The chase for the inaugural Concord Cup begins at Bantam
Not everyone can endure taking a nearly 2,000-mile road trip in an 80-year-old Jeep at an average speed between 35 to 38 miles per hour.
Not everyone can hit the open road without the aid of their cellphones and GPS while avoiding interstate highways.
Not everyone can chase the coveted Concord Cup, fully knowing that at any given point during their conquest that their vehicle will break down and they could sleeping in a ditch on the side of the road for the night.
That type of lifestyle is reserved for “an adventurer” according to co-founders of Epic Willys Adventure, Phil Norvold and Adam Schultz.
“It takes somebody that has got some grit,” Norvold said. “Someone that knows good things don’t come easy and stories don’t come from sitting behind a desk.
“The harder it is, the better the story.”
‘The harder it is, the better the story.’ Phil Norvold, co-founder of Epic Willys Adventure
This year Bantam Jeep festivalgoers can meet the 16 participants before they take off to compete for the inaugural Concord Cup on Sunday, June 11. Spectators will have the chance see the competing Jeeps in various festival activities throughout the weekend before they depart Sunday morning.
“We thought what better place to start then the birthplace of it all,” Norvold said. “We are doing a New England Tour, it’s shortened up a bit as far as the mileage, so that it allow the public to enter into a challenge”
The Jeeps participating are all stock Willys ranging from model years 1941 to 1971. The only modifications allowed to the Jeeps are ones that would have been preformed in the ’40s and ’50s, according to Jonah Hodkins, executive producer and participant of Epic Willys Adventures.
“Everything’s (1941) and (1971) stock Jeeps,” Hodkins said. “So they’re four-cylinders Jeeps. They’re real slow, and when we go to the mountains maybe 30 to 40 miles an hour at max. They would go maybe 60 miles an hour at full speed.”
Drivers will start their day at a certain point, and during the trip they will be driving 200 miles a day — “a manageable time that pushes everyone to the breaking point, but not too far over. It also allows it to still be fun,” Norvold said.
While this is the first competition, Epic Willys Adventure have been having “adventures” for seven years.
“The Epic Willy adventure started as a way to give a new lease on life to old iron,” Norvold said. “Back in 2016, when we were working on Adam’s Jeep in the shop, we thought that we should take this Jeep that has been forgotten about for the past 60 years or so, patch it back together and give it another road trip.
“And we’ll make it epic.”
Norvold and Schultz grabbed “a few buddies” and hit the road driving from their hometown in Wisconsin to Moab, Utah.
“We had a ton of fun. It was just some buddies on the open road, and it was a way for the shop to be reminded of why we do what we do,” Schlough said. “We didn’t want to forget why we get in the business.”
Norvold is the owner of Max-Bilt Off Road & MFG, a full-service auto shop that specializes in Jeeps, and complete or partial restorations or modifications.
The trip caught on among fellow Jeep enthusiasts and turned into “adventures,” including a border trip during which drivers drove from Canada to Mexico to the most recent adventure of drivers following the original Oregon trail route.
Epic Willys Adventure decided to make this year’s adventure a competitive challenge.
“This year because we have lots of people reaching out to us wanting to be a part of it, so we thought we could invite the eight to 10 rigs to do this and make it a challenge,” Norvold.
And while this may sound like a joy ride across the country, these vehicles do have a tendency to break down.
“It’s not like your driving your 2016, or newer, car that you know is going to make it to your destination,” Shultz said. “Not everyone has a catastrophic breakdown, but they all have issues. It depends on the driver and what they’ve done leading up to the event and the work they’ve done.”
On Schultz’s first adventure, he did have a catastrophic breakdown.
“I made it 55 miles and my engine blew up,” Schultz said. “That’s when the social page blew up, we went on there to ask for help and it just blew up with people that wanted to help us out.”
Through the kindness of strangers Schultz was able to find an engine, have it delivered, get his Jeep towed and was able to use a civilian’s garage to work on his Jeep.
“That sort of issue is not uncommon, it’s pretty much on every trip something like that happens.” Schultz said. “But every trip, people are there to help you.”
On their second trip, fellow adventurer Cody Lee Schlough’s engine also blew up on the first day.
Schlough ended up sleeping on a stranger’s couch as he waited for parts. The same stranger then followed Schlough over 1,100 miles overnight to make sure he got to his destination safely.
“The guy didn’t want a single penny,” Norvold said. “He just wanted to help.”
“And then the vehicle blew up again,” Schultz said, laughing.
And while it can be frustrating to have a vehicle go down during an adventure, Norvold learned something about humanity.
“The amount of community involvement is incredible, the ability to go through small towns across all of America really gives you a snapshot of what a true sense of what America is,” Paul said. “Frankly, it’s pretty great.”
A lot of the drivers participating in the inaugural Concord Cup have not been on an Epic Willys Adventure before. The selection process, done mostly by Norvold and Shultz, did not have set criteria, but did require them to take a look at the type of person that they’ll be sharing the road with for nearly a week.
“We selected the participants that vibe with the group,” Norvold said. “You need a sense of humor, if you’re going to get freaked out every time your vehicle breaks down, it’s going to bring the morale down.”
This year’s participants plan to stay at the Bantam Jeep Heitage Festival all weekend, participating in the various events and meeting the crowd.
“I’m excited that we have three days of camping before the event at the heritage festival,” Norvold said. “That will allow the camaraderie to grow, it will let everyone marinate in their own personalities.”
Riders are set to return to Butler on Saturday, June 17, where there is a celebration set to take place for the participants. Shultz and Norvold are hoping that people will stop by and see the cast of characters who are willing to take part of this “epic adventure.”
“When people see what these vehicles are actually like,” Schultz said. “It will give them a much better perspective on what makes this trip so fun.”
And while the Epic Willys Adventure team is looking to have fun and bring exposure to their group, they are also hoping to accomplish something else.
“There is a hope,” Norvold said. “A dream to inspire to do something wild. Drive slow, take chances.
“What do you have to lose?”