WILDWOOD - Travis Hess, a 37-year-old custom automotive painter from West Virginia, had just raced his 1928 Model A Ford Flathead V8 along the water's edge on a sunny Saturday afternoon, feeling the hand-built machinery sliding atop the sand.
Dozens of these modified pre-World World II autos drag raced in pairs in The Race of Gentlemen, an old-school throwback to beach racing down a one-eighth mile stretch of sand.
"I don't use the term epic much, but to see all these old cars running on the beach, it's really cool," said Hess, after removing his helmet and emerging from his Ford. "If you'd squint, you'd think it's 1945."
Women waved checkered flags to start the races, the second year for the unique event in Wildwood, founded by the Oilers Car Club.
The Race of Gentlemen, which charges an admission fee, continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Wildwood on the beach near Schellenger Avenue.
The nostalgic charm of the vintage automobiles and motorcycles was not lost on organizers or the show's announcer, who wore a blue suit and white hat, with a cigar clenched in his fingers.
"Some of these machines are very, very old," he said in an old-timey accent to the crowd who watched from behind a fence on the beach. "They don't like to start sometimes, or run."
The event's website touts, "The Race of Gentlemen invokes a bygone era when men built cars to push their skills-and their love of speed - using parts pulled from other cars or fabricated by hand in their backyards and home garages."
For some of those participating, the beach races were the first time to see their machines in action.
"How fast can it go? I'm not really sure," said Jim Loughlin, 30, of Jamesburg, Middlesex County, who just finished building his 1927 Model T Roadster last week.
But for a few pieces, the 70-horsepower, single-seat racer was built by hand. Loughlin molded the distinctive body from sheets of metal. Nothing on the car is newer than 1948, said Loughlin, a gas company worker.
It took about six months and $7,000, he said.
"I spent a lot of nights - up until midnights last week - trying to get it done for this. Yesterday was the first time we drove it," he said.
Loughlin towed the car from his North Jersey home to Wildwood - about 130 miles - with his 1953 Chevy.
Dave Carter built his 1929 Ford Roadster with pre-World War II parts purchased at swap meets, on EBay and from acquaintances.
"I've been working on it for nearly two years, from a pile of sheet metal to something that actually moves under its own power," said Carter, 33, of New Castle, Pa., a semi-truck mechanic.
Building his Roadster cost about $20,000, he said.
"It takes an effort. It costs money and takes time, but if you spread it out over a couple of years it's not so bad," he said.
And its speed?
"I've had it up to 62 or 63 (mph)," he said. "I know it's got more, but I haven't pushed it up to that. Maybe find out today."
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