Ernest George Baker is probably the most famous racing driver to never win a major race. Best know for driving cross-country for manufacturers who wanted to demonstrate the speed and reliability of their cars.
He began racing motorcycles for the Indian factory team and won the 10-mile national championship at the new Indianapolis Speedway in 1909.
After a 1912 promotional tour through Central America and the Caribbean, he rode an Indian motorcycle across the country, his first such trip and, after he drove a Stutz Bearcat from San Diego to New York in 11 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes in 1915, a New York newspaper writer compared him to the Cannonball Express train. He thus picked up the famous moniker that would stick with him the rest of his life.
He lowered his San Diego to New York record to 7 days, 11 hours and 52 minutes in a Cadillac a year later and began promoting his services to manufacturers with the slogan, "No record, no pay." In addition to cross-country trips, Baker set records on a number of shorter runs: From Detroit to Indianapolis, Chicago to Indianapolis, and from New York to Chicago.
One of his most grueling transcontinental trips was made in 1924, when he became the first person to drive cross-country during the winter. It took 110 hours and 15 minutes through snow, slush, mud and fog.
When Eddie Rickenbacker started manufacturing cars in the 1920s, he hired Baker as chief test driver. Baker broke his own winter cross-country record with a 71 1/2-hour trip (driving time only). He also drove a Rickenbacker on a "three flag" journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Tijuana, Mexico, in 40 hours and 57 minutes.
Baker's fastest official cross-country time was 60 hours, 31 minutes in a Stutz Versaille, though he later did an unofficial 53 1/2 hour drive in a 1933 Graham. This New York City to Los Angeles trek in a Graham-Page model 57 Blue Streak 8, setting a 53.5 hour record that stood for nearly 40 years, inspired the later Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, better known as the "Cannonball Run", which itself inspired at least five movies and a television series.
His most publicised feat was a race from New York to Chicago in a Franklin Airman Speedster against the famous 20th Century Limited passenger train in 1928. Baker won, averaging 46 mph in a car with a top speed of only 70.
Baker also competed hillclimbs and races, including the Indy 500, finishing 11th in 1922 driving a Frontenac.
In 1948, Baker set his last record, climbing Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, in 15 minutes, 12.75 seconds in a Nash. That year he was named the first commissioner of NASCAR, mainly for publicity reasons.