I ran across this photo in the Wilson Library stacks the other day. It was labeled “Cake Race, October 1924.” No further information was given, suggesting that none was needed, that everybody should know what a cake race is.
A little research revealed that the students lined up in the 1924 photo were doing exactly what the caption said: racing for cakes. The annual race began in the 1920s as an intramural event held in the fall. Students ran a cross country race covering one and a half to two miles with the winners in each of several divisions receiving cakes. In some years, students competed in teams, with prizes for the dorms that had the most students participating.
The Cake Race was popular at UNC in the 1920s and 1930s, but was discontinued in 1938. The race was revived 20 years later, in 1958, and was run annually through the 1960s. After that there were only brief references to the race in the DTH in 1980 and 1981, and nothing after.
The practice of racing for cakes was not unique to UNC. I found references to cake races at Georgia Tech (as early as 1911), Auburn, and Davidson College, which still holds an annual freshmen cake race.
If you know more about the cake race at UNC, or why college students began racing for cakes in the first place, please let us know in the comments.