Wildwood, N.J., June 9–11—The annual Race of Gentlemen is a time-honored tradition and was a unique and important part of Americana racing history for many years that was revived to carry on the legacy in 2008 by the Oilers who hail from all over the United States. What is the Race of Gentlemen? Basically, it’s the coolest drag race between vintage hot rods and motorcycles you will ever attend.
Joining the Oilers are racer enthusiasts from all over the world, including Canada, Japan, London, Australia and France just to name a few who volunteer to step back in time and join, what is for some, a once-in-a-lifetime spectacular event. These racers flock to the sand to rip it up, have a great time and eventually compete on the final day when things finally do get somewhat serious.
Thursday, it begins. One could hear in the distance the thunder of racers rolling into town little by little, one after another. Racers and friends greet each other with great-to-see-you smiles and handshakes or pats on the back as onlookers and family vacationers gaze in awe at their magnificent and majestic racing machines, each wondering what event was about to take place at the beach that weekend.
There was a pre-party Thursday night honoring the racing tradition and welcoming the racers. Mel Stultz, co-founder and producer of the event, welcomed each racer as they entered the deck. A large brilliant, beautiful silver-plated trophy that was presented to the Motor Club of Wildwood in 1909 by the Baker Brothers, the founders of Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, was on display honoring the unique racing tradition of where it all began. The evening continued as the sun set.
Friday began with racer registration and tech inspection as spectators and more racers began to appear. The party was just starting to heat up in more ways than one as outside temperatures rose into the 90s. A band played later in the afternoon. R.J. Gibson from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was there with his tintype photography setup taking old-style tintype portraits of a few of the racers. Even Mr. Willie G. Davidson himself got in on the action. Many of the cars and bikes were on display in a gated area next to the hotel where artists were adding their finishing touches by either stenciling, painting or just talking about the art of their machines. The evening fell on the Night of the Troglodytes chopper show at the Bonito Motel featuring live music, food and a parking lot filled with choppers from back in the day, making one feel as if they have just stepped back in time.
Saturday morning came fast. The rumble of time-honored machines could be heard as they began to awaken and make their way down to the lineup near the tunnel at the edge of the sand. The hot sun had already diminished sunrise’s early chill. Rumors circulated about a possible high tide washing up on the track due to a full moon, but the organizers were quick to adjust and move the track away from the water’s edge toward the loose sand to avoid an early ending to a great race. As racers entered the sand, they greeted each other with warm welcomes to a background of sirens blasting up and down the beach, signaling that the race was about to begin.
The crowd of spectators grows larger every year as word gets out about the event, and this year was the largest yet. Even Bruce Springsteen got in on the action trying to be incognito, taking a chance and mingled with the racers on the track taking photos and enjoying the scene. Then there was Mel goofing around, skitching on the back of unsuspecting Sushi’s motorcycle. There were racers approaching each other in the pits, challenging each other to races, and Sarah the flag girl flinging herself in the air signaling to the racers to hit the gas.
Saturday was a grudge race, where anyone could race whoever they wanted down the hot sandy beach while live music played in the background and Nick called out the next group of racers at the lineup over the loudspeaker. In the vendor area, there were custom cars on display and plenty of vendors selling vintage-inspired merchandise, liquid refreshments and quick bites for the masses. The amusement park at Morey’s Piers was alive giving thrill rides on the famous roller coaster and various other old-time carnival rides. As the racers made their rounds and headed back to the pits they already began looking for the next victim to race. Even the ladies got in on the action where Jen Sheets #56 raced Crystal Geisey #3. Once at the starting line their smiles went away quickly as they suddenly became serious about their race. With a wave of the flag, they were off! At first, they were running neck and neck but then all of a sudden Jen Sheets took the lead, winning by a mile!
Even the guys like racing the women as with Bill Gallo #65 racing against Vicki Scheller #11:11. In the beginning he had the lead but wait…Vicki’s gaining speed…I think she’s going to pass him…yep; she took him at the finish. At one point, one of Sushi’s bikes broke down and he had to have it towed back to the pits. Another guy with no brakes decided to just crash into the safety dune at the end of the finish line to stop. Then there were a few guys who just didn’t want to play nice and really let each other know how they felt about each other by way of middle-finger salutes all the way back to the pits. The day continued this way until the sun set ending with everyone settling down at the bonfire that evening which continued with more live music, libations, good cheer and reminiscing about the day gone by.
Sunday came and things got serious with bracket racing in the hot sun, all day long. Tensions grew and engines got louder as the day went on and the racers battled it out to take home their prizes. The first winners in the vintage motorcycle category were Matt Walksler from Maggie Valley, North Carolina, in the 45” class who also won last year in the same class and Brian Cannon from Hackettstown, New Jersey, won in the Big Twin class. In the car competition, Joe Conforth from New Jersey won in the V8 & Rail Class and Max Herman in the 4-cylinder class. After the award ceremony, some of the guys decided to race again just for fun, lining up four or five in a row and tearing down the track. It was a great weekend and we are all sorry to see it end. Till next time.