Happy 2024, Gregg!

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In the roomy Chevy Suburbans that we use as chase vehicles on our tornado safaris each May, the view behind is often as compelling as the view ahead (just ask those with us on May 10, 2010!). So while others are jockeying for the captain's seats in the middle row, the budget-conscious adrenaline-junkies among us can now see the twisters of the Great Plains from an enviable position: the discounted bench seating in the third row of our Suburbans. That, combined with an opt-out of our all-inclusive meal plan, means that a select few can keep an eye on their wallets while extending their gaze to the darkening skies.

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It’s been more than three decades since the fateful meeting of a sculpture-focused undergrad from Salina, Kan. and an atmospheric science major from Castle Rock, Col. at Kansas University. Jason Webb and Gregg Potter became fast friends and eventually roommates at an off-campus house in Lawrence. Together, they would breathe life into a dream that became F5! Tornado Safaris.

Jason fondly recalled the nascent days of their friendship:

“It was the early- and mid-90s, so there was internet, but nobody had it at home. Before we lived in the same house, Gregg would be on campus getting internet weather reports and then he’d rush over to my house and pick me up for a road trip. I was a local, so I knew the backroads of Kansas really well. We were always down for a road trip to see a concert, so we started making them to see if we could spot tornadoes.”

Even after they formalized those trips into a business with the first F5! Tornado Safari in 1999, mobile radar was years from becoming reality. So somebody would monitor radar equipment in a brick-and-mortar location and relay the findings to the chase cars. It added a layer of complexity to Jason’s duties as driver and navigator, in which he was responsible not only for putting clients in position to see burgeoning funnel clouds, but keeping them out of harm’s way once they’d entered the danger zone.

“It was very rudimentary,” Jason said of the formative years of F5! "Even after wireless internet came along, it wasn't mobile, so we'd have to pull up outside hotels to borrow their signal for our laptops, which was easy because nobody had any passwords on their networks back then.”

But the advancement of technology that has turned F5!'s chase vehicles into rolling tornado-pursuing laboratories has been a mixed blessing to the man behind the wheel.

“There was a lot less traffic on the road in those early days," Jason noted. "Now, everybody has radar on their phones and everybody’s a storm chaser. There are easily 50 times as many people on the road. Last year (2023), we were chasing three tornadoes outside of Clovis, N.M. and we came to a complete halt in the traffic. As the sun went down, I could see six miles of headlights stacked up behind us.”

Both Jason and Gregg are now 50 and have successful business ventures that have allowed them to spend half their lives chasing twisters on the Great Plains each May. Jason founded Tamarack Cannabis in 2009 in Kalispell, Mont., a business that has grown to a second location in Whitefish, Mont. as the state expanded from medical to recreational marijuana two years ago. Widely lauded on the awards circuit for creating a customer-friendly marriage of art and artisan cultivation, Tamarack Cannabis has flourished in an outdoor recreation mecca – the very quality that attracted Jason to the Flathead Valley – and serves as a gateway to Glacier National Park.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of F5! Tornado Safaris through its first quarter century is the lifetime friendships forged among clients and crew. In a few instances, love has bloomed. Jason Webb (left) met Shruti Uppal (right) a client on a 2012 chasing tour. He married her in 2014; moved to London with her and ran his cannabis business from abroad for five years; and had a son with her: Bison, now 6.

The family relocated to Whitefish, Mont. in 2020 to focus on the expansion of Jason's Tamarack Cannabis business, which has grown to 50 employees and has captured a multitude of regional and state awards as a confluence of art, technology, and artisan cultivation. Shruti has developed a successful family mediation business 4,500 miles from her London base.

Meet Jason on a 2024 Tornado Safari 

Let's face it: There's a lot of down time between our adrenaline-pumped chases each May. Half the fun is revisiting old road haunts and discovering new locations to eat, drink and be merrily entertained. Because F5! goes where the wind blows, we've cataloged hundreds of towns, restaurants, bars and hospitality venues over approximately one million square miles of the Great Plains in the past 24 years. Each month, we'll revisit some of our favorites.

