I thought I had stepped into a James Dean movie. Hoards of vintage motorcycles and cars came screaming from under the boardwalk and onto the beach. Drivers were adorned in club sweaters, leather, denim and racing numbers. Some could have played the good guys - others their rivals. Crowds lined the boardwalk and streets to catch a glimpse of the ear-splitting machines and the characters racing them to the water.
"The Race of Gentlemen" is held just twice a year - each time on an opposing coast. At its core, it’s a period-correct drag race on the beach featuring American-made hot rods and motorcycles from the 30’s, 40's & 50’s. Riders square up, one-on-one, racing parallel to the water and spectators. The most recent race was held in Wildwood, NJ spanning two days in shade-less 95°F June weather.
The vehicles aren’t shiny museum pieces. They are racing machines. Even with ample amounts of rust, the motorcycles and hot rods are beautiful. They are a by-product of years of heavy riding, with dirt and imperfection being a badge of honor. The grease, dents, scratches, and fume burns become the medium, with each vehicle evolving over time into its own unique aesthetic. There’s certainly an authentic attraction that comes from things that are well loved and heavily used. These machines aren’t worn out - they’re broken in to perfection. Every machine drips character from their leaky oil pans, and the same goes for the free spirits manning them.
Most of the riders have a strange but strong connection to their bikes. It’s like when a dog and its owner start to resemble each other. Some are rough, loosely held together and a bit intimidating from afar. Others clean, kept and on cue. "The Race of Gentlemen” draws in a wide variety of people with the same passion. Despite differences, there was never any hesitation when a “brother” was in need of a helping hand. Always a tool being passed from one group to the other. Always a handshake and a head nod at the end of a race. Respect is instantly shared among those who are willing to go full throttle in deep sand on a vintage machine.
In the end, this race is about respect. Respect for man and machine. Although there are winners and losers, admiration is paid to anyone who’s willing to push their limits. The racers were fearless and the vehicles were inspiring. Building and riding machines from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s is a challenging feat. In a world where everyone wants to make things easier and faster, there is something to be said about taking the long hard road, getting your hands dirty, and figuring things out on your own. You can learn a lot when you put yourself in unconventional situations. Push yourself, go against the grain every once in a while. You might just find yourself immersed in a brotherhood of grease covered hands and good stories.