WHEN you think of California you might imagine palm trees, endless sunshine and girls in bikinis – and I don’t blame you – but for the inaugural west coast Race Of Gentlemen event, it was a different story.
The Race Of Gentlemen (or TROG as it’s known to diehards) began on the east coast in 2012, with the goal of gritty vintage drag racing on a New Jersey beach, allowing only period-correct pre-’47 motorbikes and pre-’34-bodied hot rods to enter.
With a backdrop of era-specific entertainment, facilities and fashion, organisers and Oilers Car Club members Bobby Green and Mel Stultz Jr opened up a swirling vortex into another space and time, and the hot rodding community enthusiastically jumped in. The east coast event quickly became an annual phenomenon, evolving into one of the most unique racing spectacles on earth.
This year, however, saw TROGlodytes from around the world congregate at Pismo Beach, California, for the first TROG to be held on the west coast. A few hours north of hot rodding holy land Los Angeles, Pismo is a peaceful coastal town, with beach racing history that dates all the way back to the 1910s, but which really gained steam in the 60s with the buggy and fourbie craze.
The forecast for storms and giant tides did nothing to deter racers and punters, some of whom had travelled from as far away as Japan, Norway and even a big crew from Oz. With surging waves still covering the beach and a steady flow of rain, the gates tentatively opened on the Saturday morning for a curated selection of 150 of the coolest vintage racing machines the USA had to offer.
Getting to the sand was a monumental feat in itself, with a hairy downhill corner into soft slop the only entrance. Crowds gathered to see which vehicles would sink or swim, cheering on as sand flew everywhere and drivers bounced haphazardly through the impromptu rally-style entrance.
After a brief wait, some race prep, and a thorough soaking, the tide subsided enough to leave the course open for racing, and in no time the air was filled with sandy rooster tails and the noise of groaning vintage engines. A blatant disregard for pristine paintjobs, historic value or equipment rarity proved without a doubt that the men and women donning vintage helmets were the real deal.
The racers subjected their machines to the same kind of hell (and the same kind of fun) that the first hot rodding pioneers did – racing on rough surfaces with no safety equipment, no technology and no limits to how hard you could push for a grudge drag race. A handful of cars actually built by some of these pioneers even found beach-time at Pismo, with the iconic Edelbrock Special and Barney Navarro’s roadster both turning tyres in anger, piloted by the next generation of traditional hot rod custodians.
While many an armchair expert might scoff at the thought of a museum-quality hot rod being run in abrasive and rust-inducing conditions, no one out on the battlefield was complaining about seeing these iconic cars alive and well, howling down the slippery straightaway.
Despite the trying conditions, the hardcore racers down in the pits were ecstatic to be partaking in such a one-of-a-kind event. Have a quick chat with any of them and you’d soon see.
Jeremy Baye drove all the way from New York with a mid-engined car he built in 10 days: “I came to win races – I didn’t drive 3200 miles to play around!” Oakland rodder Ed Corvello was of a similar mind: “To hell with the bad weather, I’m racing no matter what. Nothing’s gonna stop me from having fun with 150 of my friends.”
Yep, it was a different breed of racer at the Pismo beachfront, willing to sacrifice their blood-sweatand- tears hot rod for the chance to make even one run down the sandy, salty eighth-mile. The weather only added to it all. As one punter put it: “It takes a very specific kind of crazy to bring your rod down to the beach and race it in the rain!”
Cars and bikes broke down or got bogged, beers were spilt, equipment was ruined, but any curveballs thrown at the TROGlodytes were swiftly batted away and the party carried on all day, right up to the last drop of the flag. Alas, the biggest stump-breaker was bowled by Mother Nature; with reports of a freak high tide threatening to demolish the entire beach overnight, the event was called off for Sunday. But that’s racing.
Swept away by the TROG time machine and fuelled by their passion for nostalgia and vintage racing (and a few drinks from the bar, perhaps), the 12,000 punters, racers and crew were oblivious to the rain in their eyes and the sand in their shoes, and ardently looked forward to the next time they could do it all again. A celebration of a hot rodding culture built on grit and toughness, TROG was all about the all-weather friends, not the fair-weather ones. s