By Tracy Peck
Bright lights are shining on me on stage. My hand is on the key, the key is in the ignition of a dream machine – a $65,000 fully modified JK - and I have a 75% chance of being the biggest loser in Atlantic City, New Jersey in front of hundreds of people. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I should start at the beginning.
I was finally done my build and pretty proud of it. I started with a rust free TJ from a junk yard and added a Rough Country flat belly & Long Arm Kit, custom hybrid D44 front axle with Chevy knuckles and Ford hubs with a JK Ribi pumpkin and locker with RCV’s in the front plus a matching full width 8.8 in the rear with Chromoly’s and an E-locker. The 4 corners were held up by 17” 9100 series Bilstein coilovers on 37” Irocs with 4:88 gears and a D300 mated to a 231 – this pretty much sums up my street legal buggy build. I was at peace with grocery go-getting and rock crawling.
Then I saw Pro-Comps release of their XRC fenders and bumpers. I decided I would scour the yards for a 4 door JK wreck and start a new build. I had finished the TJ relatively cheaply so I was sure I could score a JK within my budget. Not so, smashed JK’s seem to be worth more than a brand hammer new one according to salvage yards. The idea was stillborn - I wasn’t about to finance something I planned to cut up and then chuck 60 percent of away.
After abandoning my JK idea, I’m sitting at my desk looking at my suppliers webpage when I see another promotion - for a Black JK, lifted, with Pro Comp XRC everything. “Oh great, now the jeep gods are rubbing what I can’t afford in my face” and I go about my business ordering Jeep and off-road goodies for my needy customers. I hired on a new sales guy to for my growing little business who started doing a bang up job. Months later get a phone call from Monica, an energetic Keystone suspension rep, the Manager of Canadian operations, and Mark Mathews of Pro Comp Suspensions informing me that I am the first of four guys to have a chance of winning Pro Comp’s JK Giveaway, valued at over $65K.
I spent 5 sleepless months waiting for the event, watching as 3 more contestants were drawn. And then finally it was time for Keystone’s Big Show in Atlantic City in March of 2012. After attending the show the previous year in Secaucus, New Jersey, suffering through a tortuous 22hr flight home (courtesy of Atlantic Canada’s fierce storms) I said the only way I’d ever go back is if you paid me a million bucks…or dangled the keys for a JK with Pro Comp fenders on 37” X-Terrains. We arrived in Philadelphia on the 3rd where our 60 dollar car rental turned into 265 bucks, so far so bad but at least I wasn’t looking for a train to Atlantic City.
Arriving at the Atlantic City Convention Centre, we had a full day of vendor browsing and buying as we waited for the main event. When the hall finally opened we got our first peek and OMG, the damn thing has its own spotlight. Wow what a beast, totally loaded with long arms, X-Terrains, ARB’s and XRC everywhere. I can’t believe I have such terrible odds, 75 percent chance of being Atlantic City’s biggest loser. I could imagine the key not starting the jeep , slamming the door and throwing the key into the crowd making up new profane gestures in disgust.
Monica gets my attention, distracting me from a psychotic daze and guides us to a table where she places us with the 3 other contestants. The time has finally come and we are guided up on stage where a board with 4 pegs are sitting empty. Monica places each key on a hook and I am up first, I zero in on key number 1. I felt nothing could cure my scepticism as I randomly change my mind and grab key number 3. The other contestants choose carefully with the exception of the last guy who had no choice.
As the first contestant, I’m going to try my key first. Walking towards the Jeep of my dreams, I lost all thought being a loser but I was resigned to the inevitable loss. My sales rep had been trying to convince me for the last 5 months that I have it in the bag, if I turn the key and it starts, it’s mine… well what do ya know, it starts. Over the cheer of the crowd I remember Monica telling us that if the Jeep starts we have to shut it off and not drive a victory lap through a room full of crowded people. I lift my head up off of the steering wheel in an absolute stupor and pull the key out of the ignition. The sales rep tackles me, I shake every hand of everyone on stage including the president of Pro Comp and Keystone, not once, but twice. I finally find my perky and wildly excited girlfriend and we shared the moment and my continued disbelief.
Now I am faced with another challenge, I have to figure out how to get a free JK to Nova Scotia and a rental car to Philadelphia. My girlfriend hates driving in the country and will NOT drive in any city (or abundantly populated town for that matter). Lucky for me there is someone not so lucky, contestant number 4 and his better half - it looks like they may not make their flight from Philly to California. I happily give them our rental car and hope everything goes well. Then we head to New York to visit friends. After a night’s stay in Long Island, we back track to Exeter, Pennsylvania and receive a guided tour of the largest warehouse in the aftermarket industry at Keystone. It was abundantly inventoried and organized. Intel is key in this place and I see how my products are delivered to our customers with very few glitches.
After a night’s stay in Scranton, Pennsylvania my father informs me that we may not get through the border with a lifted vehicle very easily… or even at all. Apparently Transport Canada has instructed Border Services to reject vehicles for importation that have a modified suspension system, I wouldn’t even be allowed to drive it home. Also a vehicle that has been modified will have to undergo an inspection by the manufacturer to determine whether or not it meets their specifications (at our cost) and then another visit from Transport Canada (at our cost). It looked absolutely hopeless. The next morning we decided to see if a dealership would be interested in a new, all hopped up Jeep, and wow were we surprised. They were all over it. The first offer was straight up for a 2012 Jeep Sport with lots of options. But I didn’t feel like jumping on this deal, this JK is my dream machine, so they sweeten the offer by 10K. A few more negotiations back and forth and my shrewd girlfriend has a sweet 2 Jeeps for 1 trade lined up and all I have to is sign… but I can’t bear to do it and decide to hit the trail for Canada. I needed a new plan.
We decided to leave the JK in the US, race home, get parts and put it back to stock, betting any border crossing guard won’t notice a stock jeep with long arms. Fortunately for me my Dad knows people, a mission’s minister let me leave my Jeep at his place. We then hitched a ride with a trucker at the border to St John, New Brunswick where we picked up our car from the ferry. To avoid a 12 hour wait for another ferry, we drove home. I’d been sharing my story with the Nova Scotia Jeep Club (NSJC) members during the week. While we were on our way, parts were being offered by club members who were following the story. Before I was even home, we lined up stock bumpers, springs, shocks, trac bars, links, tires, rims, fenders and fender flares. A day later, with the help of my daughter and son in-law, we swapped the parts out on a driveway between two snow banks.
Apparently we looked more suspicious taking used parts into the US than new parts out. US border services held us up for an hour looking through our parts with a fine tooth comb with stern faces heavy with suspicion. Coming back to Canada, it was a more warm welcome, as my JK on 30” tires and long arms breezed through Canadian inspection and was clear for importation and the Registrar of Imported Vehicles program. Three days later the JK passed the motor vehicle inspection and was back to it’s original condition - well a 6” lift on 37’s with my beloved XRC goodies was how I ‘originally’ got it.
Tracy Peck is the owner of Peck Auto Performance and Off-road