Thrill Ride: Inside The Race of Gentlemen

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Being There 

Unique storytelling about one of the greatest motorcycling events in the world. 

When American photographer James Conley photographed a barefoot Mel Stultz gliding his vintage Harley-Davidson onto the beach at the break of dawn in Wildwood, New Jersey, he produced one of the most iconic images of vintage motorcycle culture in action. That image set off a documentary journey spanning several years. 

This book gathers more than 150 images from that journey, taking viewers inside The Race of Gentlemen through the eyes of a documentary photojournalist who also has been able to capture the romance of American motorcycle culture. Trained as a newspaper photographer and also working as a commercial fashion photographer, James presents a unique narrative vision that allows you to participate in all the action.

The What?

The brainchild of Mel Stultz, The Race of Gentlemen started in 2008 with ten members of the Oilers Car Club racing on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey.  A celebration of the American automotive culture of the 1940's the Race has always had strict parameters. Specifically, cars must be American made, and 1934 or older. Motorcycles must be American made and 1947 or older. All vehicles must be stripped down and hopped up for racing—just as they would have been during the beach racing in the 1940's. The idea is simple: find a way to get the maximum out of these vintage vehicles and push them to their limit by drag racing them at high speeds on a beach. “We pick the fastest, baddest, coolest bikes all across the world,” Stultz says.

Racers often spend an entire year preparing for their shot at bragging rights. That they're committed is never a question: despite the investment of time and money required to bring a seventy-year old vehicle to life, there is zero reluctance at driving them into the sand and salt water surf. Then, they spend two days racing the cars and motorbikes down a quarter-mile stretch of beach.

The dedication is not just from the racers, either: for two days straight, Mel's partner, Sara Francello, jumps to start each and every race. 

Although TROG is definitely centered around the Racers, Mel ensures that the event is a spectacle. There are side shows, along with music and food. 

Years in the Making

An avid motorcyclist, James's interest in The Race of Gentlemen is a personal one. What started out as interest in motorcycles rapidly evolved into a fascination with the men and women who build, maintain, ride, and race their machines. For the past several years James has made the trek to Wildwood, New Jersey to cover the event.  

These journeys have result in an extensive library of images which tell the larger story of The Race of Gentlemen. 

The Project

We envision this book to be large format, and in excess of 130 pages—many of them full spread. The story captures the true essence of TROG—distilling all the action of several years down into a single narrative which takes the viewer into the most meaningful of moments. If you haven't been to the event, it will be like being there. If you have attended TROG, then this book will show you all the things you've been missing.

The Team

This book is being created by a stellar international team. Based in Philadelphia, American James Conley discovered his love for photography at the age of 12, and began documenting his family life with a Canon AE-1. He matriculated university at 16, working for both the campus newspaper and yearbook. By 19, he was shooting for the Nashville Tennessean on a regular basis. James also covered assignments for UPI, the Associated Press, and other dailies such as the Los Angeles Times and USA Today, receiving awards and recognition for his work. James is currently engaged in international projects in Italy and France as well as commissions in New York and Philadelphia. He is a founding member of picture agency Apogeo Photos, Contributor to London-based LoopImages, a Contributor to Barcelona-based age fotostock, an Image Brief Artist, and an iStock Contributor.

While James was responsible for creating the images, the vision and actualization of this book is in the hands of a skilled Briton. Paul Hayes-Watkins studied and trained as a graphic designer, graduating from Maidstone College of Art in 1985 with a BA hons in information and editorial design. Since then, he's pursed a design career exclusively in magazines working on titles including GQ, The Telegraph magazine, Clothes Show, Taste, and Saga magazine. Paul is the Art Director and overall editor on this project. Paul brings not only his decades of professional publishing experience to this book, but he is also the proprietor of Grizzly's Custom Bike Shop in Folkestone, England.

 

James Conley, on assignment in Paris.

Paul Hayes-Watkins relaxing in his element at Grizzly's.