The Race of Gentlemen is a fairly new tradition drawing on automotive history with some weekend fun mixed in. While many think of racing as taking place on a paved track with either an oval or a street racetrack, the Race of Gentlemen takes racing back to the original testing grounds: the beach.
The current Race of Gentlemen started in 2012 in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the days just before Hurricane Sandy struck. Since then, the race has moved to Wildwood Beach, New Jersey whose beaches are better suited to racing. Participants are not only treated to thrilling beach racing featuring vintage vehicles, but a truly unique aesthetic that is just as interesting as the races themselves.
Beach racing and the Race of Gentlemen offer a unique spin on racing for both vintage motorcycles and hot rods. The rules to participate in the Race of Gentlemen are much more strict than other races with vehicles required to meet very specific specs. All cars participating in the race must have bodies from 1934 or earlier and are only allowed to use engines and gear from 1953 or before. Motorcycles must be from 1957 or older and modified for racing with only period correct fasteners, hubs, transmissions, etc. For both cars and bikes, their appearance must be original or recreate the period correct look – nothing modern allowed!
Period appropriate clothing is also encouraged, down to fingerless gloves, cotton motorcycle jackets, and helmets made of leather. You'll also see plenty of blocky letter shirts with motorcycle brands on them because that's how branded clothing was made more than 70 years ago.
You might have guessed that World War II-era tires and suspensions are not designed to cruise through sand. The need to gain traction — and the potential fun of losing control in a relatively safe area — is half the fun of the Race of Gentlemen!
The first beach racing events began around 1905, where documentation shows that some of the pioneers of the automotive industry raced on the beaches of Cape May, New Jersey, with Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet putting up lap times and speeds within 1 second of each other on the 1-mile course. Walter Christie even set his world speed record on the beaches of New Jersey.
The Oilers of New Jersey
The Oilers Club of New Jersey was formed by soldiers from World War II who loved going fast and whose legacy lives on by staging these Race of Gentlemen events nationwide. Amongst their original members was the author of “The Birth of Hot Rodding” as well as some of the founding members of the NHRA. Founded in 1947, the club has been around for quite a while and more recently joined up with the team from the Race of Gentlemen to make for a bigger, authentic event for all to enjoy.
The goal of the Oilers Club of New Jersey was, and always has been, to have fun using vintage vehicle chassis and the current race certainly embraces that tradition.
Is the entire race pre-1950s themed?
Wildwood, New Jersey itself is the home of doo-wop style and music. The Race of Gentlemen doesn't tend to take itself very seriously and you might be happy to know that prizes are minimal, so racers mainly show up to have fun. This is partly due to the fact that prior to the 1950s, there were not many sponsorships or prizes in American motorsports. The event now attracts around 15,000 plus attendees with some sponsors to help support the event, including Harley-Davidson.
In regard to the time period, you'll find plenty of people dressed as “greasers” as well as lots of denim, leather vests, and tattoos.
Why race on a beach?
Imagine the year is 1950. Gasoline powered cars are getting better and faster – and you maybe got a taste for vehicles and speed serving in World War II. As a hobby, you take up mechanics and racing. While there are roads to race on, the US Interstate Highway System has not been extensively developed. At this point, one of the safest places, and most fun places to race a car is actually the beach. The sand slows drivers down when done, you have the option to drive into the water if needed, and honestly – it's just pretty and scenic!
Few people know that NASCAR originated at the beach – literally Daytona Beach!
Today's race is a little shorter, limited to a 1/8 of a mile straightaway as interest in public beaches has grown – and the race doesn't need the entire mile that was previously standard.