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story and photos by Ray Alexander
Airpark Jeep is in Scottsdale, Arizona, just off Loop 101. The Phoenix area sustains an automotive infrastructure that other cities have lost or killed. These include open areas for off-road, dirt track, a NASCAR track, several drag strips, a boat drag strip and a high performance driving school attended by NASCAR drivers.
The sign that advises entry into Scottsdale tells us there are 15 exits, fourteen of which have shopping malls; in an effort to soothe marital affairs, one leads to a golf course.
It is another bright sunny day in Phoenix but cooler than last year’s event. Construction on Loop 101 impedes my progress and I arrive a few minutes after seven. Jason DeMonto orchestrates this event. I find Jason and he introduces me to Larry Spohn saying, “You are going to be riding shotgun with him.” We are waiting for a few more Jeeps.
Jeep Jamboree 6 has 823 people registered with over 300 Jeeps. There are 133 vehicles signed up for the poker run and they will be divided into several groups. Last year there were 120 and they all made the same run. That didn’t work well.
At around 7:30 we are rolling and are to be back by 3:00; the Loop 101 construction routes westbound traffic onto surface streets. Radio chatter started before the wheels roll. Because we want to be westbound on 101 we are on surface streets, this takes us past a couple of strip clubs. Two ladies were talking about them, addressing the quality of the entertainment; curiously the men didn’t have much to say. When I can stop laughing from the radio chatter, I ask Larry about this Jeep. This is a black ’09 Rubicon; the only modifications are a 2” leveling kit and 33” wheels with the new version of the B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires. The vehicle is amazingly quiet at freeway speed. I had a set of the previous tread design on my van and they were very noisy.
There were no SRT8 Jeeps on the run, so I ask if you guys even consider them as a Jeep. I think the reply was sarcastic: “I will believe it’s a Jeep when I see one fully coated with mud except for a quarter size spot on the windshield for the driver to see out.”
We are going to a corn maze, a walking path has been hacked out of corn that is about 7’ tall and plant spacing is about 4”. A map is provided. I wanted a machete.
I am about the fifth person behind Larry; he is doing a good job of reading the map so I quit looking at mine, big mistake. We encounter a lost group and after exchanging pleasantries Larry continues, but I can’t get through the lost group. Since I haven’t been following the map I am more lost than they are. I have no choice but to follow them and we got lost again. Finally, out of the maze and now you can draw the first card for your poker hand. We will have three more opportunities to draw a card for our poker hand. Each draw is from a full deck of cards. The final draw is back at the dealership. There is a very nice prize awarded for the best hand. I drew the Ace of Clubs.
The second stop is a miniature off-road track for truck races. I am horrid at video games and worse at this. My card is the deuce of hearts. Now a short distance to a hot wings place where you were to eat two hot wings to get the next card. More entertaining radio chatter, people asking if you absolutely had to eat the wings to get the next card? That was verified as true. Then someone ask if it was okay to puke? That worried me a little. The first one was hot but good. The second one is some shade of grey and tastes like it has been cooked in pineapple and flowers. A hot wing should be hot. All of this for a second deuce.
This is where we form into groups and then each group goes a separate way. Here we must wait for all vehicles to arrive. Mall Security is curious. What are all these Jeeps doing here? Larry is the leader for Group C and has 20 in the group; he worked on course layout for a couple of days. He believes it is 10 miles and he can cover it an hour. He thinks the group will need two hours. I am anxious to see this. The day is not getting cooler and I began to look for shade. Ah yes, Phoenix, where they plant trees that give no shade.
Group A has departed, the leader for Group B can’t be located, so Group C is called to stage along the exit road. I notice that David Cesena is in this group; at a distance it looks as if he bought new tires. A closer look reveals that he has sheared all of the knobs that went up the sidewall, giving them a different look. Later, he tells me the tires cost $450 each.
Larry has picked a guy to be the last vehicle in his caravan, he calls him Tail-Gunner; drag and sweep are two printable words used to identify the position. Twenty Jeeps are counted along the exit road and the wagon master; Jason, gives the command, “Move ’em out.” The last time we hear from Tail-Gunner via radio he is exiting the parking lot.
We are on I-17 heading north and Larry tells me a little about the course. It starts along a pipeline road on one exit and comes south to the next exit. We probably never get more than a mile away from I-17. The area is riddled with trails and I make a lot of abrupt turns. “If you see a clean piece of trail in front of you, we ain’t goin there.” We will go through a drainage tunnel under northbound I-17. Larry keeps calling Tail-Gunner. As we get closer he points out some of the trail. Just as speed improves the appearance of a car, distance improves the appearance of a trail.
Now we have reached the exit and pull onto the shoulder of the off ramp. Larry calls Tail-Gunner another 35 times. The time remaining to complete this run keeps falling to the bottom of the hourglass. We must move on. We pull into open land and air down, account for all vehicles, select a new Tail-Gunner and begin to roll. I note the time is 1:20.
Larry has told me that he wants to show people a little of what their Jeep is capable of doing. The first fifteen feet are easy; see this is not so bad. Larry’s trail turns left onto a side hill that leans the Jeep about thirty degrees. The trail has been washed out numerous times leaving a small ravine on the down hill side. The trail is lightly seeded with rocks the size of soccer balls. Now this could cause some deterioration of the drivers seat. We roll down easy, a lot of brake is not a good idea for this situation. We stop on the climb out to watch. Now let me say that on trail Larry does an excellent job of making sure that everyone is together and moving.
