Oil and Water: The Race of Gentlemen



At the Race of Gentlemen, taste the salt, sand, and emissions from vehicles that came off the line before the catalytic converter was invented.

On a sunny Indian summer day, vintage hot rod and motorcycle tires caused sand to spray as if it were surf on the Wildwood, NJ, shore. “It’s a way to get New Jersey on the map for something cool for a change instead of Tony Soprano or some housewives,” explains Tom Larusso of Oilers Car Club, amidst the early mayhem of the 2013 Race of Gentlemen. Much respect to the late Gandolfini—but point well taken. “There’s a lot of work that goes into the race, but at the end of the day, I’ll look out and see that I made 8,000 or so people really happy,” Larusso says.

From the din of old-ass engines, a gasp arises from the several hundred folks sitting on a berm of sand watching the action. Larusso’s event director partner, Mel Stultz, had been surfing down the low-tide flats on his 1939 Indian Chief, one bare foot on the backseat and the other on the gas tank, when he spilled and tumbled forward.

“Hang on a second,” says Larusso. “Let me make sure he’s all right.”

Stultz gets up without bothering to shake the Atlantic’s fine, silty sand off his jeans and bounds across the track, past pre-World War II motorcycles and hot rods, making his way through the crowd, greeting acquaintances and chuckling to friends.

Larusso shakes his head and continues: “We wanted to keep it all original. We’ve had a good turnout both days and I won a few races. I’m happy.”

The Race of Gentlemen was born out of an idea between Larusso and Stultz. The former handles the logistics and financials; the latter handles the creative and spontaneous circus stunts. The first race was held in 2012 on the beaches of Allenhurst, NJ, some 100 miles north, but there simply wasn’t enough room between the ocean and boardwalk. In 2013, Larusso says the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association actually asked the partners to bring the show to their wide, flat beaches. The number of racers and fans doubled. The classic American boardwalk and Wildwood’s retro-style architecture and amusements lend a perfect backdrop.

“The town is over-the-moon happy with us, and that means the world to me,” says Stultz. “We are sometimes looked at as hooligans, and while most of us are nonconformists, we are gentlemen that just wear our hearts on our sleeves. Once you get past the beards, funny mustaches, tattoos, or whatever, you find men that have passion and a love of what helped found this country—mechanical engineering.”

The idea of racing vintage motorcycles and automobiles on the beach sounds pretty novel. And it is. But back in the days when Triumph, the fledgling Harley-Davidson, and Indian Motorcycles were putting out their first bikes in the early 1900s—at the same time the Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford were fine-tuning their automobiles—racing of machines was done on the beach. For decades, stock cars zipped along the sand of Daytona Beach before the Daytona International Speedway hosted its first race in 1959.

“This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the States. It’s really impressive. At a car show, you sit on a lawn chair and people check out your car. But this is a whole other level,” says Jim Loughlin of Jamesburg, NJ. He, his brother, Brett, and his father, John, had built the car—from scratch—the week before the event. It was one of two from-scratch hot rods out of the 35 or so.

“We basically built it for this weekend,” says Loughlin. “We saw this race last year and built the body out of five metal sheets. We were still working on it Friday afternoon.”

Most of the day’s racing is impromptu. Rival car clubs square off—the Oilers, the Villains, the Gasket Goons, the Alter Boys, the Injectors of Branchville—and grudge matches are settled. Tattoo artists race against tattoo artists. Bosses race against employees. Stultz races everyone. When two revving vintage engines come up to the line, announcer Nick Foster offers come-dic, old-timey commentary, vivacious Sarah drops the checkered flag, and the cars fly toward glory, one-eighth of a mile away. “And they’re off in a cloud of smoke and sand and machismo,” Foster announces.

Generally, whoever gets off the line first wins, but occasionally a roadster will splash through the shallows and overtake its sand-caked opponent at the finish. Scott McCann of Deluxe Speed Shop in Denver wins for the fastest Flathead V8 with his 1928 roadster that did 117.3 mph at Bonneville Speedway in 1952. Mike Santino wins among the four-bangers.

“It’s a really squirrely track,” says Josh Kohn of the Immortal Ink shops in Flemington and Clinton, NJ. “But it’s really easy to spin a hole off the line. So there’s some skill involved. You try not to dig in. It’s not just about horsepower.”

Kohn is racing with his club, the Gasket Goons. He grew up around cars before he got into tattooing, and the Goons’ Pennsylvania and New Jersey chapters arrived on Friday and threw up their banner at the Starlux Boutique Hotel for the weekend. Kohn brought his whole family down, and raced a 1930 Model A Ford with a baby seat and his own custom artwork, as well as a Panhead bike.

The weekend has proven to be the perfect storm of hot rods, rock ’n’ roll, and tattoo culture, with the likes of Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers; motorcycle Cannonballer Sean Brayton; owner of Inksmith and Rogers, Mike Wilson; noted bronze moto sculptor Jeff Decker; and Orange County Choppers mechanic Rick Petko. Stultz’s event props, cleverly done to re-create the vintage hell-on-wheels feel, complete the scene. “Why let ’em sit in a museum when we can keep ’em running?” asks Stultz. “We have the technology to rebuild. Ride it hard, rebuild, repeat!” The racing may not be as fast as NASCAR, but when it comes to aesthetics and good times, nothing beats the Race of Gentlemen.

For more information, visit:  www.theraceofgentlemen.com

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