- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

LaVALE, Md. — For six months after Erik Miller’s 16th birthday, his new 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon sat in pristine shape outside his parents’ Cumberland residence.

But it wasn’t long before the vehicle turned into a totally different machine. The side is now dented, the dashboard is missing, the paint’s chipping, and everything but the original engine and transmission has been replaced.

And Mr. Miller couldn’t be more pleased.

With the help of friends, the 19-year-old Bishop Walsh graduate has practically rebuilt the Jeep from the ground up to race in rock-crawling competitions across the country.

“I’m an adventurous type of person,” he said. “In this area, I don’t think there’s a mountain I haven’t been on foot or on Jeep or on a mountain bike. I’ve been all over the place.”

Rock crawling is an extreme form of off-road driving in which the goal is to overcome huge rock obstacles without tipping the vehicle.

Mr. Miller owns five Jeeps he’s modified in some way, including a 1957 Jeep Willys CJ5 that his grandfather gave him and a rare 1984 CJ8 Scrambler he bought with his high school graduation money.

His parents helped plant the seed when they took him to a monster truck competition when he was 3. Mr. Miller said he learned to drive a clutch on the Scrambler at 6 or 7 and developed a serious interest in racing at 15.

It took one month for Mr. Miller and his friends — Clayton Walters and Adam Wycislo of Clayton Off Road Manufacturing in Connecticut — to rebuild the Jeep that he used last spring in the Easter Jeep Safari in Utah.

Mr. Miller calls the event “the Mecca of four-wheeling.”

He has placed in the top five at competitions four times this year and has caught the attention of JP magazine, which featured his Jeep in the December 2005 issue.

“We just think it’s so cool to see a Jeep owner with so much regard for wheeling and so little regard for the perceived collectablity of the vehicle,” Christian Hazel wrote in the article.

“It’s cool to get recognized because I spend a lot of time on this,” Mr. Miller said after seeing the magazine this month in a Borders bookstore. “I’m very passionate about this. This gives me my rush. It keeps me straight because it’s all I do.”

Mr. Miller and his spotter, Bishop Walsh graduate Jordan Crabtree, are the youngest team in the country, he said. They travel cross-country with fellow Bishop Walsh graduate Andy Miller and Allegany High School graduate Matt Walker.

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