F5! driver and navigator Jason Webb has been responsible for rooting out many of the off-the-beaten-path locations we've featured over the past six months. This month, Jason offers up one of his favorites: Carhenge in Alliance, Neb.


December 2023 Issue: National Wind Institute (Lubbock, TX)

November 2023 Issue: Enchanted Highway (Regent, ND)

October 2023 Issue: Carlsbad Caverns (Carlsbad, NM)

September 2023 Issue: Garden of Eden (Lucas, KS)

August 2023 Issue: UFO Capital of the World (Roswell, NM)

July 2023 Issue: The Big Texan (Amarillo, TX)

On the Great Plains, there are no Golden Gate Bridges, Guggenheim Museums or Space Needles. The dust of the prairies is fertile creative soil only to the quirky few, and there are seldom endowments or line items in governmental budgets to ensure that their roadside attractions will survive much beyond the lives of the eccentrics who created them.

But three years after the death of 94-year-old Jim Reinders (1927-2021), his 10-acre, Carhenge monument in Alliance, Neb. seems braced to survive the ages. Less than four decades old, Carhenge is firmly established as pop-culture icon visited by celebrities, featured in films and song . . . and as a financial rainmaker for local businesses in a remote town of 9,000 situated closer to Cheyenne, Wyo. and Rapid City, S.D. than to Nebraska's center of commerce, Omaha.

Carhenge is a to-scale replica of England's mystic Stonehenge, arranged in a circle replicating Stonehenge's layout, with junked cars replacing the 13-foot-high standing stones of the prehistoric British monument.

Reinders knew the original well. As a well-traveled and well-paid petro-physicist (the scientists that oil companies employ to extract petroleum from rocks), he lived in England for the five years bridging either side of his 50th birthday. Reinders was fascinated by Stonehenge, and had visited often.

In 1982, he returned to his hometown of Alliance to bury his father, who willed him a modest 10-acre farm. But the recently retired Reinders was no farmer, and he didn't need the money a sale would have bought. Before dozens of relatives gathered for the funeral, he announced his vision for Carhenge, and implored his extended family to return to his father's land five years hence to help him build it. In 1987, 35 or so of them did just that.

With no shortage of decrepit automobiles populating the farms and junkyards or rural northwestern Nebraska, the family set up a work camp -- replete with tents, portable bathrooms and a chow line -- and got busy.

"It started out to be very difficult because I had in mind that we would do it with muscle power, like the original people that built Stonehenge," Reinders said in a 1995 documentary, Carhenge: Genius or Junk? (see link below). "They didn’t have any forklifts or backhoes.

"So we got all the men there and we dug the first hole. No problem digging the hole; it was nice, soft, sandy loam. And then we had a small car to start with; it was a Japanese Subaru, I remember it well, So we rolled that thing back to the hole and was going to push it into the hole and it stopped. It wouldn’t go another inch. So we heaved and tugged and couldn’t move it.

"So we decided then we would have to have some power equipment. So we shut things down and got a backhoe and a forklift. The learning curve was actually quite steep. But before long, well, we were planting two or three cars in the morning and two or three more in the afternoon."

Within the week, the project was complete.

"It took 1,600 years to complete Stonehenge," Reinders noted. "It took us six days."

Watch Carhenge: Genius or Junk? (26:43)

Celebrity couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher pose in front of "Covered Wagon," one of the fringe exhibits at Carhenge, in 2022.

Reelin' in the gears

Steely Dan hated touring, the staple of most musicians' income. To bridge the financial gap, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted duo put out more compilation albums than any band in the land -- 11 in three decades.

Among them was Steely Dan: Then and Now, a 1993 greatest hits collection featuring Carhenge on the cover.