Bridgehampton and the C-Jag (1952)

To all that remember such things:

We were at recess, when my father walked into the school yard at 10:15 AM. A cold sweat came over me, my grades had not been so hot, and my parents had been there too many times before. Hi Dad... what are you doing here? A tremendous sense of relief, followed by shear joy when he asked if I could get the rest of the day off. He and Mom were going to take a ride out to Bridgehampton to watch the sports car races, but, if I couldn't leave, they would not be home very late. Now, I was young but not stupid, of course I can go. All I have to do is convince a very stern faced nun that this was necessary. You should know a little bit about St. Mary's, neither rain nor know the rest, or bubonic plague was a reason to be out of school. I don't remember what I told Sister Mary Joseph, but she put on a smirk and looked at my father and pulled her arm out of her sleeve, (Nun's always had their arms folded with their hands up their sleeves with one hand on the hidden ruler) and waved me off. Quick as a wink, I was in the '51 Ford with Mom and Dad, riding through East Islip, a quaint little town on the South shore of Long Island. A quick stop at Dad's Shell Station for a tank of gas and we were on our way.

Now, how much can a 12 year old know about sports cars? Well, when your dad owns a service station, and you're there every day after school pumping gas, sweeping the side walk, talking cars with the guys, you pick up a thing or two (including some words with less than five letters). Back home, there was always a Road&Track on the table next to Dad's chair. Preferred reading, to one's catechism, or doing your homework, or anything else, for that matter.

The ride out east was smooth and uneventful, until we came upon a Crosley Hot Shot, turning a "Gazillion" rpm, in top gear, at 70 mph. I asked dad, what is that thing? He told me all about the car and the great little overhead cam engine. He said they were as rare as Charmin bathroom tissue in a truck stop. Hmm, after that, I just remember being eager to get there, where ever "there" was. Having never been to Bridgehampton, everything was wide-eyed stuff. In those days, the races were held on the back streets of town. This included crossing railroad tracks and flying over a small bridge that would launch the cars skyward and when they came down the driver's bottom would hit bottom.

Parking along side the road, we walked to "trackside" where the crowds had gathered three or four deep at the snow fence. You heard me right a snow fence. This, and a few hay bails, was the only barrier between you and the racing automobiles. How the organizers ever got away with that is anybody's guess. Looking back, you would have to imagine that class distinction was at work here. I often wondered what would have happened if a group of local "Hot Rodders", had tried to close the road, stop the train, and race around the back roads. I can picture Barney Fife in his Black&White with the bubble gum machine on top, coming up the road, siren wailing, followed by the national guard in tanks, looking to arrest those hooligans. But the Hampton's were a playland for the privileged and those that loved this new "toy" called a sports car.

A stump to stand on or a tree to climb was the best bleacher seat in it's day. Better yet, rudely push your way to the front, for your own little space at the fence, only to get splinters in your hands from hanging on to the very rough wood. I remember thinking, the cars only go by about every two or three minutes. This was a lot different from going to the local 1/4 mile stock car / midget track. After a while you would be able to identify the cars as Allards, Jag's, Ferrari's and of course, MG's. On this day, there was even a Maserati (just saying it makes me want to eat Italian). We were on the track looking at the cars, before, in between, and after each race. Driver's getting ready for a run would be blipping the throttle on the starting line, I don't think they did this all the time, probably only till they needed glasses... In some ways the sound was unfamiliar, a very abrupt, rump, rump, rump, the sound rose and fell very quickly. As I later learned, an engine with high compression and light flywheel will do this. Along with this ear candy came nose candy, ahh, the sweet essence of racing castor oil.

After the racing was over it was time for the celebrities to strut there stuff. Dave Garaway was the host of the NBC morning show at the time. When he pulled his white 1939 XK100SS Jaguar out on track, with a camera man on board, we followed them. The filming went on at slow speed. Dad speculated that they would probably speed it up later for the TV audience. We were able to drive right behind him in our Ford while this was happening. Remarkable only in that no one stopped us, after all, we were out on the racing surface. Later, as we departed the track we passed James Melton, a noted opera star, driving a vintage Simplex with just an oval windscreen mounted on the steering column. Dressed in a coonskin coat, he was quite a site. Then came the Pegaso, finished in a bright yellow over orange. This car had been featured center stage, at the New York Automobile Show only a few months prior. What a surprise to see this "one and only" show car actually driven on the street. It was late afternoon, as the crowd drifted away from the track. We all just sort-of migrated to Westhampton for Dinner. There were Jags parked all over the place, and MG's were as common as Playboy's under a young males bed. Mom and Dad walked around and did some wishful dreaming. Someday...maybe? While the hi-brows dined at the finer restaurants, we caught a burger at some 'greasy spoon' as Dad liked to call them.

On the way home, and this is where the story really begins for me, we fell in behind a fellow in a C type Jaguar-right hand drive, competition exhaust, oh what music! The best part was that Mom and Dad were quite sure it was not a Jaguar, after all it did not have the sweep of the XK120 fenders, did it? Well, anyway, following this fellow in the Jag was a thrill ride I will never forget. For some reason the driver was in a hurry, and every chance he got, he would dart out, and see if the left lane was clear for a pass. With my Mom screaming, Dick, Dick, Dick "is this necessary, do we have to go so fast" and me in the back seat cheering Dad on. We were right with him. Here we go again, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, (Mom called him Dick) I always new how many cars we passed by the number of Dick's. Poor Mom, anyhow we ran with the Jag all the way from Westhampton to Oakdale (about 45miles) where the road split and so did we. Now, I know that this sounds like so much blarney, what, with the "twisty" Shinnecock Hills and all, but it really happened.

Richard, give us a break, how could that be? Well, most of Montauk Highway was a two lane affair, so swinging out to pass two or three or four cars at a time was all you could get away with. Dad would anticipate when the Jag was going to move and he would get on it first and stay in his wake. Well, with my "hero" at the wheel, getting all he could out of the "hopped up" flathead engine, and making full use of second gear overdrive, the Jag just could not shake us. When we pulled up next to him at the traffic light on Sunrise Hwy in Oakdale, Mom rolled down the window. What kind of car is that? A Jaguar C type came back the reply. I was so proud of myself, I thought I'd bust. I sure would like to talk to that driver now and ask him his thoughts of that evening. ( I seem to remember looking up the driver of a C-Type, was it Bob Constitine or possibly his mechanic?)

Next day, back at the garage, talk turned to that great ride home. It didn't take long before there were snickers all around when I tried to tell the story. My face got as red as Pee Wee Herman's coming out of the theater. Dad said nothing, but I was not so wise.

Richard C. Adams, Jr.

Editors Note: Richard is now living in Ocala, Florida as is his Dad "The Hero Driver". They welcome comments at: