More Than a-Wheelin’

When we first entered the Jeepin’ community as a magazine in the fall of 2017, we were invited by Central Florida’s Blackwater Jeepers to sponsor the first annual Jeeps vs. Harleys event. It was a baptism by fire, and I mean that in the best possible sense. My family, the magazine staff and I quickly learned that the off-road lifestyle is about much more than wheelin’. It’s about enjoying the time we have together while pushing the limits of our abilities and giving back however and whenever possible. It’s a way of life.

Every Jeepin’ event is special, but Jeeps vs. Harleys was our first, so it will always hold a unique place in our hearts and minds. You can only imagine how delighted we were when Coty Byers, Blackwater’s president, asked us to produce the event starting in 2019. It’s an ideal setup. We have learned so much about the Jeepin’ community over the past two years, and my company has been producing automotive industry events from Orlando to Las Vegas for more than 20 years.

You might wonder what we plan to change, and the answer is not much. Jeeps vs. Harleys organizers have already built an enviable following of off-roaders, riders, spectators and vendors. Attendees have a good chance to win a trail- and highway-ready Jeep or Harley, among other raffle prizes, including kids’ toys and gear. The food, the live music, the spirit of charitable giving — none of that will go away on our watch.

Our plan for 2019 and beyond is to get bigger and better. Instead of one starting point for the convoy, we’ll have three. We will also send two lucky winners on an all-expense-paid trip for two to Moab, Utah (for the winning Jeeper) or the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota (for the winning Harley rider). We will invite area Jeep and Harley dealers out to showcase their lineups. We will have more vehicles, more spectators, more vendors, more music, more food and more fun.

So stay tuned to the magazine and our website for updates, and if you are so inclined, spread the word. Everyone is welcome at Jeeps vs. Harleys, an event that celebrates rugged individualism just as passionately as community togetherness. That’s the spirit upon which this magazine was founded, and we couldn’t be happier or more honored to have this opportunity to take a more active role in this amazing event.

JCF Is Going National

You could say it was inevitable. Since it launched from our Tampa offices in early 2017, Jeepin’ Central Florida has been one of the best-kept secrets in the off-road world, read only by a select group of regional Jeep enthusiasts.

Or so we thought. As the months have passed, the issues have mailed, and our online and social media presence has grown, we have slowly begun to realize that JCF is a magnet for Jeepers (and wannabe Jeepers) all over the country.

My wife and son and I have been on two Western adventures: The first was a convoy to Houston in support of a massive Hurricane Harvey relief effort. The second was a bucket list-caliber family vacation to Moab, Utah. We interacted with a number of Jeep groups along the way. Some leaders and members were already familiar with the magazine. Those who weren’t dove right in, reading and sharing articles and encouraging fellow members to subscribe.

We added thousands of new Jeepers to our circulation on those trips and just as many words of encouragement. It was great to hear.
But it doesn’t end there. We have heard from readers as close as Alabama and Georgia and as far as Hawaii and Maine. I have worked in automotive publishing for several decades and launched countless publications. I have never seen any title grow so organically, so fast. I credit our editorial team and the many guest writers who have contributed articles on everything from modifications customizations to winching and spotting.

Despite never marketing our content outside Central Florida, we have readers in every corner of this great nation. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, since these topics are universal. With that in mind, starting with the next issue, Jeepin’ Central Florida will become Jeepin’ Magazine.

If you’re a Central Floridian, you can be assured the magazine will continue to be produced in Tampa and feature writers and subjects from our region. If not, thank you for discovering and supporting our publication. Please join our core audience by staying engaged and reaching out to suggest new topics and ideas.

It’s so important to us that Jeepin’ remains a valuable resource for off-roaders and the communities they dedicate time and resources to supporting, protecting and improving. Thank you for reading.

Condolences Are In Order

As a police officer’s kid, I had a very personal relationship with law enforcement. My father went from the Marines to the police departments of several major cities before he decided we would all be better off in a small town. We moved to Belleair, Fla., and my dad joined a local police force. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and served with pride and distinction as he helped keep our tightknit community safe.

Unfortunately, no police officer serves without risking his or her life. We were all reminded of this when Officer Jeffery Warren Tackett, a 28-year-old member of the Belleair Police Department, was shot and killed in the line of duty on June 13, 1993.

