Well yes, it certainly does move! Those hop ups and motorcycles get going pretty fast over that eighth-mile stretch of beach sand. But what we really mean is that the date of the race is changing, and organizers are also adding a second location to the calendar.
Though this year Hurricane Joaquin forced it back a week, The Race of Gentlemen (“TROG”) is normally held on the first weekend of October on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey. But TROG 2016—the first of them, anyway—will take place June 3, 4 and 5, once again in that little seaside midcentury Elysium.
This date change may raise a few eyebrows, but sit tight. There are some really good reasons for it.
Race of Gentlemen creator Mel Stultz, left, and partner Bobby Green, right.
While the essential formula for the Wildwood event won’t change, organizers Mel Stultz and Bobby Green have made some significant improvements. Friday will still feature “The Night of the Troglodytes,” a rollicking chopper party set around the area where the weekend’s race vehicles are on display for the delight of the crowd.
Racing will take place on the beach, as usual, on Saturday and Sunday. The rules for what vehicles will be accepted will remain the same. Period correctness is paramount. Cars are restricted to bodies older than 1935 and parts predating 1953; motorcycles must be American-made, older than 1947 and stripped down for racing.
Though we tend to focus on the cars at TROG, the motorcycles are at least half the fun, tearing up the starting line, then bounding down the beach as their riders shuffle the tank-mounted shifters.
Now for the changes. The Race of Gentlemen website is getting a redesign to make it more user-friendly, and this will include information about lodging, further details about vehicle requirements, and an entry form for people to apply online to bring a car or motorcycle to race.
In an effort to ensure that racers get more time actually racing, the field will decrease from a past high of around 150 vehicles to just 100.
Currently, the idea—and this is all still in discussion—is to have 50 of these slots filled by special invitation only, ensuring that there will be room for some truly remarkable vehicles that might take longer for organizers to identify and invite. Special attention will be given to historic racers and to period-possible home-built gow jobs, beach racers and speedway cars of the style prevalent in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties.
Dave Lounsbury’s 1918 Cadillac is just one example of the many remarkable historical machines that run at TROG.
The other 50 slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis with cars and bikes that meet the event requirements mentioned above. At the time of entry, project vehicles must be completed and in the form in which they will be racing. If, when a vehicle arrives at TROG it is different from how it was built when it was accepted for racing, it will be disallowed.
TROG’s racing fee is going to be significantly reduced starting in 2016, and for those who were impacted by last year’s hurricane, waived altogether for the Wildwood event.
While racing will still feature a variety of formats—Exhibition, Grudge Match and Elimination—in each of the classes—banger, V-8 and motorcycle—this time around the action will be nearly non-stop.
In years past, next-ups had to wait until the previous run’s pair of vehicles had made its way down along the return side of the beach back to the staging lanes, but TROG 2016 will see them collect in a holding area at the top end, and once several matches have run, parade back all at once. “I want action. I want racing,” Mel says. “That’s always been my goal.”
While the return along the water after running a race can provide some spectacular scenes of cars splashing through the surf, having to wait to run the next race cuts out of the time for action.
The Customs by the Sea show, featuring original and modern renditions of pre-1952 customized automobiles, will move inside the TROG gate. Other classic cars from the Fifties and earlier will be invited to take their places outside, opening up more parking on the surrounding streets and giving these special vehicles pride of place.
With Customs by the Sea inside, it will be easier for spectators to wander back and forth between the racing and the show and will increase the density of activity at the event—the old-style music and travelling circus-type games, photo stand-ins and food-and-beverage vendors—enhancing the back-in-time atmosphere even further. Oh, and… Mel tells me that he just bought the oldest wall of death in America, so we’re hoping that will make an appearance in the midway this year, as well.
A selection of cars from the 2015 Customs by the Sea show, which is moving inside the fence for the 2016 Race of Gentlemen.
Now about that date. There are some very good reasons for the change. As many of you know, last year the race had to be postponed a week due to a predicted direct hit from Hurricane Joaquin and, subsequently, to the Town of Wildwood closing the beach.
Though the show did in fact go on the following weekend, and record crowds attended (well in excess of 8,000), many people who had booked rooms and flights and had taken vacation time off from work, were not able to make the switch.
Truth is, The Race of Gentlemen has been contending with bad weather since it got started in 2012 on the beaches of Allenhurst & Loch Arbour, New Jersey… the weekend before Superstorm Sandy obliterated them.
In 2013, the bad weather got a little closer to zero hour, coming just after the event concluded when organizers were taking it down; props were lost and travel back home through the sheeting rain and wind was treacherous.
