By Annette Hinkle
Sally Spanburgh coordinates the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Vintage Automobile Poker Rally for classic and antique cars (from 1959 and earlier) which will traverse the South Fork this Saturday.
How many years has the road rally been running in Bridgehampton?
This is the 20th year. It was started in 1993 by Jeffrey Vogel who revived the races from the 1950s. Road rallies are a national thing and they are usually timed events. He made them big events. There were more cars than we have now. There was also much more fanfare about the rallies and they had a much broader appeal over the tri-state area. There were more participants, more spectators, many more volunteers and more prizes.
It’s a very different event now.
How has it changed?
Our event is still timed, but not in a competitive racing way. There is a prize for best time, but they have to obey laws and you do have to do stop along the way to get gas or grab a snack.
Often the drivers use their spouses or children as their navigators. Also what slows it down is the historic trivia component which has been added to it. A lot of times if drivers bring their child as a navigator they get so into the trivia part. So there is a competitive component, but it’s not a race.
More like a scavenger hunt?
Tell me a little more about how the trivia component works…
There’s always a theme. Last year’s rally stopped at various beach points — whether it was lakeside, ocean side or bayside. The year before every stop was a windmill, either real or replicated.
There’s a question to answer at each stop. I have an architectural background, sometimes I’ll focus on an architectural question. How many rows of shingles are there on the south side of the building, for example. During the windmill tour, one question was “how many panes of glass are there on a particular window?” One driver argued with me for more than half an hour about that one and I had to draw diagrams to prove I was right.
The trivia portion calls attention to details. When you scrutinize something so closely, whether its a historic window or a building, it gets you to see things a little differently.
I know you can’t divulge either the route or the trivia questions, but what’s the theme of this year’s rally?
Because one of our major exhibits this past season was Bridgehampton’s five area golf courses, this year’s route links most of the South Fork golf courses. They’re not all ancient, like Maidstone and Shinecock. The East Hampton Golf Club was founded in 2006.
Who designs the route and where does it go?
I design the route and it stays within the towns of Southampton and East Hampton. This year I was just looking to connect the courses but in a more interesting way than a loop. This is my fourth rally and I’ve found that the drivers like open roads — they enjoy their vehicle and want length, not stopping and starting on the highway. There’s always a complainer, but hopefully only one. Generally these car enthusiasts are so pleasant and entertained by the day, I’ve learned a lot by working with them — not about cars but about owners of cars.
This rally was inspired by the Bridgehampton road races in the early part of the 20th century. Can you tell me a bit about those?
The races began in 1915 and the peak of the rally was 1949 to 1953.
Why were those years the peak?
That’s when it got national attention. That’s also when the community was fully involved. A fatality ended it in 1953, and it was banned across New York State. A few years later, the Bridgehampton race track was built.
I still love looking at the old photos of those years. People are standing 10 deep along that four mile loop. It was a real race, they wore helmets and hay bales were all that separated the cars from the crowd. It must’ve been tremendous.
The Vintage Automobile Poker Rally begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, October 5, 2013 at the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Corwith House on Montauk Highway. Cars built before 1959 (or later by approval) may participate. Entry fee is $75. Registration is at 9 a.m. Non-racers are invited to exhibit their classic and antique cars on the property also beginning at 9 a.m. There is no fee to exhibit.