Gen­tle­men, start Your en­gines

The Race of Gen­tle­men cel­e­brates sim­pler ma­chin­ery from a sim­pler time


With The Race of Gen­tle­men, the Oil­ers car and mo­tor­cy­cle club is liv­ing in the past—exactly where it likes to be.

Men­tion October 2012 to most res­i­dents of the Mid-at­lantic re­gion and they’ll re­call Su­per­storm Sandy, the sec­ond-costli­est hur­ri­cane in Amer­i­can his­tory. Yet just days be­fore much of the Eastern Se­aboard was dev­as­tated by flood­ing, the beach sand of Al­len­hurst, New Jer­sey, birthed a much hap­pier event in the in­au­gu­ral run­ning of The Race of Gen­tle­men.

Part vin­tage drag race, part cos­play con­ven­tion, all party, The Race of Gen­tle­men (TROG) at­tracts retro afi­ciona­dos who—not con­tent to merely park their mostly pre­war Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cles and au­to­mo­biles at a con­cours d’el­e­gance or hot-rod meet—pre­fer to com­pete against one an­other on an eighth-mile strip of sand.

One of the most strik­ing as­pects of TROG is the de­gree to which it is pe­riod cor­rect (the en­try process in­cludes up­load­ing im­ages of ve­hi­cles to ver­ify suit­abil­ity), and that ex­tends be­yond the ma­chin­ery to the ap­parel of the at­ten­dees. Over­alls, an­tique rac­ing caps, and gog­gles are all com­mon, and more than a few peo­ple wear T-shirts and jack­ets em­bla­zoned with an Oil­ers logo, a trib­ute to the club that was orig­i­nally es­tab­lished in 1947 by a group of young WWII vet­er­ans from Carls­bad, Cal­i­for­nia, who were ac­tive at Bon­neville. The club dis­banded about a decade later but not be­fore orig­i­nal pres­i­dent Jim Nelson helped Wally Parks form the NHRA.

Six decades and an un­rec­og­niz­able world later, surf­ing mu­si­cian Mel Stultz was inspired while read­ing King of the Boards, a book about 1920s race-car driver Jimmy Mur­phy, in his New Jer­sey home. “It was an en­gine, wheels, a frame, and a seat,” Stultz re­calls of the equip­ment used back then. “I was like, ‘This is as tough as it gets!’”

Along with a few close friends, an en­thu­si­as­tic Stultz re­vived the Oil­ers (with Nelson’s bless­ing) and be­gan organizing the in­au­gu­ral The Race of Gen­tle­men, the name prompted by his fas­ci­na­tion with his he­roes’ dress-shirt-and-tie rac­ing at­tire, his re­spect for their word-is-bond ap­proach to life, and a sly at­tempt to per­suade lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to grant event per­mits. “I fig­ured I had to pull the wool over their eyes a lit­tle bit,” laughs Stultz, who wears a beard and is cov­ered in tat­toos, “so they wouldn’t think it was An­i­mal House show­ing up on their beach.” (Stultz stresses that the club al­ways leaves the beach in bet­ter con­di­tion than they find it.)

After year one, that beach has been Wild­wood, New Jer­sey, as a move 100 miles south was ne­ces­si­tated by the dam­age

“Now we overde­sign things that work like crap and even­tu­ally have to be re­placed. When things were sim­ple, they worked bet­ter and you could fix them.”

Par­tic­i­pants in The Race of Gen­tle­men are pos­i­tively zeal­ous in their faith­ful­ness to the pre­war era. En­trants like Petey Do­bosz LEFT

could time-travel to the in­au­gu­ral Daytona 200 in 1937 and not be out of place, but their au­then­tic­ity isn’t lim­ited to don­ning leather pud­ding-bowl hel­mets and retro eye pro­tec­tion; Pe­riod Mod­i­fied owner Matt Walk­sler ABOVE is renowned for build­ing and al­ter­ing early Har­ley-david­sons, while Ja­panese na­tive Go Takamine BE­LOW

owns Brat­style, a busi­ness that spe­cial­izes in early In­di­ans, with shops in Tokyo and Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. |

the afore­men­tioned storm did to Al­len­hurst’s sand. The new location also had a more ap­pro­pri­ate in­fra­struc­ture for the event and, although a weath­er­marred TROG was or­ga­nized last year at Cal­i­for­nia’s Pismo Beach, Wild­wood is the hap­pen­ing ’s true home, wel­com­ing what Stultz calls his “band of me­chan­i­cal gyp­sies” with open arms.

