HOT RODDERS STEP BACK IN TIME AND PUSH THEIR VINTAGE MILLS TO THE LIMIT ON THE NEW JERSEY BEACH FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL RACE OF GENTLEMEN
IF THERE’S a shred of you that gets a kick out of traditional hot rods or rough and slippery sand racing, then The Race Of Gentlemen may just live up to its billing as ‘the greatest race on earth’. Now in its fourth year, TROG – as it’s known to insiders – is bigger and better and grittier than ever.
Arguably the largest vintage hot rod and motorcycle event on the USA’s east coast, TROG is held on the beachfront of Wildwood, New Jersey and attracts participants from across the mainland, as well as some diehards from as far away as Japan and Norway, to pit their skills and machines against the shifting track surface.
The rules are simple: All cars must be pre-1935-bodied and all speed parts must have been manufactured before 1953.
Motorbikes must be tank-shifted and built before 1947.
The Oilers Car Club hosts the event, and hand-picks the entrants to create a perfectly curated homage to the early days of automotive racing, when budding drivers and manufacturers had little or no access to racetracks.
Traditionally, those on the west coast resorted to dry lakes and salt flats like Bonneville, but over east racers favoured long beaches to push their rides’ mills to the limits of speed and endurance.
Sure, they may not be in the league of famous land-speed record-holders like Malcolm Campbell or Mickey Thompson, but the guys and girls who roll their gow-jobs, speedsters and traditional hot rods up to the TROG startline have bigger berries than most. Wearing what can only loosely be referred to as ‘safety gear’, the drivers face heads-up eighth-mile racing, with nothing but the drop of a flag and a marker in the distance as the official timing system.
Along with the lack of regulations and high-tech safety is the absence of any modern elements on the beachfront. The Oilers pull out all the stops in order to get the Wildwood sands looking like a serious time-warp; there’s no plastic
barriers or vending machines in sight, just canvas tents, wooden observation of old-timey fairground attractions. photographers have to wear white jumpsuits to look like a vintage pit crew. And of course, there’s the bunch of fine-tuned vintage racing cars and bikes hurtling down a less-than-ideal drag strip.
Once the racing begins, the slope of the beach and the loose sand makes for some hair-raising slides and giant roostertails, which are thoroughly enjoyed by both the crowd and the drivers. Hotted-up four-bangers and flathead V8s roar and scream for traction as drivers vie for first grille through the end markers. Even the losers take the return road smiling, though probably gritting a bit more sand in their teeth than the victors.
Grudge matches and local rivalries are turned into an organised bracket-racing event on Sunday, with four- and eight-cylinder classes set up by the Rolling Bones to prove towers and an array Even the once and for all who is the quickest on the beach. Local Jersey hot rodder ‘Slim’ Jim Loughlin manages to power his nitro-fed, all-aluminium #216 speedster to the win in the V8 class, while Joe Conforth is the quickest of the four-bangers in his #88 improved A roadster.
Some celebrities even manage to get sand in their shoes over the weekend. Jessi Combs, famous fabricator and TV host, pilots a radical twin Model T-engined speedster built in the likeness of the 1902 Ford #999 land-speed car. Former NASCAR legend turned host of TV’s AmeriCARna, Ray Evernham, shows up with an angry track T sprint car, and Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars hops into a loaned roadster for a showdown against event organiser Mel Stutz in several fiercely contested races.
Just outside the main area on the beach is Customs by the Sea, showcasing some historic traditional-styled customs and
hot rods. Unfortunately Hurricane Joaquin, which had delayed the event by a week, scares off many who otherwise would have shown their cars, but the brave few that remain are soon joined by an impromptu local car show, with some beautiful classics and hot rods from the area parked up for the public to see.
Evenings are spent cracking beers and bending elbows in the parking lot of the Surf Comber Motel, which serves as a sort of headquarters for a lot of the racers, who park up H ricane sc f t l l w, th cares othe ut rem som m ar and compete for whose car is the most oil-soaked and sandcovered.
Late night repairs are carried out for those injured from the day’s efforts.
The Race Of Gentlemen is a cracker weekend jam-packed with music, booze and killer hot rods pushing their aged metal down the sand. From the first note played by a band on the Friday night to the last rooster tails off the startline on the Sunday afternoon, you get to experience something few other events can provide – a true step back in time. s