again. And then asked me. He said I should sleep on it.

I said yes before I left his place. You could say that I was eager to break the Cannonball Run record.

Of all the various things that concerned you prior to the attempt, what was the one thing you were most worried about, going in?

I was most concerned with going to jail. I knew I would be driving very fast for very long stretches of road – misdemeanor type speeds.

Alex mentioned some fairly unusual things he did as “practice,” in preparation for the drive – things like playing Gran Turismo for hours on end, or using the bathroom and flashlights to simulate nighttime conditions. Can you talk about some of the things you did, to prepare (both physically and mentally) for your drive?

Preparation? I let Alex do all the preparation. I got a good night sleep the night before, as I knew we would be up for a while.

Everyone involved had to keep quiet about the attempt, for a year and a half leading up to it and for a year afterwards. What was the hardest part for you, needing to keep this amazing trip a secret?

I can keep a secret. It wasn’t that difficult – I told a few near and dear to me.

In a talk he made at Google, Alex discusses an email he sent you outlining the various felony charge thresholds for each state. This, apparently, was an email you never opened until after the drive.

If you were behind the wheel and had been pulled over, can you describe for us what the worst case scenario would be in terms of breaking the law? Did it involve Oklahoma?

Alex is a great speaker. He gave a lot of speeches when his book came out. He went on Letterman to discuss the drive and gave speeches at other high level institutions. I was not part of his book tour or his presentation/speech circuit.

Alex did go over the statute of limitations for each state with me, prior to the drive. He said he had issue with OK. He worked out all the states he wanted to drive through. It made no difference to me. I was going to break the record.

When I drove 2 full stints back to back from Ohio to Oklahoma because Alex said our chances were far greater with me in the driver’s seat… the whole spreadsheet went out the window, along with his theory of maintaining 92mph and not exceeding 100.

When people talk about the record, the name that seems to come up first is Alex’s. Given his book and the subsequent public appearances (Google, David Letterman, etc), do you feel that you and your contributions to the record are overlooked?

Are my contributions overlooked? I got in the seat and drove.

It was Alex’s idea, Alex’s car, Alex’s friend with the pilot’s license and plane. Alex’s dollars prepping the car and planning. Alex wrote a book and funded a documentary. I happened to be in the driver’s seat for over 65% of the drive.

I know I pushed harder than Alex or Jon did in failed attempts, but if you hire me to win a race with you, don’t be surprised if you end up in the winner’s circle. I am going to give it all I have. I was committed to breaking the record, I didn’t care about reporters or a documentary or Alex’s book. To me, failing to achieve the goal wasn’t about acknowledgment, it was about doing it for me.

I don’t race on weekends for trophies, I race because there is thrill in driving and satisfaction in winning. Going across country was no different to me.

Filmmaker Cory Welles feels that your role in the record-breaking attempt was instrumental. She goes on to say that “Maher is the modern day Doug Turner, and you have to have that person in the car or else you’re never going to set any records.”

Can you tell us a few things about your role during the drive, that maybe we didn’t know about or see in the documentary?

I felt whenever Alex was driving I had to encourage him to go faster. I was constantly giving him updates either from what I saw or didn’t see through binocs, or heard on CB. Constantly giving him information to go faster.

Whenever I was behind the wheel, he would say very frequently “I’m not spotting” or “You’re going to fast for me to spot,” critiquing my passing and lane change judgements. It was total comedy. I didn’t listen to him. The only time those roles reversed was when I told him to check his speed during a torrential downpour where I was far more concerned with safety than cops.

In the film you mention that you worked for Bank of America Security, on their trading floor. When asked to talk about how you feel about what you do, you seemed hesitant to talk more about your day job. Were there specific concerns you had, related to the record-breaking attempt? Were you worried that if news of your participation got out, you’d end up losing your job?

I wasn’t worried about losing my job. I actually lost it a couple years later when BofA bought Merrill. It was glorious.

During my severance, I bought a BMW R1200 GS motorcycle and took a 14,500 mile loop around the US for a month. I went everywhere and saw everything I’ve never seen, racing across the US. Despite almost losing my then girlfriend, now wife, it was a truly epic journey!

At the time, you mentioned that your job was helping you support some of your automotive interest. You go on to say: “But I think if I could, I… ” and then trailed off. You seemed to check yourself, and didn’t finish the sentence.

It’s been over 6 years since you held your tongue. Can you finish that sentence for us now?

I don’t even remember what I was going to say in the documentary. If that job had really defined me or who I was, I would have been happy to talk about it. I just thought there was more interesting content for the film.

When describing you, Alex says that he feels you’re a better driver than he is. During the documentary, it seemed like you were often advocating for more speed and Alex was pushing for restraint. There seemed to be an interesting tension between your respective approaches that worked out well, in the end.

During the drive, were there a lot of moments where you wanted to open up more, but couldn’t?

Yes we were hung up in traffic a bunch. I told Alex to turn on his strobes and flashers and clear the way! May not have been the wisest thing, but it would have shaved a lot of time.

We hit lots of traffic. Of course I wanted to go faster. What many people who have never driven across the country realize is that it isn’t like driving I95 from NY to Miami. There is nobody in the Midwest.

Outside a 100 mile radius of any big city across the country, suburbs stop and there is a lot of big open and flat road. You can drive 115 mph for 10 minutes at a time and not pass another vehicle.

Looking back, is there any one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Looking back, I would have turned on a stopwatch. By the time we hit Nevada and had crossed 3 time zones, we were so delirious we had no idea how we were doing time-wise.

We knew our average speed, we knew when we left, we knew the current time… but we couldn’t compute simple math. It was totally ridiculous. It was a huge strain to do simple arithmetic.

After arriving on the west coast, how long was it before you were able to sleep? Did you collapse into bed, or did the adrenaline continue to keep you wired? Once you slept, how long were you asleep?

I was up for over 50 hours when we arrived in LA. After the drive, I had to stay up till 4 (7am NY time) so I could call in sick to work, as I was supposed to be there on Monday. I fell asleep quickly after that, but was only able to rest for a few hours before my plane back to NY.

In October of 2012, attorneys for Alex Roy filed a suit against Cory Welles (and others related to the film). The following December, a “limited run” of the film was released by Welles.

Shortly after this news, Alex posted a statement online saying that he had not reviewed, approved, or endorsed the version that was released.

This seems a pretty big deal (and a fairly sensitive topic) that’s currently being worked out in the courtrooms. Are you able to say anything, in regards to what’s happening legally between the parties involved? Are you involved in the law suit in any way?

The legal business between Alex and Cory – its not my place to comment. I have no skin in the game.

Have you considered making another attempt at the record, at trying to make the distance in under 30 hours?

I have no motive to break my own record.

Can you tell us more about your automotive pursuits in 2013? What’s the best way for folks to keep up to date on you and your projects?

As I said, I am working on a Driver’s Ed program to apply some performance driving skills to street driving. I strongly believe the drivers education system in this country is deplorable. People learn how to get a license here, they aren’t taught how to drive. I am out to change that.

I will continue to race and instruct as much as possible. It’s in my blood, I’m completely passionate about it.

32 Hours, 7 Minutes: Official Website
32 Hours, 7 Minutes: Q&A with Director Cory Welles
32 Hours, 7 Minutes: Alex Roy

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Dave, you are a baller! Good work driving and great heart in the game. Can’t wait to see the first round of your street driving program.

    Nat Reply

Leave A Reply