The Race of Gentlemen West 2016: A Wet and Wild Day at Pismo Beach
Story and photos by Marc Gewertz
After four successful events on the Jersey Shore, the men behind The Race of Gentlemen had big dreams of bringing the wildly popular event to the West Coast. With racing on the beach, a vintage trailer show, and the popular Customs by the Sea car show, there was surely going to be something for everyone. After more than a year of planning, everything had finally fallen into place and The Race of Gentlemen West was scheduled to take place in Pismo Beach, California, October 15-16, but no one told that to Mother Nature.
A strong storm from the Pacific Northwest was heading south, pounding Northern California with heavy rain and high surf. The storm continued to move south to Pismo Beach, bringing with it a huge swell that flooded the racecourse, pits and vendors’ area the day before the race.
Despite the bad weather, there was still an aura of excitement in the air
Saturday morning brought more rain, and the waves kept rolling in. The designated course was still several feet underwater and things did not look good. But one by one the participants began to arrive, some coming from as far away as Washington, Colorado, New Jersey and Michigan to be a part of this historic event. Eventually, more than 100 period-correct pre-1934 American-made automobiles and vintage motorcycles 1947 and older had gathered in a makeshift pit area located in a dirt lot above the beach.
TROG is a celebration of the past, where everything is period correct: the cars, the parts, open faced helmets, vintage goggles, a flag starter, the signage and even the displays are designed to take you back to the 1920s and ‘30s. Despite the bad weather, there was still an aura of excitement in the air. Slowly, the spectators began to arrive. They walked around the vintage vehicles, striking up conversations with the owners, asking questions about everything from rare engine combinations and vintage speed parts to the custom modifications that had been done back in the early 1930s.
The rain continued to fall and most people were convinced this was as good as it was going to get: seeing this historic gathering of cars up close, hearing the engines come to life and reminiscing about the early days of hot rodding with many of those who were actually there… and that would have been okay. Most event organizers would have thrown in the towel, but not Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen creator, his partner, Bobby Green, and the Oilers CC/MC. After everything they had gone through, they were going to race on the California coast come hell or high water.
Later that morning, Green addressed the racers over a vintage microphone: “You guys are hardcore and we will race today. Thanks for being patient.”
About an hour later the water had receded, and Green asked all participants to line up so they could make their way onto the sand. A huge round of applause followed from the racers and spectators alike.
Once all of the participants were on the sand and the first pair of motorcycles popped the clutch, there was no turning back. The sand started flying and it never stopped. Motorcycles came to the line two at a time, a 1934 Ford raced against a vintage Indy Car, a rare sprint car matched up with a belly tanker, and eventually four vintage bikes were dueling four at a time. You never knew what would pull up to the starting line next, but you sure as hell didn’t want to miss it.
Light rain fell all day, but the fans stuck around and were not disappointed, rooting for their favorites in a party-like atmosphere. By the end of the day, an estimated 10,000 people had stood in the fog and rain to catch the first running of The Race of Gentlemen West.
With the swell expected to be even higher on Sunday, event officials were forced to cancel Sunday’s racing activity, but history had been made. Thanks to The Race of Gentlemen, racing on the beach returned to California for the first time in more than 50 years, even if it was only for one day.
You never knew what would pull up to the starting line next, but you sure as hell didn’t want to miss it.