By Annette Hinkle
The coordinator of the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Vintage Automobile Poker Rally, talks about the history of the rally and the 86-mile road course which drivers of classic and antique cars will traverse on the South Fork this Saturday.
How did the annual Road Rally become popular in Bridgehampton?
There used to be a fireman’s carnival here, like we have today, and they started putting on events related to these carnivals. One was a road race. It was a much shorter course, just two miles. This is around the time when cars were new – the early 1900s — and the cars couldn’t go that fast. They started racing a four mile loop in 1915, by then cars could go around 50 mph. It was instantly popular.
What is it about cars and Bridgehampton?
People had tractors, they had farming equipment, they were tinkerers. They also had engine runs and cars were almost the same thing — they were all engine. People here were interested in how things worked, there was also the adrenaline of competition and the sportsmanship, all these things combined to make Bridgehampton car central.
But at some point, the road races, which were all about speed, became a problem?
As cars evolved the danger of the event evolved and ultimately someone was killed in 1953 – that put an end to road racing, not only in Bridgehampton but across the country.
Bridgehampton may have been the birth and the death of road racing.
And that was how the Bridgehampton Race Circuit came to be.
Because the road race ended, they purchased the track land. The course opened in the 1950s. It was based on the top four courses of the time and Bridgehampton’s track was the best of the best with blind turns and hidden curves. Racing stopped there in the ‘90s when the track closed.
The historical society brought back the road races, but as a timed event for vintage cars which is about precision, not speed. What’s the course going to be like this time?
This year it’s an 86-mile course. For the past two years, drivers said they wish it was longer. I have no business designing courses, but I do it every year. This year it will go from Shinnecock Hills to Napeague and they’ll go right through Sag Harbor’s Main Street in the middle of the route. In other years, they’ve gone to Shelter Island and the North Fork.
Is it still a timed event?
Ours is no longer a real timed event. We’ve lightened it up because it’s very complicated when it’s timed that way. We’ve also added a historic trivia element. We make drivers stop at historic sites and learn something. If you come back too early we know that you skipped something – it’s light, fun, family friendly, but true to its purpose.
What’s the vintage of the cars that take part in the rally?
We prefer 1959 and older, but will make exceptions. Someone with a 2002 Bentley is participating. We also allow cars that have a body style that has not changed since 1959. The point is to include cars that would’ve been involved in racing in Bridgehampton at the time of the original race.
This year’s rally is dedicated to John Stacks who passed away in early September. Can you tell me a little about him?
John Stacks was a very accomplished writer, editor and journalist. He worked for Time magazine during Watergate as their Washington correspondent. When he retired he was a car enthusiast and participated in the rally in a 1952 MG. He was appointed to the board of the Bridgehampton Historical Society and he became the editor of the Bridge Journal, the prize winning publication that is published for the road rally.
This year he put the journal together and then he died. It was so sad to lose him, he was very humble, he had this great career, he was friendly and easy to work with and enthusiastic about working with the historical society – and he’ll be missed.
The Vintage Poker Rally is Saturday, October 6. Cars will be on view at the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s lawn at Corwith Avenue and Montauk Highway from 9 a.m. to noon and will then leave on a parade route of the four mile race loop in Bridgehampton before taking of on the 86 mile course. Awards are handed out at 5 p.m. In conjunction with the rally, the Bridgehampton Racing Heritage Group will host their own exhibit of race cars from the Bridgehampton Race Circuit’s heyday along with films, trophies, photos and memorabilia from the track.