On a damp July morning, a large convoy of Ferraris drove slowly in a circle around an encampment of Land Rovers. As Green Oval enthusiasts ogled the Ferraris, Prancing Horse aficionados stared at the Land Rovers. Weirder things have happened, but not many.
At first I attributed this alternative universe moment to the presence of the free beer from the Branford, CT, Stony Creek Brewery, free rum from the Newport, RI, Thomas Tew Distillery and free cocktails from the 13th St. Cocktail Catering. Even the restorative powers of the free Cide Road Switchel didn’t change the oddity of this moment.
This added to the sounds, sights and smells provided by the Muddy Chef Challenge, held July 28-31, in Lakeville, CT, the home of the famous Lime Rock sports car race track. Nestled in the stunning countryside of the state’s northwest corner, the track hosted the Ferrari Challenge race series that weekend. The howl of tightly wound-up engines mixed with the growl of Land Rover’s pushrod V-8’s and ticking pushrods of the venerable 2.25 L four cylinder to provide an aural symphony every morning; the noise also helped shake off the effects of the free drinks.
Eric Yohe created this unique experience eight years ago, a heady cocktail mixing Land Rover models of all vintages with foodies, extreme grillers, campers and off-roaders. Eric and his team also brought in vendors with enticing products and services, and not surprisingly, you find something to please most everyone. A terrific group of volunteers, including Kristen Feeney, Gene Schubert and Peter Batenaro, among others, helped smooth out the bumps resulting from the rainy weather and large turnout. Raffle income would go to the designated charity, Autism Speaks.
Most everyone in attendance had come from CT or bordering states like NY and MA—and there were a lot of them. Registrations ran well over 100 and hundreds more enthusiasts formed some 90 culinary teams. Rovers North’s Rob Smith drove down from VT in his’ ‘94 Defender and enjoyed “the sports cars racing, meeting Rovers North customers, meeting new enthusiasts and the mix of vehicles.” Michael Ladden, Hampden, MA and Carrie Touchette erected a tent large enough for a circus and for unfurling an old “West Connecticut Land Rover Club” banner (with a Yorkie for a guard dog). John Vallerand, Greene, ME, made another one of his epic drives in his Series II-A 88”. This time he packed the Rover with the largest teepee tent I’d ever seen, as well as his mother and sister. Somehow he found room for his signature cooling utensil, a round griddle the size of a manhole cover.
In comparison, my tent was the size of a beach towel which barely covered my sleeping bag and slender air mattress, but only if I lay them out diagonally. My drive from my island town in Maine totaled 7.5 hours, which included a 1.5 hour ferry trip and the muggiest, hottest, most congested drive imaginable along the interstates in Massachusetts (#nomoresummertravel).
I arrived at the fabled race track on a Thursday night, found my assigned camp spot and erected my tiny L.L. Bean tent. I also set up my tiny, two burner camp stove, small cooler bag and diminutive water jug, my one fork and spoon, ready to show off my culinary talents. By that evening a steady stream of Range Rovers, Discoverys and Defenders had emptied out their contents of Tent Mahals, grills the size of kitchen stoves, coolers that rivaled dumpsters in size—and an assortment of tables, chairs, vases, cutlery and linens that accompanied their equipment. All this glamping made me feel like a desert nomad marveling at the encampment of a sheik and his entourage.
