For their fourth year running, third year in Wildwood specifically, the Oilers car club held their annual Race of Gentlemen event. Delayed by a full week due to hurricane Juaquin, the racing was pushed from the 3rd and 4th to the 10th and 11th of October, 2015.
Because all of the plans got dismantled from the week prior, I had to hit the road myself extremely early to watch the kickoff of the races. I left my house at about 4:30am for the near 3 hour drive down to nearly the bottom of the state. After basically no traffic, and a gorgeous looking sunrise that I just arrived in time to catch, I had parked and started my trek down Atlantic Avenue, following the sounds and smells of vintage motorcycles, fire breathing four bangers and flathead V8s. The racing, though it didn’t even start yet, managed to lose one participant before the tide even rolled out.
The races officially changed forever when the flag dropped for the first time Saturday morning. Four years running, and for the first time ever, women were participating as racers in the event. Though women weren’t part of kicking off the races, there were several women who were preparing to line up and beginning work in the pits to get their cars ready. There were independent racers and famous sponsored entries. Together these women made history because The Race of Gentlemen was no longer Gentlemen alone.
Jessi Combs, one of the fastest women in motorsports, was invited and sponsored by Craftsman tools to race in one of the most unique vehicles to ever line up on the sand. Craftsman stretched a Model T frame and then stuck on not one, but two four bangers. From the hand built cars to the clean restorations that were seeing the sands for the first time in decades, the Model T with twin four bangers is by far among the most unique cars made for the event, and the car was built to be period correct for the early 1900’s.
Jessi wasn’t the only woman racing in the sands though. She was joined by around 6 or 7 other women who came to the sands to prove that all the toys of motorsports were for everyone. Whether the cars or bikes were purpose built or just the weekend toys that were taken out for just another adventure, everyone was there to have fun. Some of the women had strong motorsport ties, others like Vicki Scheller were out to experience the sands for the very first time. Many of the racers were returning from previous years, and they had a pretty good knowledge of how to launch when the flags dropped, while a good many more were out to experience the sands for the very first time. Everyone who was out there had spent both days of the races learning that the sands were a force to be reckoned with.
From the weekend prior, when racers were first arriving in the Wildwoods, they were struggling with Hurricane Juaquin and sands blowing everywhere. Most of the cars were doing well, but a good few were putting up a fight. Some of the racers who went out on the sands to put on a show for early photographers who had no other chance to get shots of racers on the sands had found themselves in quite unfavorable situations. Several racers had found their bikes in need of repair just a week before the races began. Three bikes went onto the sands on October 4, and three bikes ended up getting tucked into the bed of a pickup truck for a trip back to their motels for repairs.
Once the racing began though, most of the cars behaved. Traction problems aside, most were under control. Despite coming from so far with such a unique ride, Jessi Combs’ was kept in good spirit by a positive attitude that could only be matched by Mel Stultz, one of the organizers of the event. Talking to Jessi, she was incredibly honored to be invited to the event, and undoubtably called it the most unique event she has ever attended. The struggles with the twin engined Ford Model T were as bizarre as the steering wheel coming off, to as annoying as moisture affected carburetors, overheating and just tons of trouble getting the car to launch. All problems aside, she arrived to have an incredible time on the sands.
The sands may be tough, but the women are tougher.
The frustration in getting the car to launch however was completely pushed away when Jessi had taken the car for four passes on Saturday, just minutes before the tide began rolling in and putting a halt to the races for day one. That’s when she raced alongside one of the other women on a vintage motorcycle, she had the steering wheel come off on another pass, but overall she made some great passes in the car before the sands had another idea for how the rest of the weekend was going to go. After an early start to the day on Saturday, the twin engined Model T was putting up quite the fight. From the carburetor and battery issues the day before, Sunday left the twin engined T to a Model T with two motors, but only powered by one. The sands were not about to make the races easy for anyone. Jessi may have won events like King of the Hammers or even the Baja, but as she said herself, the sands of the Wildwood beaches were different in every direction, launching well in one area didn’t leave much of a benchmark for anywhere else.
Ed Scheller adjusting the handlebars on Vicki’s bike the weekend before the racing took place
One of the women motorcycle riders, Vicki Scheller had her first ride on the sands before the races were kicked off, as the riders were practicing on the completely unpredictable surface. With her husband and one man pit crew Ed Scheller, they traveled down from Butler, PA to join along with the mischief, mayhem and motorcycles on the beaches. Unfortunately for Vicki, she was unable to participate in the races because she took a nasty spill early Saturday morning, which resulted in a trip to the ER and four staples. Fortunately, Vicki was in good spirits and despite the situation, she spent Sunday walking around the event showing that the women would not be brought down easily. The sands may be tough, but the women are tougher.
Vicki Scheller’s 11:11 bike after an early morning spill on Saturday
Vicki Scheller and Jessi Combs Sunday afternoon
The weekend marked not just an incredible experience, but history in the making for The Race of Gentlemen. With many of the women who participated eager and waiting for next year to come back to the beaches and leave their mark once again. The racing was more than just about winning, the camaraderie and experience were worth more than anything else that anyone could have brought by to race. Visitors and special guests like Jessi Combs, Rick Petko, and even a star from Counting Cars make The Race of Gentlemen an evolving staple of New Jersey car culture, an event that should be considered a requirement for everyone who considers themselves an auto enthusiast on the east coast. The vintage metal, the straight piped bikes and the magic brought by the Oilers into Wildwood is one of the absolute best automotive events in the United States, if not the world.
For more information about the Oilers and The Race of Gentlemen, visit their website http://www.theraceofgentlemen.com/about-oilers.h….
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