So as I leave my comfy confines in lush Bonita Springs, Florida, I head south
on I-75 to Exit 101. This is where the super slab turns into what is
appropriately known as Alligator Alley. But we'll leave that for another time.
Today we've loaded up the family and we're heading out to the Florida Sports
Park in Collier County to witness the World Famous Swamp Buggy Races
and The Budweiser Fall Classic.
Oh yeah... this is genuine deep south motorsports folks. Swamp Buggy
races are held every January, March and October. And, as much as you
might want to poke a little fun at the absurdity of it all, Swamp Buggy, Inc. is
all about doing the right thing. It¹s a non-profit corporation, over 59 years old,
dedicated to fund-raising opportunities for all area charities and civic
organizations, preserving the tradition of swamp buggy racing and protecting
the heritage and culture of the development of Collier County. At the same
time, providing affordable entertainment and recreational activities to all it's
citizens. Well, how can you knock that?
Early Collier County settlers recall the beginnings of Swamp Buggy Racing
as just a gathering of hunters. As legend has it, every year, just prior to the
opening of hunting season, all the "Crackers" would spend a week or so
preparing their buggies for the first legal day of hunting. Tuning, testing,
waterproofing, camouflaging, and stocking up with food, fuel, ammunition,
and maybe a gallon of their favorite-home brewed beverage, would make
ready these unlikely vehicles for a couple weeks worth of rugged workouts
amongst the gators, snakes, and moss laden cypress hammocks of the
murky Florida swamps.
While the first races started to take place around 1943, featuring a dozen or
so local hunters racing only for the pride of finishing ahead of their neighbors,
it was in 1949, the first "Official" Swamp Buggy Races were won by Johnny
Jones. Organized by a group of civic and community leaders, "Swamp Buggy
Days" was born. A parade through town was organized, all the shops closed
for the day, and from that point on, Naples could lay claim to the most unique
motorsport in the world. On November 12, 1949, with a field of almost 50
competitors, attended by almost every living human in the community, these
awkward, methodical, determined vehicles motored their way into history.
So, with a history of 59 years and Naples being the only venue in the World, I
knew this was an event that would produce a World Champion... and not to
mention, a 2008 Swamp Buggy Queen. The Swamp Buggy Queen selection
is a highly organized community funded scholarship pageant. The queen
represents Swamp Buggy, Inc., her community and proudly participates in
the traditional jump into the Sippy Hole with the winner of the Big Feature
race. The 2008-2009 Swamp Buggy Queen is 18-year-old Gulf Coast High
School graduate Olivia Katheryn Culp.
Not to be outdone by the American Le Mans Series "Vitesse" media rides,
the World Famous Swamp Buggy Races provided ³woods² vehicles to take
those who dare for one lap of the "Mile-O-Mud." Of course... I had a very
enthusiastic attitude toward this feature. You got it... send the women and
children. So off went Kristin and Marlon for a lap of the swamp while "your
hero" recorded the scene for posterity.
The track at Swamp Buggy is a figure eight style affectionately called the
Mile O' Mud by race fans. Now, get this... there are two Sippy holes on the
track. In the Sippy holes, the ground drops out from under the buggies by
about four or five feet. So, one minute they're racing along in about a foot and
half of water... and bam.. the bottom drops out. A real eye opener is to see
the Jeep class chug through the Sippy hole, sometimes with only the very
top of the buggies visible above the water line!
Now... here's some culture for you... Why is the Sippy hole called the Sippy
hole? According to local legend, a driver in the early days of Swamp Buggy
racing named Sippy Morris (a name he was given because he hailed from
Mississippi) was known to just about always get stuck in the track's
signature depression. Thus, Sippy's legend lives on!
The drivers race for thousands in cash at every race, and fans pack the
grandstands by the thousands just to get a glimpse of vehicles with names
like Roll On, Outlaw II, Dats It!, Cold Duck and dozens more. I was told there
were about 70 vehicles participating in the various classes.
And we've got classes:
Jeep: Must be a 4 cylinder American Jeep.
Air Cooled: Must be air-cooled. Usually powered by motorcycle or
4 Cylinder: Must be 4 cylinders.
6 Cylinder: Must be 6 cylinders. V6 or straight 6.
V8 Stock: Must be stock V8 engine block according to manufacturer's
Modified 4WD: Must be driven by all 4 wheels. Engine of choice; big block
Chevrolet modified with high performance parts.
Pro Modified: Same as above, except 2 wheel drive. These engines can
develop nearly 1,000 horsepower.
Now, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about the results. I got too wrapped up
into trying to capture this spectacle on film... err... on digits or bits or
something. And my six year-old son was no help as he was too busy
sampling all the local cuisine... like fried turkey legs, barbeque and chicken
that he claims was the best he'd had this side of 8 Mile Road in Detroit. Trust
me... he would know.
All-in-all, we had a lot of fun. If you ever find yourself in Naples, Florida, in
January, March or October, the Swamp Buggy Races are a must see. Bring
some boots, your appetite and a good sense of humor and you're in for a
John Thawley, November 2008