Beginning in 2012 the inaugural Race of Gentlemen kicked off in our favorite New Jersey hot spot, Asbury Park, but the more historic roots of East Coast beach racing began many decades ago in the early 1900's further south in Cape May. The now reformed modern version of the vintage race club "The Oilers" which began in 1947, was looking further south to find something with just as much charm as the city of Asbury Park yet with even better racing beaches closer to Cape May's legendary sand. Thus forth the city of Wildwood became the perfect place to host this whirlwind of vintage moto excitement year after year.
As you enter the city you are instantly greeted with signs of nostalgic charm in every direction. Ferris wheels, roller coasters and boardwalk amusements set a backdrop for 50's style motels and chrome lined greasy spoon diners as you get closer to the beach. You just simply feel the energy there, almost as if you've stepped back to a simpler time. As you step off the boardwalk and walk towards those TROG turnstiles you begin to hear the roar of the hopped up cars and bikes raising your excitement while you are suddenly surrounded by an impressive line up of roll in classic cars and bikes ranging from almost every era of auto and moto back to the 30's.
The car and bike invasion on the beach is just a warm up appetizer to get you ready for the main course down against the ocean, a full two days filled with the most amazing vintage machines you've ever seen. Being ridden harder and faster than even modern bikes could withstand out there on the sand. The race features staggered runs between cars on one track and bikes on another and sometimes depending on the ever changing conditions of the rising tide waters sometimes both on the same strip.
Whether it's cars or bikes the name of the game is pre-1950's. You won't ever see anything even as "new" as a Panhead or Shovelhead out there. The 45" flatheads make up a big chuck of the bikes but the big twin flatties and knuckleheads is where the action really heats up out there. Along with the old Harleys you can often see a strong presence of early Indian motorcycles as well as Henderson, Excelsior and many more. No matter what the bike each rider brings their own unique flair to the event, something that brings spectators back again and again.
The amazing spectacle that the TROG organizers have brought together is one of the very few places in the world that you can see bikes this old really getting a high speed second chance on life and racing in a style that is just the way it was done so many years ago.
As you enter the pit area and see the bikes lining up on the beach preparing for their heats, you feel a sense that some of these could easily be sitting gracefully preserved in a museum somewhere. Yet there's just something incredible about the notion of taking something that old and ever increasingly rare and still today using it for what it was intended for almost a century ago. One of the ideas that The Oilers have always stood by is that motorcycles deserve to be ridden regardless of the age and that they surely do. These brave individuals breathe new life into these barn find machines and bring them to the light of victory on the sand, all for the love of this era of long lost motorcycle art.
Each rider has put his or her style and personality into each bike modifying it to meet the aesthetics of the era or just flat out make it meaner than any stock bike of the time could ever be. The art aspect certainly doesn't stop with the customization of bikes at TROG, that also extends to the vintage canvases and signage that are hand painted by the renaissance man himself, founder of the event Mel Stultz. Mel has worked hard with his team and the other Oilers members to really bring something nostalgic and incredible to not only the people of Wildwood but to a generation of individuals that needs reminded just how fun it is to play in the sand.
With the world growing ever more obsessed with technology and new disposable forms of transportation you really have to respect Mel and the participants of The Race of Gentlemen for embracing the idea that vintage simply is just BETTER! In a way the race itself is an act of rebellion towards modern moto and auto culture. A culture that moves towards having the newest, most shiny, computerized, gadget laden two and four wheeled machines. You just have to respect that all of these racers take a stand and say no to the trappings of the present day and work to reignite a new flame in the hearts of the masses to find new inspiration beneath layers of patina glazed steel.
With each flap of the flag at the starting line the idea awakens in someone there in the crowd or witnessing the race from afar that they too could be there shredding that sand on a vintage machine of fury. For some racers that's where the dream began, witnessing one of the many TROG past events and finding the passion to tear into an old 45 sitting in the back of a family members garage or scour the country finding parts to finally piece together their antique dream machine they've worked on for so long. Whatever drives these racers to boldly step out onto that beach, whether it be the camaraderie of their fellow vintage enthusiasts or the pursuit of adrenaline pumping speed on machines of absolute impressive antiquity we salute them for holding on to this era of motorcycle mayhem.
If you would like to attend The Race of Gentlemen next year or learn more about this amazing event please visit their website theraceofgentlemen.com or their instagram @t.r.o.g._official and show your support to keep this incredible part of moto culture thriving.
photos and words by- Mike Vandegriff