The third year, while the weather cleared up nicely by Sunday, an offshore storm made its presence felt during setup, when it nearly pulled the observation tower into the sea and continued to drizzle on TROGgers throughout much of the first day.
Twenty-fifteen was the last straw. Exasperated, Mel says, “We’re done with the hurricanes. Since day one, the hurricanes have been on our tail.”
Even though the 2014 TROG mostly escaped bad weather, a storm out at sea combined with high tide to swamp the observation tower. Photo courtesy of Kurt Ernst.
So, he, a long-time resident of costal New Jersey, and Bobby worked with the mayor and local businesses to determine the best time of year to hold a beach race in Wildwood, and they settled on early June.
In that sweet spot of great weather before schools let out, Wildwood is just beginning to gear up for the season and has yet to swell with the crowds that would make finding affordable lodging and parking for tow rigs a near impossibility.
Moving the date of the race also gave Mel and Bobby the opportunity to investigate the possibility of holding a second Race of Gentlemen, this one in California. “We’ve been wanting to do a West Coast TROG for over two years.” Mel explains. “It was always in our sights.”
The first California Race of Gentlemen will take place at Pismo Beach on October 14, 15 and 16.
Image courtesy of Stultz & Green Productions.
TROG has proven that there is enthusiasm among racers as well as spectators for vintage beach racing, and this new event will give folks west of the Continental Divide, and even on out to Japan—where TROG has developed quite a following—a venue of their own, allowing people who would have never been able to afford to travel east to race on the beach.
Mel believes that the additional event, far from quenching the sparks of East Coast-West Coast rivalries that have begun to kindle recently at TROG, will actually fan the flames, as people set out in cordial competition to beat each other on their own turf.
Or, as Mel, beaming with pride, so eloquently says: “There are people on the East Coast that I know who want to go out there and show them what’s up.”
And when the folks from over here do get to over there, they can expect to be running against the very best classic hot rods and gow jobs they have to offer, including—thanks especially to kinder, gentler weather—many historic originals, with at least one from each Bruce Meyer, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the American Hot Rod Foundation.
“There are such crazy collections out there that we have a guy bringing a vintage trailer, a vintage hot rod and a vintage bike. It’s just insane out there. California is going to be through the roof. Through the roof!” Mel enthuses.
A gathering of motorcycles and modifieds for racing on the beach in Pismo, California, in 1924. Photo courtesy of Bobby Green.
Initially, though, Mel had his reservations. “I always wanted to go to California, but I never thought it would be as special as Wildwood,” he explains. “Wildwood has this amazing feel to it. It’s the architecture, it’s the town that loves to work with us, it’s all that stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got to California.”
One of the features of Pismo that helped changed Mel’s mind is its wooded campground, which is right on the beach, just over the dunes from where the racing will happen. This will ensure that the pre-parties—including a vintage (pre-1950) trailer show unique to the California TROG—will have a magical setting, and that racers and their families will have a great place to stay close to the action.
“I’ve been in the vintage trailer world for the last 20 years,” Bobby says, “and the last six, seven years, I’ve been going to a vintage trailer rally in Pismo Beach every May. So as soon as we thought of the Pismo concept, I immediately thought we have to do a vintage trailer event… I’m handpicking about 30 to 35 really, really nice prewar trailers. Really rare stuff.”
Bobby knows his vintage campers. This is his 1949 Airfloat; it’s a taste of what you can expect at the Pismo campground for TROG. Photo courtesy of Bobby Green.
Getting Pismo nailed down took Bobby and Mel over two years of conversations with local authorities. “This wasn’t an overnight deal,” Bobby recounts. Ironically, it all came together when they were at their lowest. “We had given up on Pismo. We had had talks and talks and got nowhere for so long, and the weekend of Hurricane Joaquin, we were über depressed and stressed out, and we get an email from Pismo.” They wanted to make it happen.
And what about the racing? Well, while Right Coasters may have invented beach racing in America in Florida in 1903, folks out on the Left have been at it almost as long, with Pismo itself hosting barrel races on the sand in the 1920s and bids for land speed fame in the Thirties.
When asked how the racing surface compares with Wildwood’s, Mel thinks it’s very much on par with it, while Bobby adds, “It may prove even better, as it does have a very wide tide range, and is a very flat beach.”
And while TROG is going to continue to grow, and Mel and Bobby have ideas for other events—including some in the frozen north—Mel sums it all up best: “The plan is to keep more people building cool stuff and putting it to the test.”
And that’s a plan vintage gearheads can live with.
For more information, visit The Race of Gentlemen.