The “Wildwood” – what a perfect name for a place that hosts a two day drag race of classic motorcycles and cars on a beach…and wild it was! We braved the storms and headed down from New York City on a borrowed motorcycle to see what was going on at the Oilers Car Club (Est.1947) and ‘The Race of Gentlemen’.
I must admit I lived out some of my American movie fantasies that weekend. Staying in a ‘Motel’ for the first time, which had a mini-golf course in the lobby, 50’s style palm-tree wall paper everywhere and it was situated across the street from an old Irish biker bar – with rows of “hogs” lined up and down the strip revving away – “Welcome to Wildwood you skinny Brit”!
The paddock was full of old Indian motorcycles (with suicide shifters), classic pre 1940’s Harleys, Belly-tankers, hotrods, customs, and wonderful handcrafted oddities (like a 1920’s race car partly made with a space frame and wrapped in leather, the gentleman/owner who was racing it had come up from the South and looked the part, in a checked 3 piece suit, bushy mustache and driving gloves) – each would race against each other over the 2 days. I don’t think anyone cared who won, it was very much pure racing for the thrill of racing.
The simple drag strip was marked out by 4 beacons (start line – finish line), with an umpires tower and only a thin wooden fence that separated the crowd from….sudden death!!! Well, maybe a very slow death – as it turns out sand is a pretty hard surface to race on and more often that not, the vehicles would sink into the wet stuff and helpers, photographers and drivers would need to jump up to help push bikes across the start line. My one piece of advice for drag racing – it’s all about the start, if you can beat the other guy in the first 50 yards, you’re golden.
My hat goes off to the lady with the starting flag (one of the most important roles in a drag race), who leapt and turned and thrust the race flag to the ground with every starting pistol, time and time again. Luckily it seemed she was kept in good spirits with an occasional cocktail from the Umpires tower.
It was a great race, rare racing machines and a very friendly crowd – the races were forced to stop each day by the rising tide, which was continually reducing the width of the race track over the course of the day. As the sun-set over the race track it was a good chance to meet the drivers, drink ice-cold American beer and dance around the bonfire.