Riding the Jeep wave

Thousands participate in 16th annual off-road vehicle celebration


A Jeep kicks up some mud as it makes its way through a puddle at Jeeptoberfest at the Market of Marion in Belleview.

Lisa Crigar/Correspondent
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.

BELLEVIEW - Jeep lovers by the thousands flocked to the Market of Marion last weekend to celebrate all things Jeep at the 16th annual three-day Jeeptoberfest hosted by the Ocala Jeep Club and Phillips Chrysler Jeep Dodge.

One fan came a long distance to join the fun.

“I flew 16 hours to get home from Afghanistan to Greenville, S.C. We drove our Jeeps eight hours to get here,” said Tim Gilliand, 37, a U.S. Marine on leave from his job as a crew chief at a helicopter base in Afghanistan.

“I'm on leave until Nov. 4, so my wife, Renee, and my brother and his wife decided to come to Jeeptoberfest. We heard about it from our friend Rusty Krumm who lives here,” Gilliand said.

Renee Gilliand said she loved traveling on the one-mile “stock,” or easy off-road course, one of three courses built by Ocala Jeep Club volunteers on the north end of the Market of Marion grounds.

The other two courses were the half-mile intermediate, or modified, Jeep course and the quarter-mile extreme or “Monster Mash” course where drivers of highly specialized Jeeps forded a 12-foot-deep ditch, boulders and a tangle of concrete traffic barriers.

For Colleen Mullins of Mount Dora, the Jeep attraction is all about the “Jeep wave.”

“Driving a Jeep makes you feel free. It puts a smile on your face. It's a lifestyle. The first time I drove one it took me a bit to realize other Jeep owners were waving at me,” Mullins said.

Participants and spectators looked over the wide variety of Jeeps — from radical, 40-inch-tall tire mud buggies to comfortable air-conditioned family sedans.

John Thomas of the Citrus County Jeep Club came to Jeeptoberfest with his unusual 1962 MC 150 Forward Control Jeep van, which sports a half-ton pickup-style bed.

Terri Connelly, 48, with the Orlando Jeep Club, had fun taking youngsters for rides on the stock course in her custom Jeep “Tigger.”

“Our club has about 150 Jeeps here this weekend. The Orlando Jeep Club raised about $5,500 for charity recently,” Connelly said as she rolled by with passengers Parker Mattson, 11, Aristid Mendonca, 12, and Jared Cone, 12.

The Orlando club took the trophy for most Jeeps entered in this year's Jeeptoberfest, said Chip Goodson, Ocala Jeep Club vice president.

Goodson said the event hosted 1,350 Jeeps overall and 6,000 or more spectators.

“We were able to donate $25,000 to local charities last year from Jeeptoberfest. We hope to exceed that this year,” Goodson said.

The 2013 Jeeptoberfest benefits Interfaith Backpack 4 Kids program, Hospice of Marion County, Ronald McDonald House and Kimberly's Cottage, Goodson explained.

“We want to thank the Market of Marion and Phillips Chrysler Jeep Dodge,” Goodson said.

A & A Trucking and Excavation donated the use of heavy equipment and an operator for the event,

Goodson, 37, a mechanical engineer at E-One fire apparatus manufacturing, drives a 1986 CJ 7.

“There is a lot of brand loyalty to Jeep. The manufacturer has tried to maintain (a connection) to the original design, which started in World War II,” Goodson said. “We call ourselves 'Jeepers' because we have a passion and addiction for these vehicles.”

About 15 Jeeps from the Tampa-area Trail Monkeys Club came to Jeeptoberfest, according to member Joe Rumley, 33, who attended along with his wife, Rustie, and daughter, Lexi, 13.

“A Jeep has the ability to take family and friends together anywhere and enjoy being outside,” Rumley said.

Dan Ganzel, 53, and his family were with a group form the Jupiter Jeep Club.

“It's a family affair,” said Ganzel, owner of a late-model Scrambler Jeep.

Ocala Jeep Club founder Steve Felder was pleased with the turnout.

Felder said the group started with a Christmas light parade in 1995.

“We met at the old Cook's Department store (now the Public Library on Silver Springs Boulevard).

Felder, who has the distinctive Jeep grille and logo tattooed on his upper right arm, said his love affair with Jeep started when he was a youngster in South Florida.

“They used Jeeps there to mow the sides of the highways. I had Jeep toys, and my mom said I had a Jeep in my hands when I was born,” said Felder, 54.

Chris Giancola, 42, and his girlfriend, Renee Birdsong, came from Sorrento and Edgewater for Jeeptoberfest in Giancola's 1999 Cherokee, which has picked up a couple dings on its fenders during off-road adventures.

“Those dings are badges of honor,” in the Jeeper world, Birdsong said.

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