Thursday
Feb042010

Mud In My Blood? Maybe

[VIEW GALLERY]Since moving to Florida, I’ve missed one scheduled Swamp Buggy race… five out of six.

I have to tell you, it just fascinates me on so many different levels. I keep trying to assess what it is that makes this form of motorsport so intriguing to me. Sure, it’s got all the basics… noise, speed, horsepower and all the human passion that comes along with racing. But I see that at every race I shoot. There are lots of forms of racing out there… so what makes this show so unique?

I won’t go as far as to say I’ve figured it out, but I am beginning to understand more and more where the difference lies. And oddly, it might just be the simplicity that NASCAR has tried to do and failed. Now that might be a bit unfair. NASCAR has hardly failed on a financial basis. But their desire to keep things simple and mechanically “pure” … well, let’s just say that train left the station a long time ago. Short of no onboard telemetry and the carburetor, NASCAR is as high-tech as most major forms of auto racing. Unfortunately, carburetors and telemetry couldn’t overcome the rest of the technical neutering. NASCAR got predictable and it got boring.

Swamp Buggy isn’t boring. Yet, there is no onboard telemetry, no computer aided design, no fleet of engineers nor are their race shops filled with every piece of cutting edge technology known to man.

Swamp Buggies are built out back. They’re built by the guys (and girls) that drive them. They’re designed by a level of ingenuity that rises to the research level of “I wonder what will happen if I … ? (you fill in the blank.) It might just be the last bastion of backyard mechanics.

Amy Chesser AKA “The Queen of the Swamp”I had a chat with Amy Chesser; AKA the Queen of the Swamp. She’s the daughter of Leonard Chesser. The Chesser family are widely regarded as the first family of Swamp Buggy. I’ll have a lot more of my chat with Amy at a later date. This girl IS the real deal.

Amy explained to me some of the challenges facing Swamp Buggy in 2010. First, there’s no new blood. Second, you don’t just ring up Porsche or Ferrari, or even Bill Riley or Pratt Miller to order up a new chassis or roller. Nope.. if you want yourself a buggy, you either find someone getting rid of one or you set about the duanting challenge of building your own. Suffice it to say, you’re not going to get any factory support out of John Deere, so you’re pretty much on your own.

Leonard ChesserMichelin is probably not waiting in the wings either. Nope… to get tires to run on these buggies, you need to start scouting around for something you can carve up and make narrow enough to bolt onto your wheels. Wheels, which buy the way, are about five foot in diameter and four or five inches wide. he Chesser’s last batch of rubber came from China. Seems old Leonard pretty good on the intent. Once he found a source, his next challenge was filling up a shipping pallet. Obviously, it wasn’t all buggy tires… no, Leonard had to get real creative and fill that pallet with all kinds of rubber tires with the help of friends and tire dealers. And don’t kid yourself, the tires matter. Amy was quick to point out, side wall flex is an issue. T

So, finding new “content” is going to be a challenge Swamp Buggy must face.

Looking for similarities to other forms of racing, I asked Amy if engine rebuilds came on schedule, or if they just rebuilt when things started to wear out. Amy quickly answered “usually on schedule.” “And when’s that,” I asked. “Oh, every couple of years,” she replied.

Swamp Buggies run three times in a season. October, January, and March. They do time trials on Saturday and bracket heats on Sunday. You win or go home. Turning sub one-minute laps for about two laps, the aforementioned motors might get about 8-10 minutes per weekend. More often it’s less. Some rough math tells you these motors get rebuilt after an hour of run time.

What happens if the engine blows? You go home. There are no budgets to have a spare motor in the pits. In fact, there’s very little equipment trackside. When Leonard blew a motor on Saturday, it was back to the shop to work all night to be back for Sunday’s racing. Of course, Amy was there to help. You see, Amy’s been building buggies since, well… since an age when most girls were playing with Barbie dolls.

There’s an awkward purity to Swamp Buggy racing. Unlike the American Le Mans series where 70 German engineers wait for the order to have Gunter push F11 and turn the horsepower loose, the weekend warriors of Swamp Buggy work year round trying to find that edge that will help them rule the swamp. Which brings us to the next part of the equation. The swamp doesn’t want to be ruled.

Florida Sports Park is purpose built facility. It is owned by the non-profit organization of Swamp Buggy Inc. Swamp Buggy Inc.’s sole purpose to promote swamp buggy racing and provide a venue for Collier County charity organizations in their fund raising efforts. The swamp however, is not so charitable.

The track at Swamp Buggy is a figure eight style affectionately called the Mile O’ Mud by race fans. As Amy explains it, the swamp is the great equalizer. The best time they’ve ever turned was four years ago; a 51 second lap. The closest they have come since was around 53. Seems there are lots of things that can affect the race track. You see, the swamp is drained in the off-season. So weather, rain, erosion, growth and other elements change the track. Of course it’s under water for the race, so drivers have no idea what to look for. In short, they just keep tinkering with their buggies and keep trying to find an edge over their competitors.. and over the swamp.

Eddie Chesser for the win!I’m not going to lie to you. I still don’t know why I feel compelled to photograph this instead the Rolex 24 (that’s not true… but I’m being politically correct). But I like it. I like the racers. I like the spirit. I like the ingenuity. I like that it truly is just man and machine versus the swamp.

Thanks for indulging my fascination with these things… hope you enjoy the gallery and keep an eye out for the feature I’m preparing on Any Chesser. I promise, she’ll leave you asking, “Danica who?”

« The Future of IndyCar Racing | Main | Dole at Daytona »