DAYTONA BEACH — Jeep owner and longtime brand loyalist Darren Falk won’t be heading to Jeep Beach until Friday, but he made the trip from St. Augustine early enough Monday to be first in line when registration for the event began at noon at Daytona International Speedway.
“I didn’t want to wait until Friday to do it because it’s going to be very busy here soon,” said Falk, 52, a retired recruiter who has been a fan of Jeeps since he was a teenager.
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At noon, he had plenty of company on Monday’s official opening day of the weeklong event that runs through Sunday in Daytona Beach.
Hundreds of Jeep fans waited in a line behind him that snaked through a parking lot filled with an array of colorful custom vehicles that continued to arrive in a steady stream at Speedway’s Gate 70 entrance on Midway Avenue.
A quick scan of license plates illustrated the broad appeal of the event: New York, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ontario, Canada, among many others.
Why are they coming?
“It’s camaraderie,” said Falk, who recently purchased and refurbished a 1985 Jeep CJ-7, the same model year he once drove in high school. Now he takes his two sons there on a road trip.
“Just being able to get off the road is part of the attraction,” said Falk, who invested $20,000 in adding upgrades to the vehicle. “I love taking them to the Ocala National Forest. We pack a cooler and make a day of it. It’s my toy.
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“We love our Jeeps”
The bond between Jeep owners is also a key part of the event’s appeal for Jen Schmidt, who headed to Jeep Beach for the fourth time with her husband, Jeff, from Cincinnati in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. shiny black torque.
“Jeep owners are all the same,” she said. “We love our Jeeps and it’s good to see what people can do with them. Each of them (custom vehicles) is different.
On Monday, that was evident in a diverse, albeit true-to-brand, assortment of vehicles decorated with everything from giant inflatable rubber duckies to giant American flags and skeleton passengers hoisting beer mugs. In the performance department, upgraded accessories ranged from heavy-duty suspensions to custom light bars and wheels fitted with tank treads instead of tires.
“It all adds up,” Fred Wendt, 54, of Waterford, Michigan, said of the investment in extras he and his girlfriend, Teri Mizinski, have made in his Jeep Wrangler Sahara. To emphasize this point, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the message “I work to support by gf’s Jeep”.
The shirt was the same retina-burning bright orange hue as the custom “Orange Crush” paint job on the couple’s Jeep, nicknamed “Chester” after the animated snack mascot for Cheetos.
“They only made this color for two years,” Wendt said.
Additional custom features include upgraded bumpers, raised suspension, winch, fuzzy orange steering wheel cover and dual “eyeball” headlights complete with eyelashes.
“The headlights shine through them,” said Teri Mizinski, Wendt’s girlfriend. A lifelong fan of the car brand, she bought Chester, her first Jeep, two years ago. “I’ve always wanted one; and this is my first and only Jeep. It’s totally me.
Jeep is having fun for a good cause
Such devotion is the driving force behind Jeep Beach, said Charlene Greer, Executive Director and Event Chair. Now in its 19th year, the volunteer-powered Jeep Beach has become an annual event loved both for its positive impact on tourism and its focus on raising funds for area charities.
Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity in 2017, Jeep Beach has donated more than $2.8 million to area charities over the past decade through the event’s annual week-long fundraising efforts. Recipients include Boys and Girls Clubs of Volusia and Flagler Counties; the NASCAR Foundation; the Childhood Cancer Foundation, as well as more than 30 other nonprofit groups.
In 2021, Jeep Beach raised $500,000 for nonprofits Volusia and Flagler, more than any other year in the event’s history.
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This year’s Jeep Beach is set to continue that momentum, Greer said Monday.
The event is expected to attract some 200,000 visitors and about 20,000 Jeeps, she said. On Monday, she estimated that around 5,000 Jeeps were already in town.
“We’re already seeing huge crowds,” she said. “Things are looking great. COVID is over and the floodgates are open. Who wouldn’t want to come to the most famous beach in the world, lower the roof and take a beach cruise? We expect huge growth .