Classic motorcycle racing on the beach never looked so good…
Once a year people converge on Wilwood, New Jersey to watch motorcycles made from 1947 and earlier race each other. Some get decked out in the best era-appropriate attire for the occasion, like what people do at Pebble Beach, only instead of lace and silk you see a lot of leather and denim. This unique gathering has been going on for over a decade and unlike many other gatherings of this kind, it hasn’t been washed over by commercial interests.
Check out old footage of Daytona Bike Week here.
Entrants line up on the sandy beach and wait for a flag girl to signal their start. That’s when with tires spinning and sand spraying behind them, the motorcycles speed off toward the finish line 1/8 of a mile away. With often a strong wind, the conditions test the mettle of both the riders and their mounts, giving them a far different experience than just cruising around town.
There’s a rustic, gritty element to these old motorcycles. You won’t see much in the way of chrome, candy coat paint jobs, or anything else so fancy. Instead, these are mechanic horses of utility with numbers painted on the side.
The riders also have a salt of the earth quality, complete with bushy beards, tattoos, sand-splattered goggles, and leather helmets. It’s like everyone has decided on the same theme, keeping the look and feel of The Race of Gentlemen authentically real. You won’t find much pretense on the beach, which seems so refreshingly unique these days.
Mel Stultz organized the first Race of Gentlemen in 2012 as a way to remember a culture which many fear could be lost. Back before drag strips were built, many gearheads would race on beaches. They were fairly level and if there was a problem with the brakes on a bike or car, they could use the sand to slow to a stop. They could even steer into the waves in the event of a fire.
Also included in The Race of Gentlemen are hot rods. Like the bikes these are functional beasts built for speed on the sand, not to look good on the pages of a magazine. After all, the cars and motorcycles will get covered in sand, so taking a trailer queen to race isn’t recommended.
Seeing classic motorcycles and hot rods at the same event certainly isn’t unheard of. However, seeing both racing on the beach in no small quantity isn’t something you’re likely to see just about anywhere else. That’s enough to draw in crowds, even without the rest of the carnival-like atmosphere. There’s live entertainment, vendor booths, and even a classic wall of death.
The Race of Gentlemen has done some other events throughout the years. For example, back in March of 2019 organizers held a gathering in Santa Barbara, California. Instead of racing on the beach, they held vintage-style street races, with the permission and cooperation of the city. They also organized The Frozen Few where riders raced using classic bikes on a snowy, icy course in the middle of winter.
Thanks to the pandemic, The Race of Gentlemen was canceled for 2020, like so many other events across the globe. However, it’s back for 2021 with everyone converging from October 1-3 in Wilwood. That means there’s still time to make plans to attend, if you want to be part of this unique event.