Once you turn back the clock at The Race of Gentlemen, you’ll be hooked
Several years ago, surfer, musician, and vintage hot-rod and motorcycle enthusiast Mel Stultz started writing to author Robert Genat after reading about the Carlsbad Oilers Car Club in Genat’s book, The Birth of Hot Rodding. As the two men got to know each other, Genat put Stultz in touch with Oilers founder Jim Nelson, who asked if Stultz wanted to take over what Mel called “one of the coolest racing clubs in the world.”
In 2010, the New Jersey native moved the Oilers Car Club 3000 miles east. Two years later, he brought 1940s-style competition to the Jersey Shore with drag races on the beach for period cars and motorcycles.
The first race took place in Asbury Park. Later, Stultz moved the event 100 miles south to its current home in Wildwood. He did it right, getting all of the proper permits for racing on the beach. There were no prizes or trophies, though; the racing was more for bragging rights than anything else.
Stultz wanted to make sure The Race of Gentlemen (TROG) was true to the original Oilers events, so he insisted the machines fit the era. Cars were limited to a build date of 1934 or earlier, with a cutoff date of 1949 for motorcycles. The machines would run an eighth of a mile, turn around, and return.
I first heard of TROG about seven years ago from my friend Ralph Marano, who has a summer place in nearby Cape May. After seeing the races, he called me up, breathless. “You can’t believe how great this is! We have to do this!” That year, TROG fell on the same October weekend as the annual Antique Automobile Club of America’s Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which complicated things for me, but I called Stultz to learn more. He offered me a drive in one of his cars the next year. “Once you come,” he told me, “you’ll be hooked.” He was right.
On my way home from that incredible event in 2014, I recalled a car I’d seen once at the Amelia Island Concours. It was a racer from the Elgin National Road Races held in Illinois before and after WWI. The next day, I visited Hot Rod Jimmy Maltagliati, who was helping me build a ’33 hot rod. I told him there was a change in plans and we would be removing the fenders, lights, and windshield to make a flathead-powered Elgin-style car to run in The Race of Gentlemen. It was the perfect entry, because 1932 Indy 500 winner Fred Frame had driven a modified ’33 Ford V-8 when he won the final Elgin Road Race in 1933.
TROG drivers and riders are expected to dress in period attire, although with increasing speeds, there’s a concession made for drivers to wear modern half- or full-face helmets instead of the leather or fabric helmets used in early races. If you’re in the pits, you’re part of a team and you need the proper clothing, all of which must be period correct. The course varies from race to race as the tide goes in and out; spectators watch from the viewing area, where there’s a big party atmosphere, complete with food and drink concessions. Each year, the crowds are bigger, with more celebrities, a large Harley contingent, and a surprising number of people from around the world, including many Japanese racers and spectators.
Just seeing starter Sara Francello jump into the air and wave the checkered flag for every start puts you in the spirit. Additional authentic touches include Hemmings’s period tow truck and huge timing stands that look straight out of the past. Like the Goodwood Revival in England, TROG is the next best thing to a time machine. Wildwood in the early fall is the anchor event for TROG, although Stultz has also held a June meeting of the The Race of Gentleman at Pismo Beach in California, plus a winter event called The Frozen Few—also at Wildwood, where motorcycles are fitted with studded tires for ice racing. No matter where or when the races are, though, the cars are loud and the spirits high, but nothing gets out of control. Otherwise, you have to answer to Mel Stultz, and you don’t want that.
Sadly, TROG 2020 has been canceled. That just gives me more time to shake down the ’33 for 2021.