We knew Officer Tackett. Several months after the funeral, I asked another officer how Tackett’s young widow and his family were doing. He was embarrassed. This officer — one of the nicest and most caring members of the department — wanted to visit. But he always hesitated. He didn’t want to be reminded of what could happen to him, nor did his own family. He resolved to check in on her soon.

I was surprised at his response, but I understood. And I was reminded of that conversation recently, when I learned about an organization called COPS, for Concerns of Police Survivors, after sponsoring November’s third annual Krawl’n for the Fallen.

I connected with the president of the West Central Florida chapter, Cindy Roberts, to inquire about making a donation. Cindy is herself a survivor, having lost her husband, Corporal Michael Roberts, in the line of duty on August 19, 2009. She filled me in on what a wonderful organization COPS is and the continuing outreach, support and counseling they offer to grieving families.

You may already know that the magazine is sponsoring the purchase and buildout of an off-road-ready 2005 Jeep Wrangler, which will be raffled off at Jeep vs. Harley in October. Well, we decided to double down. In January, we purchased a 2003 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy with less than 15,000 miles on the odometer. It’s a beautiful bike, and it will join our Wrangler as a raffle prize, with the proceeds to benefit our local chapter of COPS.

Joining the Central Florida Jeepin’ community means tapping into a reservoir of charitable giving many of us didn’t even know we had. The time, money and resources donated by Jeep groups is incalculable. We are happy to do our part, and we can’t wait to see you in October.

Let’s Build a Jeep for Charity

Held last October at Pasco Safety Town in Shady Hills, Fla., Jeep vs. Harley was a huge success. Central Florida Jeepers and Harley riders joined forces to raise $16,000 for charity. They also threw a heck of a party at the end of the convoy.

Jeep vs. Harley was a new event in 2017, and my hat is off to the organizers. Having attended countless Jeepin’ events, however, I couldn’t help but notice one missing piece: a Jeep giveaway. Well, there will be a raffle for a Jeep at this year’s event, and the winner will be the envy of Jeepers everywhere.

I know this because Jeepin’ Central Florida will be the donor, and it’s going to be a real wheelin’ machine, not some pavement princess. We will cut no corners and spare no expense to build our dream Jeep. We are going to make it happen with the help and expertise of our friends from the four Jeep groups that help organize the event: Bear Off Road Alliance, Blackwater Jeepers, Trail Monkeys 4×4 and Tri-County Jeepers.

Anyone who has customized or modified their rig knows that Jeeps aren’t built in a day. This will be a yearlong effort, and we will document it in these pages. In this issue, our scribe, Blackwater member and seasoned mechanic Rob Rose, offers expert advice for buying a used Jeep; we hope to have our own baby in the barn by the time you read this.

Each of the Jeep groups will hold a wrenching party, the magazine will fund the parts and expenses, and we will raffle off the finished product at Jeep vs. Harley 2018 (a.k.a. “The Rematch”) on Oct. 6. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the raffle will be divided among the four groups to donate to the charities of their choice. We want the money we raise to stay local.

The Jeep community has welcomed this magazine and our staff with open arms. I can’t thank you enough, and we all look forward to giving something back. If you needed another reason to participate in this incredible event for worthy causes, you’ve got it. Thanks for reading, and keep on Jeepin’.

Who’s to Stop Us?

Nov. 30 marks the end of what will be one of the most destructive hurricane seasons on record. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean, hundreds of lives and thousands of homes have been lost to wind, rain and flooding.

Those of us who convoyed to Houston in the days following Hurricane Harvey’s landfall (“Houston or Bust: Jeepers Rally for Hurricane Relief,” Sept./Oct. 2017, Page 12) returned just in time to prepare for Hurricane Irma. You no doubt recall the warnings that Irma would affect every part of the peninsula. We did get hammered, but we survived. Many of our fellow Floridians, including those who live in the southern part of the state, were not as lucky.

Our convoy reassembled to deliver to Naples, Fla., extra supplies from the Houston donation drive as well as some newly purchased relief items. The Naples mission turned into a trial run of sorts for what we later named the “Central Florida Jeep Response Team.” Coty Byers of Blackwater Jeepers and I had both been approached by area Jeep group leaders. Everyone wanted to help.

In addition to representatives from Jeepin’ Central Florida, the newly formed team will represent the Jeep groups that were part of the first or second mission. Each group will name a CFJRT captain and a lieutenant who can serve beside them or in their stead. When the opportunity to help arises, those officers will supply however many volunteers and vehicles are needed from each group to successfully execute the mission.

