The Race of Gentlemen

Perhaps you hear about it from friends while hanging out in a buddy’s shop, maybe you saw a gallery on your favourite forum or blog. Black and white images of distinguished men, dressed in leathers and faded jeans, appearing to have walked freshly out of a tintype photograph. Flag girls jump high in the air signalling the beginning of The Race of Gentlemen, the fastest ever spreading not so best kept secret. 

The Oilers, a car club revived from 1947, can only be described as a brotherhood formed by men with a love for traditional automobiles and motorcycles built for speed. Their early members helped form the beginnings of the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) along with the early years of the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association). Years after these pioneers had faded almost to memory, the connection with the original members was made, and a rebirth of the club began with ten new members leading the charge in preserving racing heritage.

Several of these modern day members were inspired by the tales of gatherings and races uniting the lovers of roadsters and bobbers, the race cars and bikes of days past. Races in the snow and ice, on sand and salt, it was always purely about going fast. That dream has never faded. The race of Gentlemen began in 2012 spearheaded by Oilers Mel Stultz and Bobby Green, at Pismo Beach in California. There were but a few cars and bikes present but the rules remained the same: bring together old traditional machines to race head to head on the beach like it was done in the 40’s and 50’s.

Fast forward to modern days, and the Oilers are still going strong. The night before the race, some of the most breathtaking bikes are collected together in the parking lot of the local “Bonita Hotel.” Roaming up and down the boulevard as the sun goes down, the bikes roll out, and “The Night of the Troglodytes” is the known place to party starting off the weekend long event. An annual get together now hosted by Harley-Davidson, it was packed to the gills with barely any room to move around as hundreds of spectators gathered together. As bands blared on into the night, attendance increased and more and more bikers gathered together. Many new visitors oogled and eyeballed the various characters gathered together, a sea of beards, beer and ink, where as many return visitors gathered to catch up and talk about the jewels hidden around the lot. Out-of-this-world choppers with priceless engines and colourful paint jobs slipped in and out of view as shoulder to shoulder shuffling around, spectators created little pockets to see the bikes.

The organizers of the event even made appearances overseas, having taken a booth space at the Mooneyes Show in Yokohama Japan. The immense props were even taken there, the giant chequered start line cones and banner hung proudly, temping all to mark their calendar and make the trip. Fanatics packed their gear up and flew all the way from around the world to attend and participate in this event. The famed Harley-Davidson Museum is currently hosting a very large exhibit on TROG featuring some cars, bikes, memorabilia and many photographs documenting this historic event. 

This year in Wildwood, New Jersey, the location of the East Coast event, the public attendees numbered around 15,000 spectators. Numerous cars and bikes covered the sand, the pits slowly filling up and surrounding the area with impossible nostalgia. Bikes covered in rust and flaking paint, hint not at their actual value, often in the multiple thousands. Rare American-made motorcycles, including priceless Harley’s and Indian motorcycles, sputter and roar to life, not unlike wild untameable beasts. 

Willy G. Davidson

L’événement est sans doute vraiment le plus apprécié des nombreux artistes, que ce soit des concepteurs de vêtements, des peintres, des vidéographes et, bien entendu, des photographes. Il s’agit d’un des rares événements où vous êtes certains de voir l’utilisation de caméras avec pellicule grand format et de la photographie ferrotype. Ces outils requièrent énormément de temps, de patience et de compréhension; c’est impressionnant. Le journaliste les utilisait jadis comme arme de choix, et on utilisait des 4×5 à la main ainsi que sur des trépieds. Cet événement est l’endroit où l’on peut réaliser ses rêves de capturer des photos intemporelles, avec des arrière-plans remplis de bannières et des drapeaux authentiques, les tours d’observation remplies d’invités VIP. Même Willy G. Davidson, de la réputée Harley Company, était présent, prouvant que l’appel « Venez, venez tous! » est effectivement approprié pour cette intrigante scène où la vitesse est à l’honneur.

Watching the cars launch from the starting line, throwing sand high as the flag girl floats in the air, the urge to get in line is hard to ignore. Just like in all various forms of racing, the rules and specifications to the vehicles are strict when it comes to actual race participation, and many people who attempt to enter don’t make the cut. 

Here is a list of the requirements:
Car bodies needs to be American-made from 1934 and older, with the engines dating 1948 and older as well as 1949-53 Ford Flatheads. All running gear must be pre-1953, meaning no modern transmissions, brakes, alternators as well as no headlights, white wall tires, aggressive treaded tires or fenders. All paint must be period correct and excluding graphics and vinyl lettering. There are three classes you can run in including 4 Bangers, V8’s and Heritage class which includes cars and motor pre-1920 like Dusenbegh, Stutz speedsters and Indy cars, which are all acceptable to compete.

When it comes to bikes, it gets even more interesting: All motorcycles need to be “bobbed” and stripped of everything but the bare essentials. No street bikes are allowed. However all entries are sent in and approved. If your version of a street bike is a 1947 or older American-made bike, this is the place for you! Knuckleheads, Flatheads and other overhead engines, including the 45 Harley’s and Indian Flatheads are exceptions. The look and feel must resemble pre-1940, a time when the trend in racing was to keep only what makes you go fast and strip the rest. Period fasteners, starters and magnetos (as long as they look older) are to be used, whereas coloured wires, zip ties, and modern hardware are banned. Headlights and fenders are considered useless, as well as all other bells and whistles. Commonly seen at this event is the hand shift or tank shift, as well as OEM rigid or stock sprung frames run with Springer and leaf spring front ends. Traditional paint schemes as well as numbers and hand painted lettering are also a must. The meticulous curating of the correct period pieces of machinery and apparel is what creates this magic time machine.  

Only being described as an automotive carnival, TROG captures the imagination of the young and old, transporting the mind cross the sands at spectacular speeds. Many have spoken about how much the event has changed over time, as all things do over time. This has been described as one of the greatest shows on earth and for the flocks of photographers and artists it draws, there is no place on earth like the beach. Racers are immortalized as lion tamers, attempting to wrangle their snarling beasts as the ringmasters and flag girls lined up for the next act. 

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