Century-Old Raceabout To Highlight Bridgehampton Road Rally

Cars lined up for the Bridgehampton Museum Road Rally. Photo Courtesy Brigehampton Historical Society.
Cars lined up at the Bridgehampton Museum. Photo courtesy Bridgehampton Historical Society.

By Tessa Raebeck 

After first racing in Bridgehampton 100 years ago, the 1913 Mercer Raceabout is returning to the hamlet.

At this year’s Vintage Automobile Poker Rally hosted by The Bridgehampton Museum, Silas Hiscock will bring his legendary speedster back to Bridgehampton for a leisurely tour around the roads it once raced.

An expected 60 to 75 cars will be on display on the grounds of The Bridgehampton Museum on Saturday for the vintage automobile show and poker rally, an annual event held in honor of the hamlet’s rich racing history.

The oldest car will be Mr. Hiscock’s 1913 Mercer, which “was actually raced on the streets of Bridgehampton in the early 1900’s,” according to Earl Gandel, a Bridgehampton resident well-versed in the hamlet’s automobile history.

“It was his father’s car,” Mr. Gandel said of Mr. Hiscock. The car was passed down to the family, but then sold in the 1950’s.

“I guess it made the rounds and it was in somebody’s collection and then it came back to auction [many years later until Silas Hiscock] heard about it and he went to California and bought it,” Mr. Gandel said of the Mercer, which recently returned to Bridgehampton.

The famed car is an icon of early films, in which drivers in bucket seats seem to be sitting atop the vehicle, bouncing along turns at almost alarming speeds. In 1911, the first year the Raceabouts were made, Mercer entered its new cars in six major events—and the Raceabout earned the top spot in five of them.

Bridgehampton’s car contests started when firemen began to sponsor street races on a three-mile course around the hamlet in 1915 as a way to liven up their summer carnival. Drivers, going up to 50 mph, began on Main Street and made a rectangular loop, turning left onto Halsey Lane, left onto Paul’s Lane, left onto Ocean Road and finally another left to return to Main Street.

The firemen’s circuit ended in 1921, but in 1949 Bruce Stevenson revived Bridgehampton’s road races, and mostly European cars dashed around a four-and-a-half-mile course at speeds of over 100 mph. From 1949 to 1953, the circuit ran directly to the east of the first course, starting on Ocean Road and going clockwise, cutting right down Sagaponack Road, turning right onto Sagg Main Street, and taking a right onto Bridge Lane to return to Ocean Road.

The 25-lap Bridgehampton circuit, one of the first permanent road racing venues in the United States, was considered an excellent high-speed road course, further enhanced by the natural beauty of Bridgehampton’s ponds, farms and sand dunes. The course joined the SCCA National Sports Car Championship in 1951, the year it was created, and hosted many major international events, such as Can-Am, NASCAR Grand National and the World Sportscar Championship.

The races ended tragically in May 1953 when a driver was killed during practice and an accident stopped a race on the ninth lap, when spectators flooded the course after one driver and three spectators were injured. The Mecox Trophy Race, Hamptons Cup and others were cut short and New York State banned racing on public roads shortly thereafter.

In 1957, the course was revived once again when the Bridgehampton Race Circuit opened on 500 acres just north of the village, where The Bridge Golf Club is now located.

“Racing on the streets was banned in New York State, so the track was built,” said Mr. Gandel, who once managed the track, which closed its doors in 1998 after over 35 years of car and motorcycle races.

Photo courtesy Bridgehampton Historical Society.
Photo courtesy Bridgehampton Historical Society.

In homage to the hamlet’s connection to cars, Jeffrey Vogel and the Bridgehampton Historical Society started the first Vintage Sports Car Road Rally in 1993.

“The rally started 21 years ago because Bridgehampton has a very rich racing history compared to a lot of places where rallies are run,” said Mr. Gandel. “We have a reason to do it and I think people appreciate that.”

All the cars participating in Saturday’s show and road rally, which includes Mustangs, Corvettes and Cabriolets, to name a few, were made before 1960. The tour still enjoys the natural beauty of Bridgehampton, but at much safer speeds.

Drivers start out with a parade around the “old course,” said Mr. Gandel, following the exact same four-mile route along public roads as their early 20th-century predecessors. Following the parade, cars start on the main course with a map and an instruction book, stopping at four checkpoints along the way to collect poker cards. After all of the drivers finish at the museum’s Main Street location, the car with the winning poker hand wins in a game of sheer luck. Other awards are given for going the exact mileage and taking the “ideal time,” Mr. Gandel said, adding that both of those winning amounts are unknown to drivers prior to the finish line.

“A lot of rallies are very technical and they take a lot of navigation and equipment, but we don’t do that,” Mr. Gandel said. ”It’s a fun rally.”

The Bridgehampton Museum’s 2014 Vintage Automobile Poker Rally is Saturday, October 11, at The Bridgehampton Museum, located at 2368 Main Street in Bridgehampton. Gates open to auto exhibitors at 9 a.m., with a $10 fee to show cars. At 10 a.m. gates are open to the public with free admission. The rally begins at noon and has a $100 entry fee for participants. For more information, call (631) 537-4225 or visit bridgehamptonrally.org.