‘The Race of Gentlemen’ Is A Beachy Battle Of Retro Motorcycles & Hot Rods

Featuring vintage American rides racing across the Jersey Shore.

(David Carlo)

“The greatest race on earth” isn’t held in Monaco, Daytona Beach or Le Mans, but in Wildwood, New Jersey. That’s what the tagline for The Race of Gentlemen (T.R.O.G.) claims, at least, and a strikingly illustrated photo book from Parisian publisher Assouline makes a compelling case. 

Founded in 2012 by Marine Corps veteran Meldon Van Riper Stultz III (aka Mel Stultz and @yeoleghost on Instagram), T.R.O.G. is entirely uninterested in glamor or cutting-edge racing technology.

The OG Indian Scouts and rival Harley-Davidson WRs that jump off the page with even a cursory flip through Assouline’s The Race of Gentlemen allude to the high-octane spectacle’s biggest point of appeal: All motorcycles seen rooster-tailing down the beachy, eighth-mile drag strip must be bobbed, American-made, and produced in or before 1947.

(David Carlo)

The basic automobile requirements are even stricter—their bodies must date 1934 or older, and the latest production date that T.R.O.G. officials will consider for other componentry is 1960. DIY modifications of all vehicles aren’t just encouraged, but mandated. 

Take a closer look and you’ll find the racers themselves decked out in period-correct garb, with half-helmets and leather-strapped goggles covering one half of their face, while loosely groomed beards and cigarettes hide the other half. As written in the book’s introduction, T.R.O.G. “commemorates a time when bravery and stupidity looked more alike, when the earliest iterations of [vehicles] drove onto long strips of beach to go faster than ever before.”

Of course, the full T.R.O.G. experience can only truly be had by joining the crowd of 20,000 “Troglodytes” who assemble for the weekend-long spectacle annually. If you’re still on the fence, let our interview with Stultz push you over.  

(Scott G. Toepfer)

How did you come up with the name? 

I was reading a book about the early incarnations of the automobile and motorcycles. It was a wild soap opera of men’s lives’ missions to bring vehicles to market and go racing. Inventors, who were often rich with ideas but not cash, needed to create relationships with men of money in order to bring their wild ideas to fruition. I’d dealt with this same struggle, being an idea man with little money. I had to continually start from scratch with new ideas after partners’ greed or deception.

I knew right away that T.R.O.G. would be my own creation that I would protect wholeheartedly. While pondering this new love, I realized that a gentleman’s handshake rarely gets you anywhere in a modern world. So the race’s name just came to me—a race event where we respect one another as gentlemen while being competitive.

Walk us through T.R.O.G.’s basic racing format. 

On Saturday, we race for entertainment’s sake. Club against club, friend against foe, girlfriend against boyfriend, etc. We learn who has the “hotter” machines as we test and tune. We bench race all afternoon between actual races or even that evening over drinks at our Saturday night beach party. We size each other up, talk smack, and dare each other to step up all the livelong day. 

(David Carlo)

On Sunday, we allow racers to position themselves against one another—they must act and work as gentlemen, and we avoid petty squabbles. As the races progress during the day, a pyramid effect gradually eliminates racers until only the top are left. Ultimately, it leaves the two best at the end to battle it out for best-in-class.

How has T.R.O.G. evolved since its first running in 2012? 

T.R.O.G. has grown in crowd size from 500 people in 2012 to 20,000 people or more. We are seeing more racers, better racing vehicles, and much, much, more power as the years progress.

Unfortunately, as the T.R.O.G. snowball was increasing and gaining in size, COVID reared its ugly head and really tried to melt our mojo. We soon lost amazing sponsors, crowd size shrank, and cities became more difficult and expensive to deal with as hype grew. But we are not quitters! We are always looking for amazing new sponsors/partners who want exposure to a worldwide audience and diverse crowd of thrill seekers.

Who’s allowed to compete?

Racers of all colors, creed and sexuality are allowed to participate, but your car or motorcycle better be badass no matter who you are! We do have a set of guidelines on our website to help our potential racers understand what a T.R.O.G. car or bike is.

In his introduction to Assouline’s The Race of Gentleman, Chris Nelson writes that the T.R.O.G. crew may even encourage participants to “break their rules, as long as you’re clever about it and don’t put anyone at risk.” Can you give an example of someone breaking a rule that is meant to be broken? 

We’ve had accusations of racers cheating or not playing fairly. We can usually observe and determine quickly whether we have a cheater or a sore loser on our hands. There are no Golden Globes, six-foot trophies, or cruises to the Caribbean to win here—just a felt “winner” banner to hang and some well-deserved bragging rights that will last a lifetime. So settle down there, all-star, and learn to have some fun here at T.R.O.G.

Nelson also writes, “At events like this, racers have a tendency to be thin-skinned and take things too seriously, which is when Mel steps in, jerks the reins, and says without smiling that he would sooner see T.R.O.G. die than let the fun be sucked out of it.” Could you give an example of one of these instances? 

I created this race because there was a lack of wild, wholehearted fun in this world. The day-to-day is mundane to me, I try to envision only good times and how to make that happen as my now-profession. If a racer likes to march over and tell us how we should do things or something isn’t fair or serious enough, I kindly remind them that this is not that race, and while he or she may cry all they want, we will just not have it! It’s bullshit and a waste of time that takes away from our goal of fun, and/or racing itself. T.R.O.G. is an escape from the mundane, an escape from the real world.

(David Carlo)

We’ve had grown men cry, we’ve had arguments and narrow escapes from fights between racers, but we will respectfully let you know that it’s not happening here at T.R.O.G. Work it out like gentlemen and women. Fun is the key to life’s success for me, and I’m not going to have you ruin our good time. 

Are there any moments of past T.R.O.G. runnings that stick out in your mind?

Weather distinguishes them. We’ve  had hurricanes, fog, lots of sunny days, high tides, low tides, and smooth beaches for racing. Mother Nature is our business partner ya see, and sometimes she can be real fickle! Never let a good woman down, and don’t be such a pussy when she tries to test ya! 

How was Wildwood chosen as the permanent annual venue? 

Wildwood was chosen for its wide beaches. As storms rob the sand and coastline of New Jersey towns, they deposit that sand in Wildwood. Each year, it gains another three feet of waterfront real estate. Wildwood’s wide beach helps with our room for growing spectators, a safe race course, and our race infrastructure. We create vintage-themed advertisements for the sponsors, and it creates a race track that seems lost in time. This big beach is perfect for our carnival of thrills and the sets we create.

What goes into organizing T.R.O.G.? 

Some people show up thinking they’re at Disneyland. But while Disney probably has thousands of employees, we are a small army of 20 on race day entertaining 20,000 people or more with zero fights, thefts or trouble. So while you’re at one of our races or events, you can expect fun and nothing else. This is a family show with a kick.

Can you give us any updates on T.R.O.G. 2024? 

T.R.O.G. is set for Wildwood on October 4-6 of 2024. In 2022, we set the race up but the city and state police shut it down due to a hurricane. And in 2023, we took our first break in ten years after getting beat up by government mandates and the aftereffects of COVID. A breather was overdue. Now, we’re back to let you know that we can really shake ‘em down! So do not miss this next one!

We’re currently working on an old country road race down in Georgia as well. This is a twist on early American T.R.O.G. beach drags. It’ll feature vintage 1950s and 1960s American and European sports cars and sport bikes racing at night. While we wont relocate T.R.O.G., we will create something else equally as unique, wild and fun anywhere given the chance. So look out for that little Georgia road race in 2024, too.

God speed y’all, see ya in Wildwood!

(David Carlo)

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Maxim magazine.