The 26th annual Bridgehampton Road Rally is set to take place this Saturday, October 5, on the grounds of the Bridgehampton Museum’s Corwith House in the center of the hamlet to celebrate its rich racing history.
Racing is said to be a part of the fabric of Bridgehampton since 1915, when firefighters sponsored street races as part of their summer carnival.
Those races ran laps over a rectangular course that included Main Street, Halsey Lane, Paul’s Lane and Ocean Avenue. They included homemade and modified cars piloted by local drivers, such as John Ambrose, Moosie Thompson, Court Rodgers and Norris Hopping.
Races continued through 1921, and were revived in 1949 when Bruce Stevenson, inspired by the first Watkins Glen race in 1948, organized a similar event in Bridgehampton.
Eventually, in 1957, the soon-to-be world famous Bridgehampton Race Circuit opened on 500 acres of open land just north of the hamlet. For the next 35 years, races of international importance took place on its winding course.
It was acknowledged by professional drivers such as Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Walt Hansgen, Pedro Rodriguez and Dan Gurney to be one of the best circuits in the world. The last major event ran in 1970, and the track continued to provide great racing for amateur and budding professional drivers and spectators for another 20 years before it was officially closed. The Bridge Golf Club now occupies the space.
In 1993, Jeffrey Vogel and the Bridgehampton Historical Society organized the first Vintage Sports Car Road Rally to commemorate and keep alive the hamlet’s racing history.
Although the high-speed thrills of the earlier races cannot be re-created, the rally tries to keep the spirit of competition alive in Bridgehampton at legal and safe speeds on the highways and twisty back roads of the picturesque area of the East End.
The day is split into four different parts. The morning includes registration and judging for a “best in show” award, which is given out at the awards ceremony at the end of the day. A parade of the vehicles starts at about noon around the original 1949-1953, 4-mile race loop and back to the Corwith House grounds. The main event, the rally race, starts in the afternoon.
The rally race includes three different and separate elements — a poker game, historical trivia and a timed component. Traditionally, the race was a non-timed, leisurely tour through the scenic and historic community, but the tour and rally were recently separated as distinct events, so that the rally race could be more competitive while the tour can remain as a more laid-back form of the event. Motorists can participate in just the rally or the tour, which is much shorter than the rally.
The rally route will be approximately 60 miles, and includes four stops to collect poker cards and stops for historic trivia sites. The route uses public roads complete with local traffic and includes stops at historic sites which inspire the related trivia questions. Entrants must be adept at driving and map reading to participate. Teams must obey all traffic regulations while making allowances for lunch, “pit stops,” poker stops, and trivia stops.
Julie Greene, archivist and curator of the Bridgehampton Museum, is tasked each year with setting up the route and trivia. She said that the trivia is based on whatever exhibit the museum happens to be showing at the time. This year’s exhibit is on Nathaniel Rogers, with the Nathaniel Rogers House on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton currently being restored.
“I’m trying to make history important for them,” Greene said. “Not everybody realizes how much history is out on the East End of Long Island, so, for me, it’s a nice way to teach people about that and to also support different historical places of interest on the East End.”
Cars from 1969 and newer will begin leaving the Corwith grounds at noon, with the older vintages following at 12:30 p.m. Although, initially, only cars which could have competed in the original Bridgehampton Road Races were eligible, the museum now extends invitations to cars made after 1970. Some exceptions may be made for later models of “special interest.”
Unlike in previous years, when the fastest cars of the rally were awarded, the new timed component of the rally is which motorists return to the museum closest to the official projected rally time, or “optimum time,” as Greene put it, as pre-determined by the rally committee.
“We want everyone to obey all the speed limits,” Green said. “We’ve had some people come back in two hours and really zip around the course and test the limits of their vehicles, and then we’ve had people that come in after five hours that want to stop and have a long lunch and take their time. And that’s OK, they just wouldn’t win the timed portion of the event.”
Rally participants must submit copies of their driver’s license, car registration and insurance certificate, as well as a release signed by the driver on behalf of the driver and all passengers. To participate as a motorist, forms that can be found at bhmuseum.org must be filled out and returned to the Bridgehampton Museum office.
Contact the Bridgehampton Museum at 631-537-1088, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with additional questions or to inquire about the eligibility of a post-1969 vehicle. All information on the rally can be found at bhmuseum.org/road-rally.php.