Just show up and say hi. It's February, 2016. The location is the 1 Moto Show in Portland, OR where Erik Jutras shows up at our booth, introduces himself and says '...hey, if you ever need someone to shoot for ya, I'm your man.' Now this wouldn't be the first time someone has asked to do this sort of thing for us but then Erik did another thing, he followed up. It was winter at the time and with that came the usual silence of the moto world. A few months later talks of TROG 2016 would break the silence as the show organizers announced an east and west coast version of this spectacular race. As we usually do, we deployed GodSpeedCo. co-founder Allan Glanfield to New Jersey to capture the sights & sounds of the event (check out our previous blog post HERE if you haven't already done so).
Months later, TROG Pismo Beach, CA would be upon us and guess who dropped an email in our inbox? Yup, Mr. Erik Jutras, or @mr_pixelhead as he likes to call himself. Not wanting to miss the inaugural running of TROG WEST and having a few connects in the industry (thank you Sasha of CaferacerXXX), we were fortunate enough to get the highly coveted photographer press pass for E. What follows, in his own words and photos was the outcome. Although the races were cut short due to weather, Erik managed to capture some of the most breath-taking images we've seen thus far and for that we're thankful. Moral of the story: show up, say hi and stay connected. Great things can come from it. - GSCo.
From as far back as I can remember, the machines of days past have always intrigued me. As a young teenager, I was fascinated with all things flight, finding inspiration in the sleek design of the warbirds that fought in the skies during WWII - the P-51 Mustang and the P-38 Lightning to name a few. These interests evolved and expanded over the following years into an obsession for speed and vintage aesthetics (I realized that I should have been born in an earlier era). Naturally, classic motorcycles became my new passion.
So, befittingly, the moment I first learned about The Race of Gentlemen I knew I would some day have to make it to the sands, most likely with a vintage camera in hand, donning some old-timey apparel. Disappointingly, I narrowly missed the New Jersey races when visiting family back east, but imagine my excitement when I heard that TROG was taking over the west coast and only a mere 3 hour drive from my home base of San Francisco. I couldn’t buy tickets fast enough.
Finally October rolled around and TROG weekend was upon us. I packed and re-packed all of my camera gear, making sure I had every last lens as I played over in my mind the race scenes I hoped to capture out at Pismo Beach. 20mm wide-angle, 24-70mm, 70-200mm telephoto, prime 50mm, 3 memory cards, extra batteries, medium-format film camera, extra rolls of film, flash, Go-Pro, point and shoot camera, I packed it all. Everything but a poncho...and imagine my disappointment (and a bit of stress) to find out that rain was forecasted for the whole weekend, yes, rain for California. Despite this news I wasn’t going to sweat the details or let anything soak my Pismo-bound buzz.
Equipment in hand, I set off on my road trip south along the coast arriving to Pismo’s shores late Thursday night. When I awoke on Friday morning, there were nothing but sunny blue skies overhead - maybe we all had lucked out and the weather man just blew it once again! I cruised over to the campgrounds at Grover Beach, where TROG was hosting its racers, to check in and get my press pass. I didn't take more than 5 steps into the place before snapping pictures of the scene right and left. At every campsite on the grounds there were either vintage hotrods, trailers, or motorcycles, and sometimes all three. It was almost overwhelming to the senses- sights, sounds and smells. Engines backfired in attempts to ignite, and the air quickly filled with the familiar and comforting smell of rich exhaust and burnt oil fumes.
Everyone was welcoming, jovial and buzzing with laughter. Folks were happy to engage in hearty conversations about the machines they drove or trailered there from near and far. I could tell I was amongst a close-knit community, one where old friends reunited and new friendships were being forged, all over the love of the details of these custom machines. 2 wheels or 4, both were equally admired. An endless array of patinas and hand-painted lettering adorned the paint of countless bike tanks and cars’ sidedoors and hoods. The gorgeous details of exposed hotrod engines gleamed in the sun and the 100 year old residual build up of oil and gasoline on Harley flathead engine cases drew the wonder of those who set their sights on them. I was getting my fill and it was only day 1.
