Lemmy from Motörhead once said “If you think you are too old to rock 'n roll, then you are.” and the same goes for driving your classic cars and bikes. Too many people are afraid to drive their classics because they're "too old". The guys at the Oilers Car Club wanted to put on an event where Pre-War autos and motorcycles could be driven like they were back in their heyday. This is how the The Race of Gentlemen was born in 2012.
The idea was simple, pick a beach and setup a grassroots style 1/8th mile drag race next to the water. No fancy digital time clocks, no staging, no burnout pit, and no egos, just 2 men and 2 machines going all-out in the sand. Word spread quick in the hot rod and vintage motorcycle community and the debut event last year was wildly successful. I was extremely disappointed I couldn't make it, and I made sure I cleared my calendar for this past weekend to see this unique event for myself.
This year the event was held appropriately in Wildwood, NJ. For anyone not familiar, Wildwood is an old, well known beach town in the Northeast. Wildwood has made a point to keep the retro feel and many of the businesses still use old neon signs that look straight out of the 50's and 60's. The race itself was held just off the boardwalk directly in front of the old amusement park. This made for some pretty epic photos with the big ferris wheel in the background. With the hype surrounding this event (especially after coverage last year in Hot Rod Magazine), I made sure to get there bright and early and stand in line to be one of the first on the beach. Once you got down to the event it was like going back in time. The Oilers had done a great job of making retro signage for the event and even a timing tower that looked period correct.
After the staff went over the race rules with the drivers, the lovely flag girls made their way to the starting line and the cars began lining up two by two. Before each race the flag girl would quickly go over how she would start the race and the drivers would be off. The classes were broken down pretty simply into "bangers" (inline flathead four cylinder engines) and V8 flatheads. I'm pretty sure that this may have been one of the largest gatherings of flatheads on the east coast in a while. I'm still getting chills from the sound of all of those flathead V8's at WOT (wide open throttle)! After the first wave of races the drivers took a 30 minute break and the crowd was able to go into the "pits" and check out all of the cars and bikes and chat with the drivers. It was refreshing walking around, no one had an attitude, or was too worried about prepping for the next bracket, everyone was just happy talking cars and sharing information about their ride.
After the break the racing started back up and went until the final races which ended around 5PM. Unlike most drag races and shows, the crowd wasn't leaving before the event was over or as soon as they heard the winner, this was more than that. I found myself roaming the pits with the rest of the crowd, chatting with the drivers of some of my favorite cars and bikes and hearing the story behind their car and racing it. I was really surprised at how far some of the drivers and cars had come from. A club from Colorado made the trip and actually took home some wins, along with some cars from New England and the southeast. Many of us stayed until the cars were kicked off the beach and everyone retired to their hotels for the intermission between the race and the Saturday night party. That's right, the Oilers not only put on a killer laid back nostalgic race on the beach, but they also put on an equally cool beach party later that evening. A lineup of rock bands, a large bonfire, and good conversation kept the crowd around until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
After leaving the party I decided to go roam Wildwood a little bit and see what sort of gems were hiding in the parking lots at each of the hotels. I was pleasantly surprised to find some REALLY cool classic cars and bikes hiding that spectators had driven to the event. I can definitely see this getting much larger and classic cars and bikes taking over the entire town for the weekend. I hit a lot of car and bike events around the globe each season and I can honestly say this is one of, if not the BEST event I've been to in years. The Oilers have the right idea and the friendly, laid-back vibe they all have spreads to all of the participants and spectators and makes for a successful event. I can't wait for next year! I'm hoping one of these years I can get a car there to race myself, I want to scream down the beach with sand spraying everywhere!
Check out the rest of the photos I shot Saturday below.