Mike Chioffe, Stamford, CT works in IT for a hedge fund, but his escape comes in the form of a ‘95 Range Rover Classic, into which he’s put a considerable amount of sweat equity and overseen some restorative work. Mike’s tent and camp kitchen made mine look like pet’s quarters, but could barely compare with the Big Box Store footprint of Keri and Kieran Dunn from Norwalk, CT. Keri, who works for Vineyard Vines, and Kieran, who works for Pitney-Bowes, have owned their ‘02 P38 Range Rover for just a year; Keri calls it “one classy car.” The daily driver disgorged a tent so large you could stand up in it, complete with an inflatable, full sized double bed. A folding table enabled them to set up their propane-fueled baking oven as well as serve drinks in a refined manner. Durbin Hunter and Haleigh Lipnick, also from Stamford, brought an enormous tent, several propane tanks to fuel their cookstove and with cookware of restaurant quality. For grins they brought along a Golden Retriever with a proper name of Wellington—but who only answered to Mr. Pickles—that entertained every kid in the encampment. Adam and Rebecca Check, Bolton, MA, former winners at the event, created a movie set field kitchen behind their Range Rover that simply dazzled; I slid over every so often to see if I could mooch additional samples of their cooking.
If you tired of the culinary world you could enjoy the Land Rovers surrounding you. Manny Backman, Warrington, PA, and his son, Kevin, Titusville, NJ, arrived in their ‘04 Discovery II. Kevin works for Major League Baseball and takes his ‘67 Series II-A to the train station. Nancy and Vincent Chong, Chappaqua, NY, found their ‘85 Land Rover 110 on Ebay and had it shipped from Florida to New York. They painted it themselves using a roller brush and treated it to a personalized plate that reads “CLIFF4D,” as in Big Red Dog. Professional race car driver Mark Hamilton Peters, Lakeville, CT and Sophie Purdy, Sharon, MA, enjoyed the day in a ‘64 Series II-A 109”, a former NATO Belgian military vehicle with a glorious patina. Bill Schimkowski, Westborough, MA, brought his restored Sage Green ‘61 Series II-A 88”; it reminded me how nice mine would look if I would stop using it for work. Bill let me drive his and demonstrate some of its off-road capabilities.
Pediatrician Lin-Lin Remenar, her husband, David, and children Van, Jude and Sydney, arrived in their ’88 and ‘95 Range Rovers. She noted that the Land Rover people they’ve met come from “all walks of life.” “Land Rover owners love leads to passion, which we need more of!” She admitted to some nerves when first off-roading, but said it had become “amazingly addictive!”
During one afternoon event Will Hedrick gave a presentation on his efforts to help enthusiasts hold onto their imported Defenders. Throughout the event the UK firm Arkonik presented their refurbished Defenders to excite the gathering. Founder Andy Hayes has spent several years searching out 25-year-old Land Rovers for importation to the US. He calls them “pieces of history, designed brilliantly and refurbished as such.” He seeks to have them leave his shop “better than they were in the day.” Most are from Continental countries so they can be LHD for the American market. For legal importation, the 90/110’s and Defenders must leave with their original engines; for now, that means 3.5 V-8’s or 2.5 L petrol or diesels. The handsome paint jobs and custom seats (one of which would not lift to access the underseat battery) made them look even more striking and certainly added to the joy of the test drives/rides offered generously throughout the event. Client Communications Manager Jasmin Clinton spoke of the many efforts made to educate Americans unfamiliar with these models—and also enjoyed her first ever trip to the US. Prestige Motors of New Jersey works with Arkonik on US sales and became a sponsor of the event.
The “Challenge” part of the Muddy Chef Challenge kept the judges exhausted. Jim and Robert Wollschlager, of Mystic, CT and Omaha, NE, respectively, won the Team Spirit Award with their twin Series Land Rovers. Lars Vigen, Madison, CT, won the Best Campsite award due to the weekend edition of a stuffed coyote [don’t ask]. The culinary competition categories included dessert, appetizers and entrees. You earned extra points for using locally-sourced ingredients (I learned that purchases made at a nearby grocery store didn’t count), in addition to numerous other considerations. Terry Jackson, Lewiston, ME, brought his winning ingredients in his ‘11 LR4. They combined to create “sashimi tuna with a soy, sesame oil and Hillrock Distillery Bourbon glaze, on a mango and roasted corn salsa bed.” Oh—no wonder my stuffed mushrooms failed to garner an award.
By Jeffrey Aronson
Photography: Jeffrey Aronson, Aimee Almstead