The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was a great day in my world as I rounded the next curve through the fertile farmland of northern Louisiana. The fields were white with the next cash crop for the season as I barreled down the highway with my destination in mind. My journey was taking me to the site of one of my favorite motorsports events: a mud race.
My dad got me hooked on the extreme sport of mud racing at an early age. I was 6 years old in 1973 when I was introduced to this mucky obsession that borders on insanity. Now at nearly 40, the insanity still runs through me like a generational trait following the bloodline of a family's forefathers. The bloodline of my "4x4fathers" runs deeper than a bottomless pit of the miry muck they call gumbo mud. Even past close calls and crashes haven't diminished my desire to go full-throttle down a stretch of Louisiana gumbo mud.
Back in the days of my youth, mud racing invloved friendly, yet firecely competitive, romps through the swamp. These gatherings of 4x4s, friends, family, and rivals raced on a relatively short course that zigzagged though the swamp and looped through the creek like the backwaters of the bayou. They were timed events of about eight to ten laps through the same area of sludge. Each vehicle left at 5-minute intervals to try to keep the congestion down. A few deep-water holes or a bad bog would quickly disrupt the theory and bottleneck the proceedings.
There were two-man teams in each vehicle - the driver and the "swamper." The driver position was actually a very physical job. You have to remember the era - early Broncos, Jeeps, Scouts, homebuilt buggies, no power steering, and manual transmissions. The swamper needed to be a master of many skills, but his main purpose was to pull the winch line and hook up the cable. Many a race was won or lost based on the driver's ability to not get stuck and the swamper's skills to get them unstuck quicker than the other guys.
The spectators were up-close and personal with the racers. They would mostly congregate around the larger water obstacles and muddy slews, and these race fans were nearly as likely to be caught up in the mud splatter as the racers. This closeness was part of the draw of mud racing - the spectators got the sense that they were part of the race since they too were enduring the elements.
The year 1974 saw a new era in mud racing as these 4x4fathers of mine pioneered a new form of racing in the South: side-by-side mud racing. The sport's fanbase and number of participants had been increasing steadily over the years, and now with this new twist on the sport, its popularity grew even greater.
The original mud-racing track lay in a soybean field in Goodwill, Louisiana. Cane poles were used to mark the boundaries of the track. The poles went downfield about 300 feet, made a sharp lefthand turn to create a curve, and then formed a straightaway back to the finish line - basically,a U-shaped track. The proliferation of racetracks and the emergence of a strong sanctioning body spread the sport into Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and more areas of Louisiana.
This style of mud racing flourished for nearly 15 years until the early '80s. I'm not quite sure what led to its demise, but I do remember going to one of the last races with some buddies of mine when I was in the sixth grade.
The '90s were a big void for mud racing, but 2000 began a new revival that continues strong today. Seven years ago, a new generation of racers who began to hit their early 30s asked the question, "Whatever happened to the mud races we used to go to as kids?"
These nostalgic few decided to build a racetrack and hold a "run-whatcha-brung" mud race, and these humble beginnings have led to a resurrection of this extreme off-road motorsport.
Although the evolution of the sport has involved many growing pains in the past seven years, the strongest sanctioning body today is the American Mud Racing Association (AMRA). Members of this board of trustees have proven their commitment to the sport. Many of these dedicated folks are second-generation mud racers and race fans - the same ones who reveled in the mud racing of their 4x4fathers.
The main objective of the AMRA has been to unify the sport of mud racing among the race teams, track owners, sponsors, and race fans. In essence, the AMRA establishes the rules of play for race teams in each class, develops relationships with track owners to provide racers and fans friendly facilities, ensures the sponsors get their money's worth, and makes sure the fans are entertained.
There are currently four different vehicle classifications: Stock, Super Stock, Modified, and Super Modified. Although all classes have common safety requirements like a rollcage, seat harnesses, fire extinguishers, and so forth, classes are distinguished by certain restrictions: engine size, carburetor size, heads, camshaft size, suspension design, and tire size. Over the years, the AMRA has modified its rules to help keep the playing field competitive yet as fair as possible; however, safety is still first.
With eight races on the track circuit for 2007, the AMRA guarantees trophies and $6,500 in prize money for each sanctioned race event to be divided among the top five finishers of each class. Besides the payoff per event, the AMRA annual points championship awards banquet will pay out nearly $15,000 in monies, trophies, and prizes to the points champions and Second through Fifth Place finishers in each class.
The founding 4x4fathers knew they wouldn't get rich from mud racing. They were just happy to participate and hopefully win. Some of these 4x4fathers are still racing, and one of them you may be familiar with: Lonnie McCurry Sr., CEO and president of Skyjacker Suspensions. In 2003, Lonnie teamed up again with one of his longtime friends, Richard Richardson, to revisit their passion for mud racing. Richardson drove and Lonnie was swamper in the highly competitive Modified Class in their red and white Ford Bronco - #99, the Mohuncher. They proved themselves in this new era of mud racing by becoming the 2003 AMRA points champions in their class as part of the Skyjacker Motor Sports Team. Also, Sherie Richardson races her silver Chevy in the Super Stock Class. Two of Richardson's sons are also racers: Dewayne Richardson races the Modified Class in the King Cobra (his dad's refurbished Mohuncher), and Beryl Richardson competes in the Super Modified Class in his black Ford Bronco AK47.
Lonnie and Richard have recognized the investment it takes to keep a passion alive. Both of these gentlemen have invested time and money into the sport of their youth... which is now the sport that keeps them young at heart. And, if the rumors are true, you'll have the opportunity to see these 4x4fathers in the cockpit of a new race truck for the 2007 season.
As with any sport that progresses as it moves into a new era, there have been significant technological advances in the sport of mud racing. There's added horsepower, better waterproofing, greater tire traction, improved damping, and evermore sophisticated suspension designs.
But it is people who make the biggest difference in a sport.
People in their race vehicles, people in the stands, people who host the facility - all of them pursuing something they love.
The people of the AMRA are carrying the torch of the extreme sport of mud racing today and into the future. The AMRA hosts fantastic, crowd-pleasing events for 4x4 enthusiasts to enjoy. As they say down South, "y'all need to come get ya some" to fully relish the flavor of this gumbo mud and all-out action.