WILDWOOD, N.J., OCT. 4-6–The greatly anticipated 2nd annual Race of Gentlemen, presented by the Oilers Car Club, exceeded all expectations that were set by the first. Beautiful weather, the pristine Wildwood beaches and museum-quality pre-World War II cars and tank-shift motorcycles brought back the thrills of vintage racing to the Jersey Shore. With the famous Great White roller coaster and giant Ferris wheel looming in the mist, it was pure nostalgic magic to witness the action.
Several years back, Meldon Stultz, visionary of The Race of Gentlemen, met Jim Nelson of Carlsbad, California. Jim was the original founder of the Oilers Car Club in 1947, but the club had more or less died out by the late 50’s. In 2008, Mel partnered with Jim to resurrect the club, but Jim passed away the following year. Mel had always envisioned putting together a vintage car and bike race on the beach, just like those held in days gone by. The Oilers had always been a racing club, so Mel’s idea fit right in with the club’s original mission.
The Oilers currently have a core membership of nine: Mel “Van Riper” Stultz, Tom “Sing Sing” Larusso, Travis “Tuki” Hess, Jason “Snake Kisser” Elrod, Mike Kliman, Jason Sheets, Sean Brayton, Jimmy Baye and Al Clarke. Last year, the club presented the inaugural Race of Gentlemen, held on the beaches at Allenhurst and Loch Arbour, New Jersey. The race was incredibly well received, but only a week later, Superstorm Sandy wiped out the entire beach. Anticipating growth of the event, this year’s race was held in Wildwood, New Jersey; a popular resort town that offers abundant entertainment, dining and lodging options.
Friday night, the StarLux Hotel (think lava lamps and vintage Airstreams) hosted a pre-race car and bike show combined with a barbecue and pool party with the band Plato Zorba playing rockabilly favorites. It was like traveling through a time warp; everywhere you looked there were antique cars and vintage bikes cruising the streets of Wildwood, just like it was 1935.
The vehicles were all period correct, but the nostalgia didn’t stop there. The Oilers have been preparing for this event for a year, fabricating all the hand-painted signage and banners, including an Oilers-branded big red viewing tower. Mechanical wonders such as a 1907 dual chain-drive Panhead, 1911 Indian, 1912 Merkel, 1928 Model A Ford Flathead V8, 1927 Model T Roadster and many others arrived from all across North America to compete in this incredible race of magnificent machines. And the hard-packed sand provided a perfect eighth-mile straightaway, setting the bar for vintage auto and cycle racers and aficionados.
As the sun came up over the horizon and the tide rolled out, the flatheads, bangers and tank-shifted bikes barreled under the boardwalk and through the dunes to the starting line. After some exhibition runs by Mel, Tom and Jeff “Hollywood” Baer, the cars and bikes matched up at the start, sexy flags girls snapped their flags, engines roared, giant plumes of sand flew into the sky and The Race of Gentlemen began.
Nick Foster, the show’s announcer, sporting a blue suit and white hat with a cigar clenched in his teeth, kept all the spectators apprised of the action with his colorful commentary. To the delight of the spectators, the racers battled for pole position as they raced back and forth down the track in vehicles that are typically only seen parked in museums. The addition of salt water spraying in their goggles only added to the joy of the moment. It was a surreal sight to behold; adrenaline pumping, the romance of man and machine was in the air as they pushed the limits of what their cars and bikes were made to do in homage to the glory days of eighth-mile match drags.
For some, driving their machines in a race was a first-time experience, and the pits reflected the contagious enthusiasm as it overflowed with racers and pit crews working on each other’s vehicles, as if no one cared who won as long as everyone kept racing.
Veteran racer Pete Minardi of Precision Custom Motorcycles in Whippany, New Jersey, raced his 1931 Indian ex-hill climber. Pete has a soft spot for motorcycle racing history; his bike was originally owned by famed hill climb racer Brownie Betar. The Indian had an extended chassis, big rear sprocket (geared 2 to 1) and it tore up the beach, allowing Pete to best his competitor by more than a few seconds. Pete came to race, but he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be among like-minded gentlemen.
Other racers in the motorcycle class included Keith Camens and his all-original 1952 Harley-Davidson, Eric Floeck and his stock 1948 Harley-Davidson he built from collected parts, Eddie Jakubowski and his 1947 Harley-Davidson, Jeff “Hollywood” Baer and his 1946 Knucklehead, Rick Petko and his 1947 Harley-Davidson, Matt Rush and Bill Applegate raced the tank-shift 1959 Harley-Davidson TT owned by Marty MacCollum, “Stretch” and his 1927 Harley-Davidson JD and many more.
New to the race this year, in the tank-shifter motorcycle class, were Harley-Davidson sculptor Jeff Decker with his 1912 Merkel and Sean Brayton with his 1911 Indian. Both Jeff and Sean are huge fans of racing antique bikes, having also participated in the 2012 cross-country Motorcycle Cannonball Run. Many of the other motorcycle participants raced their “daily drivers,” which may seem odd for these rare, vintage vehicles, but that is why this race is so unique. These are not average gentlemen and this was no average race.
In between races, the spectators, racers and pit crews wandered among the vendors set up on the beach near the track. On display for perusal and purchase were vintage hot rod apparel and memorabilia, and several speed shops were on hand to tout their products and services. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum brought their antique Airstream to the beach and set up a small lounge area, a beer tent was fenced off and food vendors made sure that race attendees never had to leave the beach. As the sun set Saturday night, the nostalgia of this epic beach bash continued with a blazing bonfire and live music by the Swingin’ Neckbreakers.
Sunday’s eliminations began the paring-down process for the final heats. In between classes, making sure there was never a dull moment, Mel entertained the crowd with his daredevil trick riding on his 1939 Indian Chief. The afternoon of high-speed thrills ended with a traditional awards ceremony.
Mike Santiago, who built his 1927 speedster just to participate in this race, put on a spectacular winning performance. He and his father traveled 3,000 miles from Washington State to thrill spectators. He smoked the competition in the banger class, and beat all the V8’s he raced against, except for a nail-biting cross-class heat when he lost to Matt Rush and his #17 tank-shift 1959 Harley-Davidson TT racer.
The event’s website states, “The Race of Gentlemen evokes a bygone era when men built cars to push their skills—and their love of speed—using parts pulled from other cars or fabricated by hand in their backyards and home garages.” And that’s exactly the point of this unique event: the realization of a racing club’s dream.