Swamp buggy racing is in one sense like yacht racing. I promise. Like sailing yachts, swamp buggies took a back seat to a more efficient craft and became the stuff of sport. Before the advent of airboats, the swamp buggy was the way to get around the Florida Everglades. And of course before powerboats, sail was the way to get around on the ocean.
Ed Frank invented the swamp buggy back when the everglades were being developed in the 1930’s. The first buggies were tall, lanky things with giant balloon tires. At one time, swamp buggies were considered as important to Florida as “cow ponies are to the west,” so wrote a columnist for the Collier County News.
As with any mode of transportation, eventually people got the idea to race. As more hunters were engineering their own swamp buggies, they would get together to brag about their vehicles in the form of rallies. The first official swamp buggy races were held in 1949, and through the 1950’s even Hollywood stars like Gary Cooper got involved in the action. But what was once an unruly bog has over the years evolved into what is now known as the Mile O’ Mud, the premier swamp buggy venue.
In the old days, racers would compete for a shotgun as the prize. Today, thousands of dollars are at stake, and the sport is covered everywhere from the National Geographic Channel to ESPN.
A racing swamp buggy is not as graceful as a yacht, however. It’s an obnoxious motorcar with very skinny, very large tires. They roar through 18 inches of water on a figure-eight track. Some are jeeps with snorkels. Others are essentially Nascar racers equipped for the swamps.
This, not surprisingly, is a very popular sport in Florida. There’s even a swamp buggy queen at such events. Not even yachtsmen have a queen, you know.
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