When Harley-Davidson scion Willie G. Davidson saw The Race of Gentlemen event in Wildwood, New Jersey, a few years ago, he reportedly told the event’s founder, Mel Stultz, III, “We need to bring this to Milwaukee!”
Stultz and his cohorts had revived a legendary West Coast hot rod and motorcycle outfit known as the Oilers Car Club, and had been running retro-styled beach races on the Jersey Shore for seven years.
Using primarily stripped down, pre-war Harley-Davidson Flathead motorcycles and evocative period attire, they created an immersive and authentic event similar to the retro-themed racing seen in Europe.
The club’s acute aesthetic has proven extremely popular with both older Harley enthusiasts as well as young traditionalists, providing a cultural magic bullet bridging the chasm of Harley’s changing customer demographics.
Harley’s 115th anniversary celebration offered a perfect opportunity to partner with TROG, and Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach provided the sublime venue.
The beach’s art deco landmark bathhouse was artfully strewn with period-looking banners and bunting and gave a great vantage over the quarter-mile oval laid out in the soft sand.
Emphasis on “soft” sand. The Milwaukee beach does not have the stability of the tidal-compacted Jersey Shore, so steamrollers and water trucks were brought in to groom the track between heats.
The grooming helped, but the racing still proved challenging. Bikes stuck in deep ruts cut into the turns and threw long rooster tails of sand, much to the delight of the crowd.
A number of local riders came over from the Flat-Out Friday indoor short-track races and helped to fill the various classes for a full day of racing. In addition to The Race of Gentlemen 45” Flathead bikes, there were classes open to Vintage Sportsters, Hooligan bikes, Harley Employees and Harley Dealerships.
Racer Kevin Baas, a Wisconsin native teaching in Minnesota, brought out his 1939 Harley Knucklehead that he had built from parts collected throughout the years. He had been invited to participate in the “Hollywood” class in TROG in years past, but only now was able to attend this inaugural event closer to home.
Along with pit support Taber Nash, the two formed The Cast Iron Leakers team, a reference to his heavily patinated motorcycle.
“This sand is tough on the bikes. It pretty much gets everywhere,” said Nash, “But the racers worry about that later. When they’re here, they just go for it.”
Harley-Davidson and the Milwaukee Parks Department went all in to make the event as grand as possible, including a water-cannon salute from the Milwaukee fireboat and a flyover by a local squadron of historic aircraft.
Thousands of spectators attended the free event, making it one of the most memorable activities in the week-long calendar of Harley’s 115th anniversary celebration.