After a wildly successful 20th-anniversary event in October, the organizers behind Jeeptoberfest have set the bar high for 2018. Jeepin’ Central Florida caught up with Ocala Jeep Club’s Sean Montanye to learn more about the rich history of the club and the many charities it supports.
Sean, how long has Ocala Jeep Club been around, and what is your role?
It started 21 years ago. Our founding father is Steve Felder, who served as vice president last year, and I’m the current president. We also nominate a secretary and a treasurer when we do our annual renewals in December.
Is Jeeptoberfest your only event?
We also throw a year-end party at Doe Lake, a private property we lease so we can organize the charitable events and our members can enjoy it year-round. That’s also the site of Jeeptoberfest, and we modify the courses during the year to change it up for the event. There’s so much to do out there, including camping, kayaking and fishing.
Lots of trails! I’ve been riding those woods since I was 8 years old. There’s something for every skill level, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even attempt “Carnage Hill” — as long as you have 35-inch tires and lockers. It’s pretty gnarly.
Nuts and Bolts
Sean Montanye is the president of Ocala Jeep Club and sales manager for A-1 Tire Store in Ocala, Fla. OJC hosts the annual Jeeptoberfest, a family-friendly, three-day off-road event held at the Doe Lake Campground in Ocala National Forest.
Who designed the course?
It’s a team effort, but Steve Felder is a very avid off-roader, as are the majority of the people who are hands-on in this club. I personally got started building miniature courses for R/C cars.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Anywhere — you might see something in your head, be inspired by a picture, or have a random dream. Try it, fine-tune it, try a new angle or add dirt or rocks. You have to make adjustments to make it safe for everybody. We let the bigger, longer “minivans” test it first.
You mean the four-door Wranglers?
Right! The four-door JK’s wheelbase is significantly longer, so we’ll test a new obstacle with one of those first. We want to make it comfortable and enjoyable for everybody.
How did you get into off-roading, and what do you drive?
I’ve lived in Ocala pretty much my whole life, and I grew up going trail-riding with my cousins. I was a die-hard Toyota fan for years. My first Jeep was a 1986 CJ-7 that my cousin and I purchased and built together. But I’ll build or drive anything that goes off-road.
How did the idea for Jeeptoberfest come about?
It started as a simple social gathering to get Jeepers together for one cause: the community. The money we raise is donated to multiple charities. Each year we vote on charities to support — one big recipient and five or six smaller causes. Last year, we raised over $125,00 after expenses and costs to put the show on. We normally have about $80,000 to give back.
What kind of equipment and materials does it take to change up the trails for the event?
We rent tractors and excavators to move pilings and piping, and we budget a certain amount of money to buy concrete to build more permanent structures. Some of the ponds on the courses now have concrete bottoms. We know all those structures won’t wash away, we get good traction, and we don’t leave a bunch of ruts.
Just how big is this place?
Our moderate course is over 2½ miles long. That’s an hour ride. At this year’s event, we had over 1,800 Jeeps with about three people per Jeep. It was a lot of people, and that’s not counting spectators.
What’s the cost to watch or ride?
We try to keep it as low as possible. Spectator admission is $5, but kids 12 and under get in for free. This year’s registration cost was $70 per Jeep at the gate and $65 if you preregistered.
Which charities did you support this year?
For 2017, we chose Food 4 Kids, Hospice of Marion County, Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, Ronald McDonald House Charities of North Central Florida, Transition Life Center and the Ocala Outreach Foundation. All six are related to kids or families.
With Food 4 Kids, for example, we fill 1,500 to 2,000 backpacks with canned goods, crackers, tuna — anything that can be donated or purchased — to give to kids when they leave school on Friday so they’ll have food to eat over the weekend. Kimberly’s Center is for women and children who have been physically or sexually abused. TLC helps kids with Down syndrome and other special needs transition into adulthood and gives them a place to work. When they built their facility, they actually named their basketball gym after us. Same for Ronald McDonald House, where parents of kids who are in out-of-town hospitals can stay. There’s an Ocala Jeep Club room there.
And we go beyond that. We set aside special funds for families in need at the holidays. Turkeys at Thanksgiving, trees at Christmas. If our neighbor’s house burns down, we’ll get some clothes and toys for the kids. We try to help our community any way we can.
Do you have anything new planned for 2018?
As of right now, our plan is to keep to the same routine. We don’t plan anything too big or extravagant months ahead of time. Once we have our first meeting in February or March, we will start putting things in motion — get our permits, make sure the porta potty and bounce house companies are still in business. We send thank-you letters to our vendors in January. Without them, we have nothing. They pay for their spot at the event and donate raffle prizes.
How can Jeepers who want to attend next year’s event connect with you?
They can visit our website, OcalaJeepClub.com, connect with us on Facebook, or follow us on Instagram.