I am pleased to report that the Naples mission went off without a hitch. We were able to deliver the aforementioned supplies as well as home-cooked food to hundreds of hurricane victims in a city shelter, thanks in no small part to one of our members, Brenda Oliver. Brenda stayed up all night cooking lasagna, chicken and yellow rice, goulash and cornbread, and we brought enough hot dogs and canned goods to feed a small army — all delivered by Jeep, truck and trailer.

Much work lays ahead, but, based on everything I know about our community, a spirit of togetherness and selflessness will make the Central Florida Jeep Response Team a continued success. Hurricane season is almost over, but as Jeepers, we are ready to help whenever any emergency arises. Let’s put our vehicles and our team spirit to good use.

Rebels With A Cause

My grandfather taught me to drive the same way he learned: through the fields, in a beat-up work truck, at age 12. It would be several years before I operated an automatic transmission on a paved street. Boring!

I haven’t been Jeepin’ — yet — but I have been off-road, and when this magazine launched, I thought that’s all we would be writing about. It’s a pretty deep well. We would find experts to talk about how to navigate trails, conquer obstacles and winch properly. We would interview Jeepers, techs and suppliers about modifying, customizing and properly maintaining Jeeps, investing in equipment, and testing new products. That’s enough to fill a magazine.

Two issues in, I’m forced to admit I was way off. Off-roading is only the half of it. Jeepers are rugged individuals, but you belong to a community dedicated to volunteer work, fundraising and, at times, supreme self-sacrifice. We are writing and editing articles about Jeepers supporting local causes, aiding search-and-rescue efforts, and leading convoys for hurricane relief. It’s impressive as hell.

Our publisher and Jeeper-in-chief, David Gesualdo, knew all this going in. He’s a Central Floridian and a member of ODT Jeepers. His brother, Eric, volunteers for the Pasco County Sheriff’s search-and-rescue squad and manages sales for Jeepin’ Central Florida. They have seen Jeepers come to each other’s aid at home and on the trail, adopt families at Christmas, raise money for Ronald McDonald House, collect and deliver supplies for the victims of natural disasters, and volunteer time, money and the use of their vehicles to any number of causes.

That’s the spirit that informs JCF. This magazine must serve as an honest reflection of your community and your priorities. In 2018, we will take it to the next level. At David’s behest, we are going to recognize some number of Jeepers of the Year. You will have the opportunity to nominate individuals for their outstanding and selfless efforts and their contributions to any worthy cause in the 2017 calendar year.

Does anyone come to mind? Don’t answer yet, but do give it some thought, and stay tuned. We will keep you updated and let you know when and where to submit your nomination. Until then, ride safe. And if you have an idea for an article, let’s hear it.

Ready to Launch

New trails are the best kind. You never know what obstacles you will encounter. It’s a test of your off-road skills and vehicular capacity. Every success is uniquely triumphant. Every failure is a true learning experience. It’s better than real life.

After 20-plus years in the automotive publishing game, I can tell you there is no greater thrill than assembling the first issue of a new magazine. Jeepin’ Central Florida may have topped them all. There was a lot at stake. Our vision for this magazine was ambitious. We want to be more than an editorial or advertising vehicle. We want to be a resource in the truest sense of the word.

My brother, Eric, and I are dedicated Jeepers, and it’s a passion we share as a family – with our wives, our kids and our dearest friends. It’s easy to make friends on the trail, where everyone is equal. We have seen the mantra of “No Jeep left behind” played out countless times. We have seen how Jeepers from all walks of life band together to come to the aid of charities, law enforcement agencies and each other. Every event we have attended has been tied to a worthy cause.

We have launched many publications and trade shows over the years. They have always been based on detailed business plans with ongoing revenue projections. JCF was very different. Our primary goal is to support the Jeeper community and your causes. We want these pages to be filled with feel-good stories as well as useful, practical advice for building your Jeep and taking it off-road. Thanks to the contributions of experts in the fields of automotive sales, repair and customization, off-road navigation and safety, law enforcement and more, we were able to pull together an inaugural issue to be proud of.

To keep JCF going, we need your help. We need your stories. We need to know about the events you’re organizing and the charities you support. We need your technical expertise, your trail leadership and your advice. We need your war stories. And if you know any advertisers, we need them as well.

So please enjoy this first issue of Jeepin’ Central Florida, and as you peruse these pages, think about what you like and dislike and what you would like to see in the next edition. Then let me know. This is your magazine, after all, and Jeepers are like family. Thank you for reading.