We are looking at a line of stopped Jeeps; I am sure a Jeep driver peeked over the top and refused to go down. There are about eight that have yet to negotiate the side hill. One moves and the five behind follow immediately, now we are down to two. The guy directly in front of Tail-Gunner had a really stubborn Jeep. He finally coaxes it over the edge and now we can move on.
During the stop I took some pictures of a Cherokee that had been used hard. I also met Lisa, Lori, Conner and Jane. Jane is driving her Jeep and the others are riding. There are some long gold extensions on her valve stems and I ask, “What are these?”
She replies, “Tire deflators, you just screw them on and they let the air down to eighteen pounds.”
The Cherokee doesn’t move twenty feet before getting a flat. He has a donut for a spare and his day is done. A vendor goes back with him. Moving again I remark to Larry, “We have been at this for an hour.”
He replies, “Oh man, we gotta get moving.”
I can’t take as many pictures as I want because I am being thrown in three directions at once. My wife has complained about being thrown around citing that “you have the steering wheel to hang onto.” I was much better when I found the overhead grab handle, still couldn’t get pics. The Jeeps are now staying in a tight group.
Larry does not miss an opportunity to hit a rock and it need not be straight on. I could feel rocks rolling from under the tread and up the sidewall. It is not uncommon for a trail to divide into two or three trails to get past an obstacle; Larry always takes the most difficult path. We are now on the segment of trail Larry pointed out from the freeway. It looks very different from here.
The final thing that takes time is a drainage tunnel under northbound I-17. The passage is barely wide enough for a Jeep and there is a drop-off at exit into a rock pile. I walk through so that I can get pictures of some of the Jeeps coming out. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
We are now between the north and south lanes of I-17, they are spaced well apart in this area. We meander, finding more rocks and trails that don’t exist. We come back to within 150 yards of the tunnel that we came through. Soon we go through a couple of gates and it is time to air up. We get to draw another card. Conner draws a deuce and creases the card badly while deciding whom he was drawing for. I need that deuce and I watch where he puts it. Before I could cheat a gust of wind blows the cards off the table. I was going to disqualify my draw but now there is no need, I get the Jack of Spades.
I am willing to bet this was the best day of Jane’s life. Childbirth must be excluded. I can’t experience that.
The part of the ride that I liked best was coming down a small wash, dumping into a larger one. There is a tree blocking the trail. The path through is up a steep bank making a very sharp U turn around the tree. This maneuver allows the tree to scratch only the top. We do make it back before 3 P. M.
Ran into the guy that had the flat and the repair people gave him some flack about abuse. The tire says All Terrain; he wasn’t on all of it, only a small piece of one particular type.
Again there are several vendors and one has a trailer with Rubicon on it and two Rubicons outside. Their company is “4 Wheel Parts” but that trailer was down so they took the Rubicon. On Wednesday I saw the other trailer in San Diego.
Young kids have the inflatable playground. Older kids have a dunk tank. Then there are the kids that have Jeeps.
I see a Jeep that is set up differently. It has a spare arrangement like off-road racers use. I notice an air-to-air heat exchanger, I will bet that is for a supercharger and I would also bet that Robbie Gordon could quickly change the shape of this vehicle. Brett owns this vehicle and it is the third Jeep he has bought from Airpark. He is serious about Jeeping.
There is a used Audi R8 sitting on the veranda with a price tag of $47K. A salesman says he took it in trade on an SRT8. Then a few weeks later the guy traded for a BMW. That is a terrible down hill slide. There is only one R8 per million people in the U.S.
A ton of prizes are raffled off. Jane went to a hockey game and she won some electronic wizardry valued at over $400, she couldn’t use it so she gave it to Larry. My last card back at the dealership is another Deuce. It is a good thing this is not a real poker game because I would bet heavily on three of a kind out of five cards total. Late in the day I tell Jason, “If I win something, give it to someone else.”
He tells me, “Don’t worry about it, because you didn’t win anything.”
The ramp climb is going on and they declare a winner but Jason doesn’t believe it. I didn’t see anyone higher on the ramp than David Cesena. He also stayed there a long time because his engine wasn’t running well.
The sun is setting and it is time to go. What a great day!
I went to the LA Auto show where I was not allowed to test drive a Fiat. They are coming to San Diego in a month or so but wouldn’t allow me to drive one there either. I walked into the Fiat studio where a 1941 model is on display. I was met by Damon Ebner. He asked, “What can I do for you?”
I replied, “I would like to test drive a Fiat, I have no intention of buying one but I want to drive one.”
He said, “That doesn’t matter, you can test drive one.” He called Wanda.
She took my drivers license and asks, “Stick or automatic?”
I opted for the stick. She picked a green one and I got her picture beside the car. I am 6’ even and weigh 200 pounds give or take a six-pack. I found my comfort zone before the seat reached end of travel. Out on the main boulevard she told me about the car. Wanda is thrilled to see someone actually able to drive a stick shift; she might not be so thrilled if I demonstrated my heel toe downshift. We turned right then right again, this is when Wanda revealed she has been in Scottsdale only two weeks; we are lost. We come to a fence and behind it is the Scottsdale Airport. From what I can see Sun Valley may have a larger number of planes but these cost more. A couple more circuitous streets and we saw a major boulevard.
This car has nothing in common with the Fiat 850s and 124s of forty years ago. I suggest that the folks writing glowing reports on those cars have impaired memories. The car has a solid feel; in fact I doesn’t feel that I am in a small car. It easily keeps pace with boulevard traffic. The car must be fast because it only has five speeds; my Corvette needs six.
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