The Oil­ers have no of­fi­cial of­fi­cers, but Stultz, who ef­fec­tively serves as pres­i­dent, says things work out some­how. “We’re dys­func­tional, but to­gether we func­tion well,” he ex­plains. “Even more in­ter­est­ing to me than the ma­chin­ery is the idea of peo­ple work­ing to­gether to pull things off.”

Part of what makes the event spe­cial is a mind­set of not tak­ing one­self too se­ri­ously, and that ex­tends from the or­ga­niz­ers to the en­tire TROG com­mu­nity. En­trants come from all over the world and rep­re­sent vary­ing pro­fes­sions, though many main­tain at least some as­pects of this retro cul­ture in their ev­ery­day lives. Ba­bies play in the sand while sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans congratulate mil­len­ni­als on keep­ing the scene alive.

Revel­ing is also a big part of the TROG week­end. For the 2017 edi­tion, which takes place June 9–11, the Oil­ers have planned a pre-party, a chop­per party (called Night of the Troglodytes—an in­ten­tional coun­ter­bal­ance to the re­spectable “gen­tle­men” moniker) and a rock ’n’ roll bon­fire party. Ad­di­tional live mu­sic— from big band to ’60s garage rock—will play at var­i­ous times over the week­end.

Part of what makes the event spe­cial is a mind­set of not tak­ing one­self too se­ri­ously, and that ex­tends from the or­ga­niz­ers to the en­tire TROG com­mu­nity.

ABOVE Un­der the watch of Wild­wood’s Great White wooden roller coaster, Walkser tests the sand on one of his pe­riod-mod­i­fied Har­leys. RIGHT Oil­ers mem­ber and Har­ley-david­son me­chanic Nick Toscano. FAR RIGHT Mel Stultz, the founder of and life force be­hind The Race of Gen­tle­men, aboard his hy­brid Har­ley, which fea­tures a 1938 UL en­gine in a VL chas­sis. Some ques­tion the wis­dom of rac­ing such an­cient ma­chines, but that doesn’t com­pute for this com­mu­nity. “This s—t was meant to be beaten,” Stultz says, “and we’re go­ing to beat it—and then we’re go­ing to fix it. And we’re go­ing to have the time of our lives do­ing it.”

The range in race-ma­chine value and con­di­tion is as broad as the en­trants’ walks of life. The ra­tio is roughly 60/40 bikes to cars, though Stultz reck­ons the mo­tor­cy­cles are ac­tu­ally more pop­u­lar with spec­ta­tors. At least in the old days, a ben­e­fit to hold­ing races on the beach was that when a ma­chine caught fire, its driver could sim­ply di­rect it into the waves, and brake fail­ures were solved by steer­ing into nat­u­ral sand traps. Very of­ten, un­likely equip­ment or rac­ers line up side by side. Although Sun­day is re­served for bracket rac­ing, there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity for grudge matches be­tween friends, clubs, fam­ily mem­bers, and even boyfriend against girl­friend. “They beat the crap out of each other in a race and then laugh and hug af­ter­ward,” Stultz says.

It’s hard to ar­gue that Stultz and the Oil­ers have tapped into a sort of move­ment with The Race of Gen­tle­men, one that’s par­al­leled by the bur­geon­ing scram­bler/cus­tomiza­tion scene. In a so­ci­ety that can at times seem com­plex and in­tim­i­dat­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to deny the at­trac­tive­ness of a time that at least seems to have been sim­pler. “We’ve grown away from our role models that taught us every­thing that we knew,” says Stultz, who wants his son to learn the same DIY lessons he was taught by his grand­fa­thers and fa­ther. “Kids don’t even know how to tie knots any­more. What are you go­ing to do—google it on your smart­phone while you’re fall­ing off the roof ? Maybe boys want to be men again.”


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