What do Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Paul Newman and cartoonist Charles Addams have in common? We all know that two of them were professional racecar drivers, but they’ve all had a taste of racing cars in Bridgehampton. (You have to read this whole article to find out what hot cars they drove!)
Between 1915 and 1921 sporting drivers raced the dirt roads of Bridgehampton. From 1949 until 1953, crowds of up to 50,000 people came to watch cars race at speeds of up to 100 mph on public roads. When New York State outlawed street racing in 1953, the Bridgehampton Lions Club and racing supporters established the Bridgehampton Race Circuit. One of America’s first closed tracks—and one of its most challenging—the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, aka “The Bridge,” opened in 1957. The Race Circuit closed for good in 1998 and the property was developed into a beautiful golf club, also called The Bridge, which opened in 2002. Remnants of the track are still visible.
“Bridgehampton is the only hamlet on the East End that can claim this significance—its unique racing history. The track itself is another special entity. People on the street today have no idea,” says Julie Greene, Collections Manager of the Bridgehampton Museum.
Greene looks forward to the Museum’s Bridgehampton Road Rally every year. As she says, “people learn history without realizing it.”
The Museum began holding its annual Rally to bring Bridgehampton’s rich racing history to life in 1993. Since 2012 Greene has been actively involved in the planning of the Rally. “I’m not a car person and I find this whole event so enjoyable—especially bringing out all the cars from the past and seeing them all on the lawn. It’s a lot of fun!”
When reached for an interview, Greene had just returned from driving a practice run of this year’s route to work out any kinks. The exact path is top secret until Rally day, Saturday, October 1, when competitors in pre-1970 vehicles set out on this 60-mile jaunt. When asked what she is allowed to divulge about this year’s Rally route, Greene said, “I’m sworn to secrecy about the details but I can share that this year’s Rally is not in Southampton—we’re going east!” Last year’s Rally celebrated Southampton’s 375th anniversary with its route and the attendant trivia questions. In previous years trivia questions mimicked the annual exhibition inside the museum. So there were golf-related questions to be answered by visiting the different golf courses along the route, with an exhibit on the sport. There were questions that could only be answered by visiting local farm stands when the exhibit was about farming.
Greene says, “I enjoy working it out. This year a lot of the stops will be ‘drive-bys,’ so navigators have to be on their toes.” In other words, the answers may fly by!
Each car is manned by a driver who is assisted by his or her official navigator. This is not a speed race. Teams compete to arrive at stops and the finish line at preset times. Stops or drive-bys are sprinkled throughout the Rally route and these contain answers to a set of trivia questions that are distributed at the start.
Greene notes that “years ago we never had to contend with people Googling trivia answers on their cell phones. Check your spellings or you could be disqualified!” In other words, the trivia judges know what the internet says and they prefer that you give the right answer.
Teams also try their hand with Lady Luck herself by collecting four playing cards along the route—the winner is determined at the end of the race when the fifth cards are given out. After all the cars are in, the team with the best poker hand wins a special prize.
When asked what is new and different about this year’s event, Greene asserts, “I’m most excited about our new partnership with Dan’s Papers. This year Dan’s Papers is putting up a big tent, which is great—though we’re expecting good weather—and they’re offering a whole slate of entertainment. The tent and all the news coverage add gravitas to this truly historic event. Plus they’ve added the Tour d’Hamptons, which is a shorter drive, lasting about 40 minutes, concurrent with the Rally but open to all cars of interest.”
Throughout this year’s Saturday event, a collection of photographs of the Bridgehampton Race Circuit on loan from The Bridge and curated by Greene will be on display inside the museum and under the tent. Other components of this year’s exhibition include old programs and photos of cars borrowed from private collections. Additionally, there will be an installation by the Heritage Racing Group showing vintage video of historic Bridgehampton races and drivers, plus book signings, auto-themed literary readings, live music and more.
“Artist Ralph Stein did numerous covers for Bridgehampton races. The Museum has taken his work from 1949 to 1953 and reproduced them as small posters, which will be available for purchase at the event, to support the work of the Museum. I think that people will really love them,” adds Greene. Greene knows what people like. She shares that last year the trivia portion of the competition came down to an extended “tie-braker.” The winning answer? The Dongan and Andros Patents. This was the question: What two patents created the Town of Southampton? Maybe you don’t have all the answers, but as Greene says, “The Rally is a nice way to start the fall season out here.”
Curious to know what Petty, Andretti, Newman and Addams drove in Bridgehampton? Petty: his “#43” Plymouth; Andretti: a 1967 Holman Moody Ford Honker II; Newman: shotgun; Addams: a 1926 Bugatti T35 Roadster.
The Bridgehampton Museum is located at 2368 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. Gates open to competitors and exhibitors at 9 a.m. on October 1. $100 per team. Gates open to the public at 10 a.m. The Road Rally begins at noon, immediately followed by the Tour d’Hamptons. To sign up for the Bridgehampton Road Rally & Tour d’Hamptons presented by the Bridgehampton Museum and Dan’s Papers and for more info, visit BridgehamptonRally.com.