Wheelin' Out the BBQ: Rock crawlers host cookoff for a cause

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Dale Backs, pictured with the Grape Ape, is hosting the inaugural Wheelin' and Grillin' BBQ Cookoff, a fundraiser for Relay for Life of Carroll County, at his off-road park, formerly an outdoor music venue and campground. (Jennifer Jackson/Carroll County News)

For the past 15 years, Dale Backs has been into the sport of rock crawling, driving off-road vehicles over boulders, across stone ledges and up and down rocky terrain. So a few years ago, when he noticed For Sale signs on the Eureka Springs RV Music Park south of town, he saw the possibilities.

"We'd travel to do the sport, to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri," he said. "I wanted to open a park of my own."

Backs bought the property in 2011, and is now the owner of Wheelin' World Off-Road Park. Along with 145 wooded acres, he got a campground and an outdoor stage facing a large, shady area for sitting and listening to music. On Saturday, he's hosting the inaugural Wheelin' and Grillin' BBQ Cookoff on the grounds, featuring live music on stage, a beer garden, and a bounce house, games and activities for children. The cookoff is a fundraiser for Relay of Life of Carroll County, but Backs has a secondary motive:

"We want to bring families back to Eureka Springs," Backs said.

Wheelin' World is a rock crawler park, meaning the vehicles don't go through mud or water. The wooded acreage is typical Ozark terrain -- ridge tops and ravines-- where Backs put in trails threading through the outback, which drops 400 feet in elevation from the highway. University of Arkansas students used GPS to create a map of the park, with the 100- plus trails color-coded by range of difficulty: pink (negotiable by any four-wheel drive vehicle) to red: Staircase Wall, Sidewinder, Hell No, If Ya Dare.

"There's one trail out back called Problem Child that nobody has even been up," Backs said. "We've tried."

But the cookoff, which is free to attendees, won't have an off-road component, other than vehicles on display, including the Grape Ape and Big Red 2, which Backs built with parts from three pickups. For the cookoff, he has assembled more than a dozen teams from around the region, including a father/son team who own a barbecue place in Kansas City. It was Backs' idea to host a barbecue cookoff.

"My brother-in-law has been on the barbecue circuit, including the Kansas City Masterpiece competition," he said.

Backs is almost a Southerner, having lived in Eureka Springs since he was in high school. His father, Ray Backs, is a barber who had a shop next to Hart's Grocery and now has Ray's Barber Shop on the Berryville Square. Dale graduated from Eureka Springs High School in 1981, and opened Autobody Unlimited, a body shop in Berryville, 24 years ago. He commutes to the business from a stone house at the off-road park. There's also an office, a campground with electrical and water hookups, and a large screened picnic pavilion. Past the office is a three-acre parking area, then the outdoor stage area.

"I've got plenty of room," Backs said. "It's a park setting."

Two years ago, Backs and other rock crawlers raised $25,000 to buy a diabetes service dog for a Fort Smith boy who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Called "Four-wheeling for Caleb," the fund-raising projects included competitions at Wheelin' World and auctions. Backs hopes the barbecue cookoff will be a success, and become an annual event.

Wheelin' World is located at 10 Mint Ridge Rd., 3.5 miles south of Eureka Springs on Highway 23 S. The entry to the park is just off Highway 23 South and is well signed. Day rates for 4-wheeling are $10 for dirt bikes, $15 for ATVs and Side-bys, $25 for 4x4 vehicles. (wheelinworld.webs.com or call 479-253-5509.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: