Bridgehampton raceway, one of the half dozen new road courses which have sprouted in this exceptionally vigorous year for U.S. sports car racing, is a three-mile ribbon of blacktop which snakes around the sandy spine of eastern Long Island, 100 miles from Times Square. Last weekend saw its big-time debut—a national Sports Car Club of America race meeting—and a fine opening it was.
It hadn't been long since sports car disciples had set up new shops at Lime Rock and Thompson, Conn., at Upper Marlboro, Md. and Danville, Va. It had been only a week since the refurbished Watkins Glen plant in upstate New York had offered a sprightly program. Soon the cars would be spitting exhaust fumes in the bongo belt on new courses at Riverside and Pebble Beach, Calif.
Now it was Bridgehampton's turn. A blue ribbon band of eastern drivers, a handful from the Midwest and a pair from the West Coast—seasoned Phil Hill and an impetuous newcomer, 21-year-old Bruce Kessler—promised keen racing. They treated the course with undiluted respect, for it is fast and taxing. The swiftest cars could accelerate to 140 mph on the 3,200-foot main straightaway, there was no hairpin bend to cut speeds, and many a car became airborne on a 70-mph downhill curve.
New Jersey's Walt Hansgen and the resourceful Hill were to be favored in the featured 75-mile event on Sunday, but clearly the stature of their opponents would not let them coast. Hansgen, to be sure, was having an outstanding year. A country mile ahead of the field of drivers of Class C modified cars (three to five liters) in the SCCA point race, he had just taken the big one at Watkins Glen.
His mount, as usual, was one of Briggs Cunningham's artfully tuned 3.8-liter D Jaguars. And Hill, although aboard an outdated 3.5-liter Ferrari, had sharpened his already superior technique with a season in Europe.
Should Hansgen and Hill miscue, the race figured to be a wide-open scramble among a cluster of accomplished men: heavy-footed Charlie Wallace of Washington, in another Cunningham D Jag; smooth and steady John Fitch of Connecticut, in a 2-liter Maserati; young Kessler, Rose Marie Reid swimsuit heir, in an old 3-liter Maser; Honest John Kilborn of Illinois in a 3.5 Ferrari; and Pennsylvania's Bob Holbert, who performs amazing feats with his tiny 1.5-liter Porsche and who, indeed, derailed all the hot cars except Hansgen's in the Glen feature and trailed him by only 25 seconds at the end.
Since the outset, many months ago, when the Bridgehampton people began to search out the far-flung owners of the present racing site—a bosky hillside overlooking Peconic Bay—they have been alert, sure-footed, practical. Among the directors are men of vast racing experience—for example, Charles Moran Jr. of Rye, N.Y., the only Princeton-educated Wall Street stockbroker I've heard of who has raced in the Indianapolis "500," and Alfred Momo, the New York automobile importer whose crew of mechanics keeps Cunningham's stable of cars in apple-pie order.
FINS IN JARS
Bridgehampton stock has been pegged at $5 a share. A lot of it has gone into cooky jars in the resort area of the Hamptons, whose citizens supported road racing in the vicinity from 1915 to 1920 and 1949 to 1953. There are hundreds of small investors elsewhere, and the base of ownership continues to expand.
Right now the Bridgehampton Road Race Corporation has an admirable course on a 600-acre tract. Access roads, parking lots and the pit area are still raw: in the future the corporation intends to provide the amenities as well as the essentials.
The crowd of 8,000 which attended Saturday seemed not to mind slogging about over loose sand to find good viewing spots. A sharp, autumnal tang laced the crisp air. Overhead the sky was a clear, pale blue. Old 16, the venerable Locomobile which won the Vanderbilt Cup race in 1908, chugged across the starting line, parting an inaugural ribbon. Race No. 1 was a corker. Holbert, Wallace and Lake Underwood flicked their Porsche models about the course as quickly as anyone could want. Holbert, leading, spun and dropped to third, and Wallace thereupon caught Underwood to win the race at 85.37 mph. Underwood's average: 85.36. Bridgehampton's course was truly opened.
The weekend continued to be a slam-bang one. There were moments of exhilaration and there was a tragedy. On Saturday, Charles McAdams of Woodhaven, N.Y. flipped his Jaguar, suffered head injuries and died 48 hours later.
On Sunday, when an unexpectedly large gathering of 20,000 overran the plant, a substantial stockholder hiked two miles from a roadside parking spot to get in—no place to park inside.
Some of Saturday's chill had gone out of the air when Briggs Cunningham got things rolling on Sunday with a five-lap vintage car victory in his 8-liter 1930 Bentley touring car. Among the also-rans: Cartoonist Charles Addams, armed with a 1934 Alfa Romeo roadster. Rather more competitive wins were achieved by Tony Briggs (Alfa Romeo Veloce), Harry Carter (AC Bristol), and Lake Underwood (Porsche Carrera).
And then 37-year-old Walter Edwin Hansgen, who had driven his first race on Bridgehampton's old open-road circuit in 1951, delivered one of his finest performances in the big-bore main event. He won from here to Peconic Bay, followed by his teammate Wallace, Hill, Holbert, Fitch and Kessler. Average: 85.83 mph.
Hansgen handed his helmet to his 10-year-old son Rusty and shrugged when a wide-eyed teen-age girl gasped, "Weren't you scared?"
This is to report that Hansgen was not scared, but he did have a bad time with the D Jaguar's seat, which kept sliding forward and back as he drove.