To Pismo Beach they came, from Burbank and San Diego, from Denver and Salt Lake City and Asbury Park, even from as far away as Tokyo: hot-rod crazies flaunting throwback hats and rich beards and “Road Zombies” car-club overalls. They mingled around bonfires, beers in hand, percolating with anticipation at the notion of a weekend spent drag racing their vintage jalopies across the hard-packed California sand — just as their rod-jockey forebears did half a century ago.
And what happened? On a mid-October 2016 weekend, upon a region that had barely seen a drop of rain in two years, descended the biggest cloudburst in a generation, a full moon contributing to the deluge with a tide so high the “race course” was underwater for the better part of Saturday and swallowed up entirely on Sunday.
Unmitigated disaster? Hardly. Despite the Noah’s Ark weather, some 12,000 fans reveled in a spitting Saturday afternoon as 150 vintage motorcycles, chopped Model Ts, modded Packard roadsters, and more launched across the sodden beach, chassis fishtailing, tires spouting sand rooster tails as their drivers slashed at their steering wheels and gunned their four-bangers and flathead V-8s to a finish line barely visible in the mist. Hot-rodding heaven.
Thus transpired the first-ever West Coast running of The Race of Gentlemen (TROG), an exhaust-fumed, hammered-metal homage to the glory days of American beach racing. (The event was previously exclusive to the East Coast in Wildwood, New Jersey.) Hosted by the Oilers car and motorcycle club (formed way back in 1947 in Carlsbad, California) and organized in 2012 by aficionados Mel Stultz and Bobby Green, TROG is a throwback to the late 1940s and early ’50s, when men who wore Amoco as a cologne threw on leather jackets and goggles and fired up their cheap, garage-boosted Ford Model As to indulge in a little high-adrenaline action for no other reason than it was Saturday.
“A lot of guys who had just got back from the war, all this adrenaline built up into them, they raced these hot rods just to get that feeling they got when they were on the battlefield. Also, everybody wants to relive a simpler time, when it was just a matter of get out and enjoy yourself, without the rules and regulations and the restrictions.”
— Joe Oz, master of ceremonies
“This right here … it pushes me over the top. I feel like I was born 70 years too late. It’s like turning back the clock, letting us do what you can’t do anymore. It’s honoring the guys that started this. And we’re saving it so our kids will understand it as well.”
— Troy Hastings, Denver, 1929 Ford Roadster
“Beach racing is great because it always changes. You’re dancing around. You don’t have a lot of traction. That’s kind of the thrill. But mostly it’s just the environment, hanging out, the people. Everything about it is fun.”
— Max Herman Jr., La Crescenta, California, 1925 Model T body on Model A chassis
“You can’t miss this, us being locals. And we have a hot-rod shop. But being here, with fellow enthusiasts from literally all over the world, it’s the best. This is what we do.”
— Jason and Rochelle Pall, Morro Bay, California, 1931 Ford Deluxe Roadster
“My brother and I just finished this car two years ago. It had previously sat in a garage unmoved for 62 years. Everything you’re looking at was on this car back then—dash, motor, wheels, brake drums … everything. Spent three years restoring it. This car’s a piece of history, and I enjoy other people seeing it.”
— Jame Stormes, Paso Robles, California, 1931 Ford Model A
“I’m just a girl who loves old trucks and old roadsters. I haven’t done any drag racing before, but I’m just going to go out there and go as fast as I can! Pedal to the metal!”
— Katie Rose Hill, Paso Robles, 1927 Ford Roadster body on 1932 frame
“This is where the birth of hot-rodding and automotive design came from. Guys coming back from World War II and hopping-up old cars. It changed America.”
— Jay Dean, San Diego, 1925 Ford Model T Roadster
“It’s the satisfaction. You put these cars together, vintage everything, then you actually get to use them—participating, enjoying yourself, the camaraderie. Can’t beat it.”
— Jeff Nichols, Loveland, Colorado, 1932 Ford Roadster
“It’s that old-school feeling of racing down the beach — and in California. The nostalgia. This could be the 1930s right here. Plus, you don’t just look at these cars as ‘things.’ You put them together, and they’re living. Like Frankenstein.”
— July Perez, Prunedale, California
“I’ve been into mid-year Corvettes all my life, but I’m new to hot rods. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in the car hobby. I’m a machinist by trade, and these cars—what I love is you can build ’em any way you want. Make it yours.”
— Larry Elmer, Salt Lake City, 1931 Ford Model A
“The rain is perfect. If you can learn when it’s crap, then when it’s good you’ll be even better. But I’ll drive this car anywhere. It’s my Thursday to Sunday car. I drive the hell out of it. Probably do at least 125 miles a week in it.”
— Joe Leroux, Orange County, California, 1930 Ford Model A
“Every car here is something I’d drive myself. That’s rare. You go to a car show and you don’t get that. Plus, the adrenaline gets to you. You get up to the line and you just want to hammer down and go.”
— Justin Brunmeier, Loveland, Colorado, 1932 Ford Model A