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New Providence Island, 24.11.2012 – 02.12.20

The original Bahamas Speed Week was the brainchild of an American, Sherman “Red” Crise, who had organised speed events in his homeland, and thought that the wide open space at the old Windsor Airport on New Providence Island would be a great venue for a race circuit. He sold his idea to the Bahamian authorities as a way of increasing foreign visitors who would attend the meetings, thus in December 1954 the first Speed Week took place. It was held at the Windsor Field circuit until 1956, then moved to the larger Oakes Field site in 1957, where it continued to be held until its demise after the 1966 event.

The gathering attracted top teams and drivers through most of its years of activity, it being particularly popular with European drivers, as it was a season end fling, with hard racing mixed with beautiful weather and copious social events. The drivers who participated read like a motor racing Who’s Who of the period, with race winners over the years including the likes of Alfonso de Portago, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, AJ Foyt, Bruce McLaren, Roger Penske, Mark Donohue, Innes Ireland, Dan Gurney and (Sir) Stirling Moss, to name but a few.

In recent years, a group of enthusiasts headed by Jimmy Lowe, David McLaughlin and Brendan Foulkes, have worked tirelessly with the Bahamian Government and its different departments to bring the Revival Meeting to fruition, succeeding with the first running in 2011. For the second running the event was expanded to include a group of young kart drivers from the UK and the USA. The purpose of their visit was not only to demonstrate their skills on track, but to interact with their Bahamian peers through visits to local schools, to promote interest in motor sport in the community, and to help with their box car projects, which were initiated by the organisers. The kart element was very fitting, as the first Karting World Championship was held in Nassau in 1959.

The preliminary gatherings kicked off on Saturday 24 November with a classic and modern car show for local enthusiasts, including trade stands, adjacent to the paddock area and the Arawak Cay Heritage Centre, giving them the chance to show their vehicles to the public and visitors from abroad. This was followed on the Sunday by kart racing on a circuit set up in the parking area of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, an impressive new structure built on the old Oakes Field site, adjacent to which is a monument to the memory of Sir Sidney Oakes, who was one of the founding members of the original Bahamas Speed Week. In the evening there was jazz al fresco at a reception at Jacaranda House in the centre of Nassau, a colonial building dating back to 1840, which has been in the ownership of the Oakes family for the past 60 years. In keeping with the strong socialising aspect of the original Speed Weeks, the next two days were free for visitors to explore what the Bahamas have to offer, with chartered plane trips available to visit the much larger Island of Abaco to the north of New Providence Island.

The official opening ceremony was held during the morning of Wednesday 28 November, with the Governor General, Sir Arthur Foulkes and Lady Foulkes along with Sir Stirling Moss and Lady Moss as honoured guests, along with a number of dignitaries from the government departments involved with the organisation of the Revival Meeting. The participating cars were lined up Le Mans style along the street fronting the fish restaurants at Arawak Cay as a backdrop to proceedings, with the Royal Bahamian Police Force Band providing a musical interlude to the opening ceremony, before the signal “gentleman start your engines” was given, for the entrants to do a few laps of part of the circuit, headed by Sir Stirling and Lady Susie Moss in a 1956 OSCA sports racing car. Lunch was taken in an open tent on the green opposite the restaurants, where a traditional Bahamian band provided a colourful display of costumes as they made their way through the party, being joined by the “Miss Bahamas Speed Week” girls and Miss Universe Bahamas, to add a dash of beauty to the occasion. In the evening there was reception at Government House in the centre of Nassau, by kind invitation of the Governor General and his wife. As an aside, this was the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, following his abdication as King Edward VIII in 1936.

The Thursday provided entrants with the opportunity to tour the island, with police outriders clearing the way and making for an easy high speed passage. Lunch was taken at the exclusive Lyford Cay Club on the west coast, where the original “007” Sean Connery joined participants, and there was a Concours d’Elegance This was won by the Jaguar C-Type of Jonathan Turner from the UK. Class awards went to the Ferrari 500 TRC of David and Kate Cottingham, the Ferrari 330 America of Tony Best, the Dodge Viper of August and Jessica Schnabel, and the Bocar XP-5 of Mike and Dawn Fisher. In the evening there was a reception in the gardens of the exclusive Graycliff Hotel in central Nassau, which boasts the world’s third best wine cellar, a cigar “factory”, a chocolate “factory” and the first 5 star restaurant in the Caribbean.

Friday was a day of relaxation, with a lunchtime beach party, and in the evening a Bay Street Roadshow, where the locals could get up close to the participating cars, and the entrants could enjoy an exclusive al fresco reception. On Saturday it was the Fort Charlotte hillclimb, which started from Arawak Cay, using part of the street circuit, before turning right and climbing through a series of twists and turns to the fort at the summit, sited at one of the highest points on the island. In the Race Car 1954 – 1966 Class, the Ferrari 500 TRC of David Cottingham (UK) was quickest with a time of 42secs, in the Classic Cars Class the quickest time, 46secs, was set by the Daimler SP 250 of Steve Plaster (USA), and in the Supercar Class it was the Dodge Viper of Ed Hugo (USA) with a time of 40secs. There were also passenger rides available through the day, and Derek Bell was very generous with his time in giving a number of people trips up the hill in a Ferrari 550 Barchetta. The day ended with a gala dinner and charity auction at the Sheraton Beach Resort Hotel at Cable Bay.

The finale on Sunday was the action on the street circuit, which had been extended in length from last year to cross the bridges to the container port to the rear of Arawak Cay. Unfortunately a tanker lorry hit one of the temporary bridges erected for pedestrians early on the Sunday morning, so the start of proceedings was delayed by an hour or so. However, this provided me with the opportunity to pay a quick visit to Ardastra Gardens and Zoo, a 10 minute walk up the hill from Arawak Cay, which is a botanical gardens, conservation centre and zoo, spanning 5.5 acres. It is home to the largest collection of Bahamian land animals in the world, and also has species from Africa, North & South America, Australia and Asia, including Meerkats, Australian Black Swans and a Jaguar, so there is a car connection! When proceedings on the track started, there were competitive timed runs, demonstration runs by the kart drivers, and passenger rides throughout the day. In the Race Car group the quickest time was posted by Simon Arscott (USA) in his Aston Martin DB5, in 1min 35.25secs, with Pablo de Sousa taking the Classic Class win in a time of 1min 43.12secs in his Excalibur JAC 427, and once again Ed Hugo taking victory in the Supercar division in his Dodge Viper, with a time of 1min 29.1secs. The gathering came to a close as the sun went down in the Paddock Club with the prize giving ceremony, where the awards were presented by Sir Stirling Moss.

Keith Bluemel