Nassau speed weeks resulted from an idea of American entrepreneur Sherman ‘Red’ Crise.
Red was a powerhouse, typical of those Americans who promote anything and everything with an enthusiasm which is hard for ordinary folk to believe.
I was fortunate to meet him from time to time, and sincerely believe one could hear his brain humming…… not just the gears turning….but a great dynamo….. bursting with energy.
After a history of stock brokering, engineering, flying and a motor car racing promoter, He suggested to Robert ‘Bobby’ Symonette and Sir Sidney Oakes that they start motor racing on New Providence. He believed motor racing would be a great attraction for tourists.
With the expertise of Donald Delahaye, a Bahamian entrepreneur who ran a tourist business, the first races were held during 1957 at the then abandoned Windsor Field, later the venue moved to Oakes Field, when it became too small for Bahamas Airways operations.
The races were held annually for eleven years.
During that time there was a phenomenal increase in tourism, not only due to Speed Weeks, of course, but the world wide enthusiasm for motor racing certainly helped the figures greatly.
Nassau became the playground of most of the finest race drivers in the world, it was a fun time for them, they could let their hair down between their annual racing seasons.
As a result, the Bahamas received about a month of world wide free advertising, it is impossible to estimate it’s worth,….. for a week or two before the event and for a full week after, the events in Nassau were not only published in racing magazines, but also the daily press and TV daily news broadcasts.
Even the fashion magazines discussed who was here, and what they were wearing.
If you wished to join the party, you went to ‘The Sun And’ restaurant, ably run by Pete Gardner, who welcomed each guest clad in a white shirt and shorts, with bare feet and an ocelot on a short chain,……at that time it was ‘The’ place to eat and drink… there you would rub shoulders with Stirling Moss, Juan Fangio the Marquise de Portago and their ilk. It was the height of the winter Nassau season. The walls of the bar were covered with photographs of the cars and their divers…. countless motor club badges from the world over were fastened to the bar itself.
The PLP, after their election in 1967, invited Som Chib, a very well qualified Indian tourism specialist to run the then Development Board.
I believe he did not understand the vitality nor import of the American entrepreneur, whom he first met in the form of Red Crise,…..
I remember him saying, he could not believe Red had the audacity to have his race pamphlets printed and paid for by the Ministry of Tourism and that he. Red, kept all the profits.
I don’t know the whys and wherefores of what took place, but knowing Crise…. his answer to any criticism would be along the lines of….. ‘Stick it up your………’
The glamour and excitement of speed weeks was gone, together with the wealth of the racers and their hangers on, regretfully the Bahamas suffered from the loss of not only the revenue but also the free advertising.
I understand, that sometime later, when one assumes the powers that be realized the error of their ways, overtures were made to Red to recreate the event, it was declined, ……in any case, it would be impossible to start it again for the calendar is full and too many other countries would give their respective right arms for the privilege to host a like event.
For my part, I believe the PLP exhibited an extreme lack of vision, as do most politicians who, IMHO, can see no further than their next re-election.
For a variety of reasons, at that time, the Bahamas also lost the Maimi to Nassau Ocean, the Governors Cup races for sail boats…… and the Miami To Nassau, the round New Providence and the 500 Mile round the islands power boats races.
The main problem being a lack of Bahamas Customs common sense, by not allowing the racers to bring into the country spare parts, sails and WHY, unless they paid full duty, even though it would all be shipped back when racing was over.
Racing boats, be they power or sail, are unwilling to carry spares aboard during a race because of the weight.
This problem did not raise it’s ugly head during the UPB’s reign during Speed Weeks.
Nevertheless, the Bahamas, again lost a great number of high end visitors and international advertising, very much, IMHO, to our cost.
In recent years, Jimmy Lowe, who should be commended for his efforts, has been very successful in trying to recreate Speed Weeks, however, without a proper race course, and sanction by the international racing.