It was the golden age of Hot Rodding. The Second World War had just ended and many were looking to duplicate the excitement of their overseas experiences. It was a time when building a fun car to break a few rules with was fast, easy, and cheap. All it took was an old body, easily purchased at the local scrap yard and whatever motor you had lying around. You could put it all together in your parents’ driveway and all it took was a good wrench set, a little help from a buddy, and some basic welding gear.
Once a year on a beach on the very southern tip of New Jersey, that era still lives. The Race of Gentlemen is put on by the Oilers Car Club. It sees a hundred or so very traditional hot rods take to the sand for two days of speed, sun, fun, salt water, friendly competition and plenty of noise.
TROG is quickly becoming one of the most interesting gatherings of retro-minded gearheads around. Effectively, the cars have to be pre-war, and can have no modern aftermarket parts either. Hand-painted signs, and vintage tents go a long way to helping turn the clock back as well. And with plenty of denim, khakis, and peaked caps even most of the clothing of the participants seems to be pretty authentic.
Even the town is period correct. Wildwood New Jersey is a wonderful intimate, fully restored kitschy, neon-lit 1950’s beach town. Since The Race takes place in early October, the summertime resort community is almost shut down for the season and as a result virtually every car (or motorcycle) on the streets is either a competition vehicle or hot rod or custom driven to the event by an enthusiastic spectator.
There are parties, barbecues, plenty of crab cakes, and tons of friendly like-minded people from all over the world who are interested in the history of hot rodding. Little impromptu workshops break out as a crowd gathers around one or the other racers as they tear down their motors to make them race ready.
TROG is a brainchild of a man call Melvin Stultz III, who calls himself, simply “an artist”. He’s a paint-spattered, bearded ball of energy. He’s also got big plans for vintage beach racing in America, planning to take the concept to California and is even making inroads in Japan as well.
The Race of Gentlemen is truly a remarkable event. Like Brigadoon, the mythical town that appears every one hundred years for a single day, the annual TROG takes you back for a weekend to a time when everyone could afford a test their home-built backyard dreams against each other, make some noise, breath in some fumes, and beach air, and feel very free in a way that seems almost impossible these days.