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Epic Willys Adventure offers camaraderie

Members of Friends of Bantam Jeep Association are ready to welcome the Epic Willys Adventure racers back at the end of the 2023 race. Butler Eagle file photo

Jeep enthusiasts and adventurers are gearing up for this year’s Epic Willys Adventure, an endurance race that spans around 1,700 miles through the Appalachian region.

As the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival wraps up, the race, will start in Butler and make its way to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., before looping back.

“It’s an endurance race, really. You just have to make it to the checkpoints, and in between, there are ways to get extra points,” explained event organizer, Jonah Hodgkins.

Racers will earn gold coins along the way, which Hodgkins calls “booty.” Whoever has the most at the end of the race wins the Concord Cup.

The race, which features vintage Jeeps from 1941 to 1964, has been a growing tradition for the last four or five years, according to Hodgkins.

Submitted Photo

“A small group up in Minnesota or Wisconsin wanted to focus on vintage Jeeps and they wanted to take them across country to see how far they could get,” Hodgkins said. “They wanted to see how far they could get them before they broke down and have the adventure of fixing them.”

This years route, dubbed the Moonshine Run, promises new challenges and scenic views.

“I thought, well, it’d be fun if we could do some kind of race with all of these Jeeps,” Hodgkins said.

Participants will spend around seven days on the road. When they aren’t driving, they’ll be camping out at various locations along the way.

“We drive about 200 to 300 miles a day. Everybody’s going as fast as they can, having a good time. At the end of the night, we come back to the campgrounds and set up a cookout,” Hodgkins said. “We sit by the fire, have a good time, get up the next day and do it again.”

The race also offers participants a chance to build friendships.

Austin Lee, a high school technology education teacher, is taking on his second year in the Willys Jeep Adventure.

“Last year, we camped in various spots, from open fields with bluegrass bands to an Advanced Auto Parts parking lot,” he said. “It’s all about the experience and the people you meet along the way.”

“No phones, no GPS, just maps and conversation,” Lee said, reflecting on the old-school nature of the event, “which means you actually have to talk to people.”

Lee’s vehicle, a 1948 Willys pickup truck, embodies the rustic charm and mechanical simplicity that the event celebrates according to him.

“It’s rusty, it’s crusty,” Lee said, “but underneath that, it’s all been restored to period-correct standards. The only modern thing is we converted it to 12 volts for the lights for safety reasons.”

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