The Race of Gentlemen – A Race for the Ages
The Race of Gentlemen is a marvel. Unlike any automotive event I have ever attended, The Race of Gentlemen, affectionately referred to as TROG, is less like driving down to Wildwood, New Jersey for a weekend of vintage fun, and more like stepping through a time portal into another world.
For so many reasons TROG is both unusual, and a car show to be imitated. It has the unique location of actually being on the beach, which sets a tone to the crash of waves – if you can hear them over the sound of vintage motorcycles, and the illustrious background of ferris wheels, roller coasters, and the far off New Jersey boardwalks. It almost gives one the impression of having stumbled into bike racing at Coney Island in the 1920s and 1930s.
That sensation, of course, is what they want. Great effort was put into selecting vendors, period attire was requested, and all around there were images evoking carnivals, classic foods, and the earliest days of racing.
Because that is what we’re really there for, after all. Both days of the events are chock full of vintage motorcycle and hot rod racing down the beach. Drivers are dressed in vintage style racing gear, with rounded helmets and knee high laced boots, their parachute pants bulging at the thigh. Some cars are in great shape, but others are rusted, dusty, and a whole lot of old school. The racing is not about the winning. The racing is about the marvelous experience of these vintage beauties starting and running, and at not unimpressive speeds either. Cars jumped the what-would-have-been-tree more times than I can count, but they ran, kicking up sand against the checkered starting line posts, revving powerful, classic engines with a great rumbling thunder to mimic the waves behind them.
The Race of Gentlemen is a visceral, sensory event. One didn’t attend the show, they experienced it, sloshing through the wet sand upon their shoes, smelling the salt sea air mix with thirty year old exhaust rust coughing into the air. The revving of engines on the line seemed to reverberate through the wild, excited crowd. Hot sun baked our skin, vintage, boozy root beer cooled our throats.
My first thought upon entering the show was something along the lines of wow, they moved the ocean a lot closer to the Bonneville Salt Flats. My second was that I had stumbled into some sepiaed scene from the early pages, (and left out of the movie), of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where sports journalists gather in the desert to report on motorcycle racing – kicking up dust, shooting back whiskey, speaking out stories to editors across the country on the single phone out that far from civilization as the American dream grows around them, a phoenix from its own ashes.There’s no other way to describe this show – it was cool. It was sailor tattoos and album covers and pin up girls cool. It was hot rods, and rat rods, and motorcycles with rusted out racing numbers cool.
It was also incredibly inspiring. Sounds a little odd – here were are, standing beside an original Wall of Death motorcycle performance tent, watching Bettie Page inspired Hot Rodders throw back Sailor Jerry’s rum, and I’d call that inspiring? More than inspiring, hopeful as hell. Because this show, unlike so many car shows, is not comprised of a nostalgic group of car owners, recalling the days of chrome bumpers and sock hops. This show was younger kids, millennials with young families, young adults who never lived through the era they’re dressing as, speaking as, driving as. They’re not remembering their own history. They’re remembering the history of the automotive hobby, and not because it’s nostalgic, but because it’s damned cool.
That’s no slight on the wonderful, classic tradition of car shows countrywide. Those shows are so important to preserving the hobby and the history. But this show didn’t feel like a glimpse of the past. It felt like we had slipped right back into the photograph, and we were standing on the Bonneville Salt Flats, wearing cuffed jeans and racing whatever we could cobble together, not quite realizing we were changing the automotive world forever.
I believe wholeheartedly that hot rod and vintage racing culture is going to be the direction of the hobby. The Race of Gentlemen brought together history, cars, and hobbyists, but it also brought the next generation of classic car lovers. It brought families, and kids – drawn by the beach, the noise, the tents. It was a family affair that has all the potential to save the very hobby we love so much. And it was damn fun.
We need more events that blow our socks off. We need more left-field madness of motorcycles on posts two stories in the air – their driver balancing on one leg as it spins around a treadmill. We need more vintage style, historical photographs, wild and unique racing – so close to your face sand gets into your eyebrows. We need all of these things to push the hobby forward, to make it bigger and grander and more likely to last for years to come. The Race of Gentlemen is just the kind of event to get us there.
Check out the full gallery of TROG photos by Tomm Scalera HERE!