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Swamp Buggy Madness At The 2014 Winter Classic

Water Sports

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, Writer

Some of the greatest inventions were created out of necessity. The toothbrush, for example, and the swamp buggy. Wait, swamp buggy?

To those who live in Florida (you know, “Floridians”), the swamp buggy is a big deal and has been for years. You see, unlike most other states, Florida sports a vast amount of land that is covered by water and mud (also snakes and alligators). Hence, a long time ago, Floridians who wanted to explore and/or hunt the backcountry invented buggies that could penetrate the swamps. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the owners of these machines were challenging each other to races (funny how that works). It is said, that in 1943, hunters were racing their buggies through muddy potato patches just to see who had the faster buggy. By the late 1940s, 30 to 40 of these buggies would be gathered together the week prior to hunting season to race for what was usually a new shotgun donated by local merchants. The first “official” swamp buggy race, with a field of almost 50 competitors, was held in 1949, and it was a big deal. There was a parade through the town of Naples, Florida, and all the shops closed for the day.

Swamp buggy racing is still a big deal, and the place to see it is The Florida Sports Park, which is located near Naples, the locale where swamp buggy racing originated. The specially designed 100-acre park was completed in 1985, and it’s a celebration of all things swamp buggy. The main attraction is the huge racecourse, the majority of which is covered in 17-19 inches of water. The course also sports two “sippi” holes, which are 5½ feet in depth. Just like most other forms of racing, the idea is simple: The fastest buggy around the course is the winner. Sometimes getting around this aqueous course isn’t so simple, however.

The swamp buggies that race nowadays are quite unlike the early swamp buggies. Today, there are several classes ranging from the four-cylinder Jeep class to incredible, boat-like, go-fast, V-8-powered machines. The tech in these swamp buggies is fascinating and in many ways, one of a kind. We recently published an in-depth (no pun intended) look at Clay Madl’s ’60 Jeep CJ-6 Jeep-class buggy (“Anatomy of a Jeep Class Swamp Buggy,” Sept. ’14), and in an upcoming issue, we’ll take a detailed look at Eddie Chesser’s go-fast four-wheel-drive buggy. All of these machines are designed to operate in the deep water of the track, and that means, among other things, creative waterproofing. You can read more about how they keep these rigs running in (and under) water in the “Ultimate Waterproofing” story we published in the Aug. ’14 issue of Four Wheeler.

The Florida Sports Park holds a few swamp buggy races each year, and one of our favorites is the Winter Classic, held each January. This event is a blast and is held at a time when many people have flocked to Florida to flee winter’s grip in the northern U.S. and elsewhere, so the timing is perfect. We made the trek to the 2014 Winter Classic and have documented some of the goings-on here in this story. By the time you read this, the 2015 Winter Classic will be right around the corner (January 24-25), and if you like cool wheeling, we think you’d enjoy it. It’s a fun, entertaining, well-organized event that features unusual and intriguing machines.