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Seven years running, The Race of Gentlemen keeps getting bigger and better

Published in blog.hemmings.com

All photos by Jim O’Clair

It’s modern beach racing at its finest, restricted to pre-1934 car bodies (among other rules) and American motorcycles from 1947 or older. As a longtime follower of the Oilers Car Club and The Race of Gentlemen, I always look forward to the annual pilgrimage to the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, to see old friends and make some new ones on that chilly October weekend. I missed the inaugural event in 2012, but since TROG moved to Wildwood in 2013, I’ve seen it change and evolve. For the most part, these changes have been for the better. Here’s an overview, along with plenty of photos from this year’s action.

 

Crowds

Attendance at TROG has grown steadily every year, and many spectators come from long distances and commit more than just a weekend’s worth of time. Some race teams are international, and I spoke to a few newcomers at the beach on Sunday who flew over from Europe to be part of the experience. Two of those people I talked to were at TROG’s inaugural Normandy Beach Race a couple of weeks ago, proving the format and business model can be successful elsewhere. Rupert and Dolly Watson, of the Chichester District of West Sussex, were an unassuming middle age couple who have seen the online videos of previous events, and have been trying to attend TROG for several years but did not commit to making the journey until just a few weeks before the 2019 Race of Gentleman. They dressed the part, Rupert in full tuxedo and bowler, attempting to look like longtime race pit boss Joe Oz, who passed suddenly earlier this year. Dolly was in her best “Betty” outfit, floral dress, pointed sunglasses and big hair. They fit right in with many other attendees who make this event so much more than just beach racing. I went this year with four motorcycling friends, all first-timers. They were  enchanted by the cult atmosphere of TROG, taking in some of the local flavor along the boardwalk and at the Saturday night bonfire. I think I may have made a few more TROG loyalists, which I knew would happen as soon as I convinced them to drive the seven hours down to the southern Jersey shore.

Sponsors

The Race of Gentlemen has been embraced by the American Hot Rod Foundation, Harley-Davidson, Warsteiner Brewery, and Biltwell Helmets, companies who realize their customers are part of the vintage racing experience. These businesses are on board to support the participation of their customers in events such as these. It’s a great example of companies that primarily sell new things understand the value of an event centered around old things.

Demographics

The number of women, husband/wife, father/son, grandfather/grandson teams participating has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Clearly, the number of women, younger drivers, and motorcycle riders has also risen, and this is absolutely good news for the hobby and the event. I can remember when just a few ladies, such as Brittney Olsen, Lisa English, Erin Crocker Evernham, and Jessi Combs represented the fairer sex. I’d guess that this year, at least 20-percent of the participants were female, under 30 years old, or both.

Race Teams

One of the strengths of TROG isn’t just the individuals in brings in, but entire organizations. That, too, is growing. Besides participants from the founding Oilers Car Club, race teams from Cyclemos Speed Shop, Barnstormers, Barillaro Speed, Lucky Tramps Car Club, Dipstick Racing, and many others brought multiple vehicles to run in the two days of racing. Special consideration is also due to the Road Devils and Karb Kings Car Clubs, who displayed dozens of vintage cruisers and lowriders on the sand between the Wildwood Boardwalk and the TROG entry gate. Local civic leaders, concerned about potential damage to the beach area, caused some last-minute issues by requiring pre-registration to park on the sand. That just resulted in some great-looking cars on display outside the venue.

Growing pains

To that end, there were some growing pains that were evident. Because Mel Stutz of the Oilers Car Club is the brains behind what The Race of Gentleman started out as, and continues to become, consider this a “Please, Mel” list of ideas. TROG is now big enough that it needs more scanners at the ticket counter to cut down on the lines for entry. Pre-order for apparel would also cut down on lines inside the venue, and guarantee there aren’t any missed sales due to products selling out (all while boosting the bottom line revenue.)

The event is now growing to the point where there wasn’t enough seating. The overall organization of TROG has come a long way since 2013, but the number of pre-registered attendees should have been a good indication that more seats were needed than the bleachers that ended up being in place.

Photographers, please get the hell out of the way. I know there are video teams and photographers who receive all access passes and are allowed at the starting line, but they are ruining everyone else’s photos. Several videographers just stood in the surf all day with their big modern cameras taking photos of drivers and riders in really cool period garb. I’m sure they got some great shots, but nobody else did. TROG doesn’t look like a photo of a thirties beach race with a big video camera or an 18-inch long camera lens in the middle of everyone else’s shot.

Pit access was allowed in small groups in previous years and should be reinstated during lulls in the racing action or during track reconstruction. The delays between racing could be made more appealing if spectators could get up close to the cars and bikes getting prepped for the next round of action.

All in all, the 2019 Race of Gentleman was a great experience for both veterans and new faces and I anticipate it will continue to gain momentum as more people experience the event in person. I’m looking forward to next year.