News Feature

The essence of TROG: Mel Stultz fires up ‘40s Americana and builders' ingenuity



May 31, 2018 | Rahoul Ghose

scenes from the race of gentlemen 2017 in wildwood, new jersey | godspeed co
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  It's incredible to watch a racer’s bike or car go down after too much abuse. Then, guys – now dead in the water – start to pillage their machine to help another guy or gal in need. That's the beauty of this thing! Never count a racer out if there are Troglodytes around ... it's a great rush to help one another. I've seen great things happen in the pits, friends from afar become friends forever.  

-- Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen | Oiler CC/MC
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It’s thumbing a nose at the state of modern, disposable technology. It’s an advocate for ingenuity in the face of the elements and mechanical adversity. And it’s an inspiration to those who value being part of a close-knit moto family.

Start your engines ... It’s The Race of Gentlemen, an annual vintage hot rod and motorcycle drag competition born in 2012, and set to splash down again on the beaches of Wildwood, New Jersey this coming June 8-10.

Think two growling, spitting machines, tensely waiting for the drop from an acrobatic flag girl, then peeling off in a wash of sand towards a finish line in the distance, weighing traction against power for the smoothest run possible.

Grandiose platitudes for an event which at its heart harkens back to simpler times of youthful abandon, self-sufficiency, and gritty determination? Maybe …

For race captain Meldon Van Riper Stultz, TROG is really about “familia” and a deep respect for the bravado from days past when weekend racers donned leather jackets, goggles and helmets and pitted their hopped-up, garage-boosted creations against one another in wheeled combat.

“They are a real ... motley crew – old guy, young guy, young lady – all thrill seekers, all ‘wearing their hearts on their sleeve’ kinda of people,” Stultz says affectionately of the unique characters who challenge TROG’s ‘40s-inspired sand trials each year. “My racers feel like the same unknown kid or friend that stumbles onto me and my pals trying to jump a puddle next to the train tracks on the way home from school. You dig up all the rotten wood you can find, stack it tall so you can clear the yucky puddle. Then we jump it until dark … see who gets wet, see who breaks their front forks off, or lands on their face. Same gang, same glory, same laughs, same damn good time!”

a dirty dozen: some of the 2018 trog lineup for wildwood, new jersey | the race of gentlemen
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  My racers feel like the same unknown kid or friend that stumbles onto me and my pals trying to jump a puddle next to the train tracks on the way home from school. You dig up all the rotten wood you can find, stack it tall so we can clear the yucky puddle. Then we jump it until dark … see who gets wet, see who breaks their front forks off, or lands on their face. Same gang, same glory, same laughs, same damn good time!  

-- Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen | Oiler CC/MC
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The idea for TROG – which arrived on the scene not too long after Stultz resurrected the Cali-based Oilers car and motorcycle club here on the East Coast – stemmed from a need to create an event which inspired true excitement from both competitors and spectators alike.

It evolved out of a “boredom” with what was currently on hand, stale stock car shows for display, the 48-year-old moto aficionado says. “(I was) annoyed with sitting still, all hype and no action. I wanted to create something spontaneous and wild.”

The Oilers CC/MC – originally formed in the late 1940s – was in fact brought back out of a love for cars and bikes, boats and planes, he said.

“If it's got an engine, and it's antiquated ... we dig it, wanna run it, hold on, and give it holy hell!”

Since Oct. 2012 TROG has graced Wildwood, New Jersey five times, and even challenged a weather-wrought Pismo Beach in California once two years ago.

“It was twice in one year (in 2016) ... that was nuts! (But) we plan to do it again. We just have yet to get the green light for 2019.”

For what seems like a very elemental concept – combining sand, sea and the fires of combustion, and pitting hot rod and period motorcycle enthusiasts against one another in a '40s tradition of beach drag races – TROG has some pretty steep qualifications and even a jury panel to judge an entry’s validity.

But it’s all in the name of keeping the event authentically vintage and highlighting a rich American moto heritage, Stultz says.

“It is a tough process ... not enjoyable. Not everyone understands the type of car and bikes we love. It takes tons of back-and-forth work on our end to help a car or bike get in. We want to see you living it up, but the stuff has to be right. So, we go the extra mile to help vs hurt.”

the race of gentlemen 2017 in wildwood, new jersey | godspeed co
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  Ingenuity beats money any day … that's America to me! Ballzy wins out over brains … that’s TROG to me. One never knows who will win ... we are battling Mother Nature as well as each other too. But in the end, we are all smiles.  

-- Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen | Oiler CC/MC
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A detailed list of race specs for cars and motorcycles can be found on the TROG website: theraceofgentlemen.com

But in short, bikes and cars must be stripped down for racing, and racers are often asked to modify their vehicles even further if selected. Space is limited, and submissions are hand-selected for their authenticity. All entries must be pre-approved and must comply with the spirit of the event.

In the bikes category, motorcycles must be modified for racing: no “straight off the street” bikes; no headlights; no full fenders. Bikes must be “bobbed” and stripped down for racing. The idea is to recreate the look and feel of bikes that would be racing in the late ’40s.

Cars can be entered into three race categories: four-cylinder, flathead V8 and drag class. Stock/antique cars with fenders pulled off to emulate hotrods do not count. All engines must be hopped up and prepped for speed.

