2014 Jeep Beach Descends on Daytona
The Easter Jeep Safari is the must-attend event for any diehard Jeep enthusiast, but if you can’t make it out to Moab on Easter weekend, then you might want to start planning a trip to Daytona Beach. After racing fans, Bike Week and Spring Breakers leave, Jeep lovers descend upon Daytona for the annual Jeep Beach event hosted by the Mid Florida Jeep Club. Open to any off-road vehicle (as long as it’s a Jeep), this year’s Jeep Beach marked its 11th year packed with five days of family friendly events from April 23 through April 27 drawing Jeepers from across the country... and even Canada.
Headlining the 2014 Jeep Beach were the two days of events at the Daytona International Speedway on Friday and Saturday. While NASCAR teams tested on the track’s high banks, most of the infield was dedicated to Jeep activities including, of course, the sprawling off-road obstacle course. Drivers had fun putting their rig’s ground clearance, articulation, power and even their own driving skills to the test, and the three lanes of action helped ensure that traffic flowed smoothly. Volunteers helped guide drivers through the trickier portions of the course, and they even had their personal rigs on stand-by just in case someone got stuck or had mechanical problems.
The vast majority – at least 90 percent – of vehicles that participated on the course were Wranglers or CJs, but just about anything that has ever worn a Jeep badge was on hand tackling the man-made obstacles. Jeep sent me its new 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk to put through its paces for the weekend, and it did surprisingly well in stock form along the easier portions of the track. Proving that the new Cherokee is no cute ute, another Cherokee Trailhawk owner was able to traverse more challenging portions of the course simply by adding taller, meatier tires.
Whether it was the funky styling or just the fact that it wasn’t a Wrangler, the new Cherokee received plenty of looks and comments while driving at the Speedway or around town. Overall, it seemed that drivers of older Wranglers and CJs were more accepting to the idea of the born-again Cherokee (one Scrambler driver even gave me the “Jeep wave”), while those driving JKs (usually modified) had a few negative comments to shout. Throughout the weekend, I ended up driving about 500 miles including everything from long interstate jaunts and city driving to beach cruising and obstacle driving, and the 2014 Cherokee finished with 23.7 miles per gallon.
Perhaps the best part of Jeep Beach, though, was how much time organizers had dedicated for participants to drive on the course with the Friday hours being 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spectators are able to get a pretty up-close look at most of the course with a chorus of cheers as a Jeep made it to the top of the rock hill or disappointing “oohs” and “ahhs” as a driver gets stuck, breaks his Jeep or, in one case, obliterates his clutch in a smelly puff of smoke after trying to get over a tire obstacle. There was even a spot where drivers could check the articulation of their suspension in a more controlled environment by driving up onto a trailer equipped with scissor jacks.
There were also lots of vendors on hand gladly peddling their wares, and the variety of the goods and services sold was on par with what you’d expect to see at SEMA – everything from classic replacement parts to full-blown custom pieces. Jeep Beach really had something for everyone, as there was a small area dedicated as a kid zone. And at the end of the day Saturday, there was a massive raffle for no fewer than 20 prizes. To participate in the event, it costs $70 in advance (or $100 closer to the day of the event), and it’s $10 for spectators.
Leading up to the festivities at the Speedway infield, participants can also take place in a scavenger hunt that on Wednesday and Thursday, and there are many other get-togethers during the event including a silent auction, a cruise-in and concert hosted by a local Dodge dealership and various mixers and dinner.
After two days of getting slammed around on the obstacle course, Sunday was all about chilling out at the beach. For most of the morning, hundreds of Jeeps cruised Daytona Beach, and you could see just about any Jeep imaginable, like an unrestored FC, a Wrangler monster truck and, yes, even a TJ that had been lowered. Practically the entire main stretch of drivable beach was filled with Jeeps driving in both directions as well as parked. The weekend wrapped up with a pool party and lunch at the host hotel, The Shores Spa and Resort, where many of the volunteers from the Mid Florida Jeep Club were finally able to get a much-needed break.