Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker

Born in Dearborn County, Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker grew into a racing legend. His most famous victory came in 1909 when he won the first race ever held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is also when he began his endurance runs, gaining publicity when he chased passenger trains from city to city. He earned his nickname when a journalist compared him to the Cannonball Express train of the Illinois Central Railroad.

Baker’s record-setting cross-country speed runs included: riding an Indian motorcycle from San Diego to New York in 11 days; driving a Cadillac roadster from Los Angeles to New York in seven days; and riding a Rickenbacker car from Canada to Mexico. His career covered 5.5 million miles and included 126 coast-to-coast trips.

Among many other accomplishments, Baker went on to become an American Motorcycle Association race official, and he was named the first national commissioner for NASCAR. He died of a heart attack in 1960, survived by his wife Emma. He lives on as one of the most famous racers in history.

Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker


  • Baker raced in the 1922 Indianapolis 500, placing 11th in a Frontenac car.
  • The nickname “Cannon Ball” is trademarked.
  • Baker is the inspiration behind the Burt Reynolds film The Cannonball Run.