Race Day: As Saturday morning rolled around, unfortunately so did the rain. I MacGyvered up some waterproof camera protection out of some ziplock bags so I could set out for the races and not worry about anything but getting the perfect shot. I threaded my way through the sandy parking lot which was filled to capacity with vintage cars and trucks, and made my way through the large crowds of excited spectators. Finding a good vantage point proved challenging enough as the sidelines were stacked 5 people deep all elbow to elbow. I found my spot and pressed the shutter button to capture the racers starting to come down the road into the pit. They were being instructed by TROG officials on how to handle the angle and speed of the sandy and wet ramp. Many made it through successfully to the unified cheers of the crowd, while others stalled in the foot-deep sand as fellow racers rushed over without hesitation to help push them along.
Conditions weren’t supreme so it took racers a good amount of time to all get to the pit. While the start of the race was delayed an hour, spirits were still high and the crowd cheered on each and every racer coming down the line. Once all the vehicles had all made it into the pit, officials started to close the gates and there was a mad rush of the press to get behind the gate. Luckily I was one of few to make it in and there I was able to capture the racers prepping their rides, hanging out and socializing with each other, and posing for the many other photographers covering the event. Motorcycles were set to race first, the riders began to gratefully pushed their way across wet, hardpacked sand towards the starting line. Crowds formed behind the barriers along the sideline, the entire length of the course.
The sight of renowned riders such as Matt Walksler, “Sushi” Akashi Yasui, Scott Jones, Shinya Kimura and many more all donning their leathers, their vintage wool racing sweaters, linesman boots, and helmets as they sat atop their bikes, along with the sounds of their engines idling in unison stopped me in my tracks. Standing amongst them all in the haze of exhaust smoke and the falling rain, I felt like like I was in the middle of a motorcycle regiment preparing for battle. In that moment, I was grateful to witness such a truly unique experience, one that felt timeless.
As the TROG official motioned to them to advance, the first two riders crept to the start line. I aligned myself behind them, itchy finger on the shutter trigger, as flag girl Sara Francello aka @ratherbeagypsy made her way in front of them carrying her checkered race flag. The west coast inaugural of the Race of Gentlemen was poised to begin! Co-founder of Born Free, Grant Peterson and Elias Klein revved their engines and with the highest of jumps and a kick, Sara dropped the flag signaling the start. The racers let loose two sandy rooster tails as they sped off down the beach.
Wave after wave of alternating hotrod and bike races followed, and I continued to capture the roaring action occurring all around me. As I stood further out on the beach to capture the entire scene, the tide aggressively lapped at my boots several times, and I found myself wondering how long we had until it would inevitably interfere with the races. For now, there was still plenty of action, so I just continued shooting.
Eventually, soaking wet from a heavy downpour, I made my way inside Fin’s, a restaurant located beachside to dry off and edit my pictures. And have a damn beer. I took a pull of from my glass while anxiously plugging in my card reader to see what images I had captured that rainy afternoon. A smile grew on my face with every new image that appeared on my screen. I edited a batch and sent them off to Chris of Godspeed Co for a takeover of CafeRacerXXX’s feed that weekend.
Soon after, the officials called the race an hour early due to the heavy weather and increasing tide. There would be no bonfire and I’m sure to the dismay of thousands, Sunday’s races were called off later on also. Mother nature, the party pooper. The following morning, the sun taunted everyone but the relentless tide reached the barriers where the crowds had once stood covering the entire beach, and the staging area of the pits where over 150 racers had congregated with their machines the day prior, was now underwater.
While it was a short lived event due to the weather, I felt humbled and grateful to have witnessed what I did that Saturday, as I’m sure many others did as well. My thoughts go out to any of the racers who didn’t get the opportunity to race, as many miles were covered in the exodus to Pismo Beach. But at least there’s always next year. Here’s to a great first TROG in the west, and to many more to come.
Many thanks to Sasha at CafeRacerXXX and the guys at The Godspeed Co. for the opportunity to cover the event, to Mel aka @yeoleghost for dreaming up this amazing Speed laden event, and to all the Gentlemen racers who travelled from all over with their museum worthy machines to partake in the greatest race on earth.
Until the next race,
- Erik Jutras aka @mr_pixelhead, Photographer.