The Race of Gentlemen has become more than a gathering of old steel and vintage bikes on the beaches of Wildwood, it has become a tradition for many hot rodders and proving ground for vintage bikes. I myself have sometimes wondered the stories my cars could tell me if they could talk, but those stories would be nothing compared to the stories of the cars and bikes that come to race on the sands. Racers, spectators and photographers have come from all over the world to experience The Race of Gentlemen. Cars and bikes have been dragged out of lakes, pulled from barns, and custom fabricated from knowledge that now doesn’t just survive, but thrives during the months leading up to the event.
Starting in Asbury Park in 2011, TROG has grown to into a tradition that brings people together over a mutual interest of vintage cars and bikes. Five years ago, TROG was ruled by a group of men that brought their toys out onto the beach to flog them in a way that hasn’t happened in decades on the beaches of New Jersey. Starting in 2014, change began to brew and Mel Stultz, the organizer of the event began looking for ways to change the event. The Night of The Troglodytes drew the attention and interest of motorcycle and hot rod enthusiasts, as well as kicking off the weekend of battling with the sands. Among those who were interested and looking to do something new was Vicki Scheller.
The very definition of tradition starts with one generation, and continues to live on through another. Whatever the tradition may be, goes from the older generations to the younger ones, and can be anything from the foods we make for special occasions to the way we dress. At the Fifth Annual Race of Gentlemen, traditions have become solidified, not just within the Oilers Car Club/Motorcycle Club, but also between and from the racers and spectators.
Riding motorcycles is not for everyone. I consider myself a four wheeler all the way, but in the tried and true fashion of “don’t knock it ‘till you try it,” I gave it a shot, and it certainly opened a new world to me. The weekend the Fourth Annual Race of Gentlemen was supposed to be held also happened to coincide with Hurricane Juaquin, which lead to a very unique set of circumstances. Seeing that some bikes had made a dash for the sands in the middle of the weather, I took chase, running down the streets of Wildwood in order to get a chance to run out and see some bikes on the sand a week early. It also gave me a chance to meet and spend some time with Ed Scheller, Vicki’s husband, and Vicki herself, watching some work be done to her 11:11 bike, along with getting a ride on Ed’s bike.
Whether you’re at the handlebars or riding bitch, even I will go so far as to admit that riding a motorcycle is an experience. As the owner of a convertible, I can certainly appreciate the wind in my hair, the feel of the road and being one with the machine, but any motorcycle turns that experience up to 11. I may just naturally default to wanting four wheels under me, but after riding on that chopper, it opened the doors to a completely different world. It’s not unlike how owning an SL Class Mercedes opens the doors to a wealthier social group, but the motorcycle is far more visceral.
The Race of Gentlemen itself is an experience. If you’ve ever just gone to the beach, you would immediately notice that just walking across sand can wear you out after a while, and if you’ve ever gone to Wildwood, you’d know that just walking from the boardwalk to the edge of the water is enough to warrant snack time and a nap. Driving a car across the sands is no walk in the park, but the racers on motorcycles are a different breed altogether. The old bikes are all suicide shifters and hand clutches, so there’s no margin for error. Every rider will stall, every rider will come close to or fall down on the sands. It’s the camaraderie of everyone around you that keeps everyone in good spirits and having fun. Not a single racer made it into the staging lines without something breaking, stalling or running out of gas during at least one of their years at TROG. The sands are unforgiving. The hot weather, winds and sand blowing all over are no motivation for the vintage cars or bikes to stay running. For the racers themselves, they’re able to bond with each other knowing that they’re all in it for the experience, win or lose.
For the past 12 years, Vicki Scheller has been riding a rigid panhead chopper, and after attending Night of The Troglodytes back in 2014, the hunt for a 45CI Harley Davidson was on. She and her husband had a friend with a bike, and while it wasn’t for sale, after a little begging and some promises that it would be raced on the sand, the Schellers had found themselves to be the new proud owners of the right bike for the task. After enough practicing and determination, they loaded up their trailer and made the six hour trip from Pennsylvania to the bottom of New Jersey.
In 2015, hurricane Juaquin had pushed the races back a week, which gave Vicki and all of the other riders an extra week to head out onto the sand and get a feel for just what they would be up against. Being such a tight knit group of racers and ultimately friends, it was an extra week well spent partying and riding together. They may have been racing for the win, but up until the actual races, and even in the pits, it was nothing strange at all to see Rick Petko chatting away or even turning wrenches on a fellow racer’s bike. Even all the way through the winter with The Frozen Few racing on ice, these racers find themselves even closer to each other, fighting the sand together once again.
Just as the races were about to begin in 2015, Vicki took a bad spill on her bike before making it out to the pit area. A trip to the Emergency Room left her with staples in her scalp and a dent in the tank on her 11:11 bike, a reminder that The Race of Gentlemen is far from being gentle itself. She made it back and was able to hang out in the pits, but wasn’t able to race alongside Jessi Combs and the other women who made history being the first women to race in the event. Being a yearly tradition, Vicki would have another chance in this year to bring her 11:11 bike to battle the sands.
Vicki’s Harley Davidson is run with the 11:11 numbers as a reminder of one of her personal traditions, and in memory of her late son Mickey. Anyone who follows the 12 hour format clock will see 11:11 happen twice a day. Vicki and her son would always use that opportunity to make a wish if they saw the clock when it happened. After his passing, her Harley’s number stands out in a crowd of 45CI bikes getting ready to race on the sands, and proudly shows a way that traditions persist, and are able to take new forms. For anyone racing or walking around pits at TROG, the 11:11 plate received plenty of attention from people who said 11 was their favorite number, to people who just noticed how different it was from many of the other bikes rumbling away, waiting for their next run down the Wildwood beach.
As I wrote several months ago regarding last years event, and women finally participating in the races, “the sands are tough, but the women are tougher.” Vicki Scheller was back with the 11:11 bike, fixed up and ready to compete, but still proudly sporting the dent in the tank from last years races as one of its battle scars. This year, Vicki made it out to the sands, walked the track with the other racers, and raced hard alongside Brittany Olsen and Karen Howell, two other women racing motorcycles at the event. While Brittany and Karen may have had a bigger group to keep their bikes going and run around with them, Ed Scheller, Vicki’s husband, had her bike rock solid for the two days of racing.
Once all of the for-fun races were out of the way and the bracket racing began on Sunday, Rick Petko found himself lined up against Vicki. Since Rick is a veteran rider and builder, he ripped down the line, but despite taking the win, also marked the very first bracket race for Vicki. She was out of the actual races. Despite being bumped out of the bracket early on, Vicki had won against the sands. She can proudly say that she is one of the Women of TROG. Standing proudly next to Jessi Combs, Brittany Olsen, Karen Howell and several other women who took on the challenge, determined to be part of the tradition that The Race of Gentlemen has become.
Just as all events become traditions and develop along the way, The Fifth Annual Race of Gentlemen had an all new attraction, the Wall of Death. A 30 foot wide, 8 foot tall circle that was ridden on, not with just a smaller, lighter, newer bike, but true to the time period, a big and heavy Indian motorcycle. Along with Deathriders, anyone looking to take a trip to the west coast will finally get a chance to experience The Race of Gentlemen on the beaches of Pismo coming this October. The time capsule that is TROG is evolving and becoming a very well oiled machine, ready to take on any beach on any coast.
A few short clips of Vicki Scheller racing and riding on the sands of Wildwood, NJ.
Additional Photos of TROG 2016 on Flickr