The Race of Gentlemen: Less Show / More go
Wildwood is a living postcard of Americana. From its historic boardwalk lined with carnival games, fortune tellers and neon, there’s an energy in the air that seems to have always been there. When the circus that is The Race of Gentlemen (TROG) comes to town, a fuse is lit and that energy is ignited into arguably the best back drop in America for such an event. If you have been living under a rock the past few years and thinking to yourself "What is the TROG?" Well let me explain. Every year a bunch of guys and gals get together and race vintage motorcycles and cars down the beaches of Wildwood, NJ. They get preselected to participate based on how period correct and age of the vehicles, making the racing just that more special.
The man, the myth, the legend, Mel Stultz.
Take yourself back to a time when you’d impatiently wait for Christmas morning. To run into the living room and find a tree lined with presents from a jolly man in a red suit except now imagine that Wildwood is the tree, the racers and their vintage vehicles are the presents and that jolly red cheeked man is now adorned with tattoos, sans shoes and flying down a sandy beach in a superman pose. This man is Mel Stultz III, the godfather of TROG.
The Night Of The Troglodytes
Now what would be a good vintage race without a show featuring classic motorcycles to get us in the mood on a Friday night? Thanks to Tradition Cycles and the Bonito Motel, the Night of the Troglodytes is always a good time. From dingy motel rooms with stained ceiling tiles to beautifully detailed bikes no older than 1976, it’s the perfect location to get a bunch of greasy, foul mouthed, east coast bikers loosened up in the armpit of America.
Entering the Night of The Troglodytes.
Some of the most notable bikes were Bad Luxury’s Indian that was built for Born Free 11 which was impossible to miss due to the extreme craftsmanship and bejeweling of mini lights underneath, Kyle Sonneborn’s shovelhead with some tasty orange base paint and creamy flames, Adam Mingee of River Seat Company with his gold and chromed to the nines slab shovel sporting some white cylinders and a high hinged white cobra seat stitched by the man himself, and arguably with the weirdest seat at the event went to a man with a shovelhead named Reygers from Central New York state who had a sky high king and queen covered with a real Icelandic Sheep Pelt, most likely a necessity when skirting around Syracuse in the winter.
Saturday started early as those, whom just hours before were soaking in the neon of the Bonito in chilly 45-degree air, shuffled to breakfast at the local diner where a frustrated power team of hostesses curtly greeted patrons in either a thick New Jersey or Russian accent, at least the food was better than the greeting. Once onlookers finally arrived to the beach they better have been lucky enough to either get there early or have a pass waiting because the line must have been at least a quarter mile long.
The line was placed next to the boardwalk theme park and had a line of a classic cars no older than 1965. Families awed at the machines, children ran up and down the rows, and tourists were probably wondering who the hell decided it was a good idea to put leaky cars on the beach of wildwood, good thing Warsteiner had the beer tent open early.
In the pit there were three types of racers. The patient ones ready to race lined up in their respective spots, the impatient ones whom were ripping around the pit and any free area available to them (mostly just Hollywood from the Oilers Car Club because…well…he’s Hollywood), and the ones who were hoping they’d get the chance to race as they worked studiously to fix misaligned wheel bases, cracked kicker covers and clogged linkerts.
All of these groups however, produced the same spirit that TROG is well known for, the spirit of competition. Around the pit there were handshakes, laughter, hugs and greetings from both friends new and old who either hadn’t seen each other in days, weeks or even years. Competitors from all over the world were lined up next to each other to participate.
One by one they rolled out on to the beach. With the tide rolling in fast, racers were chomping at the bit for some speed. Once the first track was swallowed by the ocean that would surely mean a mandatory lull in events as tracks were switched over. Off they went. Knuckleheads, flatheads, belly tanks, inline fours and inline sixes fired their engines and laid it down on the track.
This year’s race seemed different from priors. There seemed to be less show and more go. Less about who was wearing what and more about the racer’s skill and abilities. One of the most valuable things that TROG provides is the opportunity to take a step back to a time where these bikes and vehicles were maintained by veterans of WWII and the clothing was the norm. You’re provided an unobstructed view to a period when America was renowned for their craftsmanship and grit while simultaneously whispering in your ear that this culture never went away but in fact, is coming back stronger than ever.
TROG brings the strength of American machinists and racers of all ages, genders and backgrounds to the foremost focal point in mainstream culture, backdropped by a postcard of Americana and sold as a family event in the hopes that one day the children and onlookers can be inspired to create something from piles of rusted metal thus further preserving the storied history of our machines and those who operate them. In the words of Mel, “I hope you had a time...good or bad, as long as it was memorable then I did my job and your life is now marked!”
Words and Photos by Liam Kennedy