Car bodies must be 1934 or older, American made only; Engines … American made four-cylinder and V8 flatheads up to 1953, running gas only (no nitrous). And there are no modern transmissions, disc brakes or alternators allowed.

In years past bikes, circa 1911, have made the cut. This year will see the return of a 1922 Henderson Deluxe.

“My favorite cars are purpose-built for TROG, not the street: Mid-engine, shortened chassis, heavy chop or channel jobs,” Stultz says. “The rail class (the first incarnation of a dragster) is bad ass … no bodies/tin, all motor and frame rails, a seat and steering. A cheap alternative to a 32 or 33/34 Ford.”

This need for authenticity can actually inspire creativity in builders trying to get the absolute most out of their machines.

“Ingenuity beats money any day … that's America to me! Ballzy wins out over brains … that’s TROG to me,” Stultz says. “One never knows who will win ... we are battling Mother Nature as well as each other too. But in the end, we are all smiles.”

The battle also brings out the best in competitors who have been known to drop everything to help a comrade get his or her machine in running shape.

“It's incredible to watch a racer’s bike or car go down after too much abuse. Then, guys – now dead in the water – start to pillage their machine to help another guy or gal in need. That's the beauty of this thing! Never count a racer out if there are Troglodytes around ... it's a great rush to help one another. I've seen great things happen in the pits, friends from afar become friends forever.”

the race of gentlemen 2017 in wildwood, new jersey | godspeed co
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  We are all thrill seekers, we are all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of people. TROG is our snow day, we have off from school. So let's go get into some old-fashioned trouble: Belly laughs and crazed rides all day long.  

-- Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen | Oiler CC/MC
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Racers are not defined by gender or race … there are men, women and a variety of cultural backgrounds who compete on equal terms.

“I despise normalcy; old and young, black or white, male or female, racers from other countries ... we are all one. We are all thrill seekers, we are all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of people. TROG is our snow day, we have off from school. So let's go get into some old-fashioned trouble: Belly laughs and crazed rides all day long."

Stultz adds: “I cannot take credit for how our TROG racers were raised, but we are a passionate bunch, and I do think we very much enjoy each other’s company. I believe, that a young man like myself, 48 years old, respects his elders, who are our teachers. We respect woman, as I was raised by a bad ass lady.

“If you respect people, you gain the greatest gifts and rewards, true friendship. Friendship for the win ... fuck the race, fuck it all! They say a man is only as good as his tools. I say a man is only as good as his friends. I can stare at my bikes and cars all day ... they are nothing without the people you enjoy a li’l danger with. I'm not a car guy, a bike guy … I'm a guy, and I like good people.”

Stultz himself races, but not much during TROG anymore as he prefers to oversee the experience for racers and spectators.

“In the beginning I had to be the show, now I want my racers to enjoy their show. Honestly, I try to keep my racers safe on my watch. Seeing their returning faces with shit-eating grins is my glory now. Interacting with my spectators is important. They dig it, and it's my job to know they are happy, that they feel just a part of this event as do I. It's ours. I'm no longer at the wheel as I feel, it steers itself. I just have to keep the ship from sinking. This means keeping your men (pirate ship) happy, so sometimes I need to swing in like Belushi and liven up the party.”

The 2018 TROG kicks off the night of Friday June 8 (7 PM), at the infamous Bonito Motel with the Night Of The Troglodytes chopper show ($5 ticket). Then the action moves to the beaches of Wildwood for two days of races, June 9 and 10, where organizers expect up to 15,000 spectators to attend.

A weekend pass includes access to the races on Saturday and Sunday, plus free entry to the Saturday night party. Weekend passes are available online and at the door.

Adults 16 and up $55 (online for $50)
Children 7 and up $15
Children 6 and under are free

Single day tickets are available at the door only.

Adults 16 and up $35 Saturday and $20 on Sunday
Children 7 and up $10
Children under 6 are free

The Saturday night Bonfire Party is $10 per person. Pit Passes can be purchased at the event only. You must be at least 18 years to enter and sign the waiver.

the race of gentlemen 2017 in wildwood, new jersey | godspeed co
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  I say a man is only as good as his friends. I can stare at my bikes and cars all day, they are nothing without the people you enjoy a li’l danger with. I'm not a car guy, a bike guy … I'm a guy, and I like good people.  

-- Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen | Oiler CC/MC
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“The race is jammed packed with the best iron you could ever see in one place … 200 racers this year,” Stultz says. “You are going to feel a type of comradery with the folks whom pilgrimage here – great conversation, new friends, old acquaintances, under the stars and groovy neon lights of Wildwood. It's what I most enjoy. Early morning excitement, the anticipation of it all, the late nights, and the good people. When it's all said and done, you just sit and ponder why every day isn't like the weekend we just had.”

In a day and age where the ‘builders’ mentality and self-sufficiency seem to be falling by the wayside, TROG seems to be keeping those old values burning bright.

“It's funny when people think you like old shit because it's old or vintage. No, I like old because we once made stuff with style as well as function. Now we build things to be replaceable, and ... they look like shit. Built to last, is the motto you should have when putting effort into anything.”

Long live Americana … and The Race of Gentlemen.

For more on TROG, visit The Race of Gentlemen website and social media below.

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