SWAMP BUGGIES HIT MILE O' MUD
By Robin Smith Meiser
I have lived in South Florida all of my life. When I was a small child, my grandfather took me on a trip to Naples for the first time. I remember we slept in the back of his station wagon in a parking lot on Radio Road. We were there for a relatively new event called swamp buggy racing. I didn't even know what a swamp buggy was.
I found out that Sunday morning. They were the strangest contraptions I had ever seen. Built low to the ground, almost flat like a boat bottom with what looked like wagon wheels perched perilously on a long pipe on each side of the vehicle. When they took off in the water, they sprayed mud and water everywhere as they raced through the course. When they hit the Sippy Hole they were almost completely submerged under water and some actually sank. I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever seen and it was the first motorsports event I ever attended.
In the years since then, I have been a spectator to the event only twice, counting this weekend's running of Porky's Last Stand Winter Classic. Names such as Jolly, Langford,and Chesser are familiar to me because I actually worked at the Florida Sports Park as a scorer when they ran stock car races their in the early 90s. They are the stars of this unique sport that is now run with some regularity thanks to the opening if Mesa Park in Fellsmere and the Florida Sports Park facility in Collier County.
The best place to watch the racing action is in the Standing Room only section where families watched the races together atop personal swamp buggies, dump trucks and even cherry pickers. Barbeque grills were cooking ribs, tents were pitched for the weekends, and bull dogs were lying underneath old pick up trucks. The entire scene is reminiscent of the good old days of NASCAR when you would party in the pits for the entire weekend and not worry about getting your Tommy Hilfiger's dirty.
I personally was perched atop the homemade swamp machine of Alan "Weasel" Molter, an old racing crony and brother to Charlotte County Speedway Rebel Road Warrior driver, Conrad Molter. Alan's buggy is made from an old welded bed frame and every time you moved it would creak and shake but that only added to it charm. Alan and Conrad regaled us with stories of past swamp buggy races as the races went on and brought us up to speed on the various classes.
There are several classes of swamp buggies for those not familiar with the sport and the winner of each class on March 4 is posted in parenthesis .
· Pro Modifieds - 2-wheel drive high performance modified class with speeds up to 90 miles an hour (Brian Langford "Rubber Duck" and Glenn Weber "Porky's Revenge")
· Modifieds - 4-wheel drive high performance modifieds attaining speeds up to 90 miles per hour
· V8 Super Stocks - high performance class with speeds up to 60 miles per hour (Bonnie Jolly "Fatal Attraction")
· 6-Cylinders - stock class with speeds up to 50 miles per hour (Donnie Cooper "Tractor Traction")
· 4-Cylinders - stock class with speeds up to 25 miles per hour (Ray Thornton "Cold Duck")
· Air Cooled - air-cooled engines (such as Volkswagens) that power up to 25 miles an hour (Gene Johnson "Puddle Jumper")
· Jeeps - 4-cyclinder Jeeps with speeds up to 15 miles per hour (Rick Johnson "Secret Weapon")
Ray Thornton's "Cold Duck" took the Little Feature and Donnie Cooper's "Tractor Traction" took the Intermediate Feature. The Big Feature winner and new Swamp King is Brian Langford who won the event in his two-wheel drive Pro Modified "Rubber Duck". The event ended with the traditional mud bath for the Swamp Buggy Queen Desiree Tetrault, a sophomore at Naples High.
Of course, I must end this with one of my favorite race tales. Several years back when I was still a scorer at Charlotte County Speedway, a Greek journalist named Michael came to CCS for his first ever stock car race. He interviewed us with his heavy Greek accent and told us the first racing event he had gone to was the swamp buggy races. He asked us one question "Why do you have queens?"
"Queens?" I said puzzled by what he meant. He said "Yes, at the swamp buggy race why do they have a beautiful queen, in a beautiful gown and they pick her up and drop her in the mud?" We all laughed hysterically but no one could give him an answer except to say it is a tradition. It was then his turn to laugh and I am sure I was reading his mind as he said to himself "Silly Americans!!!!!!!"
The swamp buggies will return to Florida Sports Park the weekend of May 20 and also October 28. For more information on this bizarre sport and the events at Florida Sports Park in Naples, go to www.swampbuggy.com or call 1-800-897-2701. For information on Mesa Park in Fellsmere (East Coast of Florida) go to www.mesapark.com or call 1-877-MESA-TIX. For information on the North American Swamp Racing Association (NASRA), go to www.NASRA.com.
You can catch swamp buggy racing action on the Sunshine Network and The Nashville Network as well. Also, watch for a repeat performance on A&E of a documentary filmed during the October 2000 event that was held in Naples.
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