If you drive the Garden State Parkway to get to Cape May, you may think that automobile racing is still an active sport on the Jersey Cape. For one weekend in May, it will be. On Saturday, May 19, Cape May Forum will recreate the famous 1905 beach races between Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet.
At the turn of the 20th century, automobiles were a novelty. Cars had a reputation for being unreliable and hard to operate, and roads still catered to horses — most people thought the horse would remain the nation’s primary mode of transportation. Races allowed car makers to promote their products to crowds of onlookers, marketing automobiles in general while allowing “automobilists” to show off.
Fans of the horseless carriage formed clubs, including the Cape May Automobile Club. Because good roads were rare, drivers raced on the beach, and Cape May’s wide beach, from Madison to Poverty, was a popular location. Races were festive events, with onlookers lining the beach to cheer, and to jeer. On a rainy day in 1905, Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet – not yet household names – were among the racers. Ford, driving a Ford, started strong, but a wave broke over his car, and he lost. Chevrolet, driving a Fiat, came in second. Ford apparently counted on winning the prize money to pay his hotel bill, and when he lost, had to sell one of his cars for $400.
More than 100 years later, the companies named for these automotive innovators will face off again. “Race at the Cape: Renewing the Cape May Motor Car Challenge 1905-2012” is sponsored by Kindle Ford and the Quality Plus Ford Stores, Burke Chevrolet and the City of Cape May. Cape May Forum will recreate the race with vintage cars and actors from the East Lynne Theater Company in period clothing.
The Motor Car challenge begins at 1pm in front of Convention Hall on the boardwalk in Cape May. Before the race, the cars will be on exhibit at Rotary Park, and after the race, you can see them at Gurney and Beach. The events are free and open to the public.
In addition to vintage cars, the event will display the latest hybrid and electric cars from Ford and Chevrolet. This time, the competition is about fuel efficiency – the event is tied to Cape May Forum’s retreat, “Running on Empty? The Future of Energy,” June 2-3, 2012. Cape May Forum is modeled on the Chautauqua Institution and offers participants a chance to “grapple with the social, moral, and political issues of our time.”
Next week: The Cape May Music Festival