It’s how the Southwest is won — in Florida that is

Larry West’s Viper leads the list of Swamp Buggy racers fighting for a chance to kick up the March mud

What has three legs, spews grime and causes scaly reptiles to skeedaddle for cover?

Shucks, that’s an easy one.

It’s the Budweiser Cup Series world championship of swamp buggy racing.

The second leg of the 2006-07 trifecta looms at the Florida Sports Park east of Naples this weekend. Time trials and test laps will be on Saturday and the Winter Classic takes the green flag on Sunday. The mudslinging both days begins at 12:30 p.m. (You can dial up the track office at 774-2701 for ticket specifics.)

In the opening leg of the Series back in late October, a slithery, mechanized critter named Viper, driven by Larry West, claimed Big Feature honors and the lead position in the points standings. After 25 years of toil, it was West’s first trip to the victory circle in the biggest race of the weekend.

The bigger question is, can West keep things from going south this weekend and add to his points lead?

And even if he does, what about the third and final leg of the Bud Cup beast on March 4?

If West wants to rule the swamp, he’s going to have to keep everyone on his team pointed in the same direction.

So, you might ask, if one had an itch, where would one go to buy a Viper of his own?

Definitely not to the Dodge dealer, Mr. Ricky Bobby.

Like all of the racing swamp buggies, this Viper is a made-from-scratch snake fed by an anything-but-stock V8 engine linked to a four-wheel-drive muscle that moves it around the soupy, canal-like oval faster than a monster mudskipper.

The V8s are the biggest, baddest bullies on the track, which also is known as the Mile-O-Mud. One trip around lasts about 54 seconds for the thoroughbreds of this brood.

In all, there are seven different divisions of buggies based on the drive-train configuration. There are six-cylinder creations and four-bangers and even some air-cooled engines that buzz so loud that you’d think every transformer in the county was about to blow.

Variety is what spices up the day. For while the Jeeps may not be as mind boggling as the Pro Modifieds, they negotiate the bog in their own entertaining, bump-and-grind style.

And to think that all this started decades and decades ago when a Collier County pioneer named Ed Frank bragged to a friend that his huntin’ buggy was the best around.

Faster than you could gig a frog, guys all of a sudden were testing each other to see whose buggy was half-fast — a figure of speech among those types.

It was in 1949 in Raymond Bennett’s East Naples sweet potato patch that the first true races took root, so to speak.

It’s a funky, filthy type of motor sports laden with traditions — one of which involves inviting a young lady bold enough to want to be chosen as the Swamp Buggy Queen to a crowd-pleasing mud-dunking.

That curious custom will be the order of the day on Sunday once the Big Feature winner is decided. The winning driver will gather up Queen Jennifer Frostad in his arms and together, the two will take the plunge into the murky depths of what is called the Sippy Hole in front of the main grandstands.

The water in that part of the track is about six feet deep — so they say. There once was a driver named Sippy Morris who continually got stuck in the deepest under-the-surface cavity on the course. Thus the name, Sippy Hole.

It’s hardly rocket science, unless, of course, you’ve shelled out about $25,000 for a big-block engine that might be better off underneath the hood of the Fabulous Hudson Hornet.

To suggest that some of the guys take it seriously is something akin to saying that the Hatfields and McCoys are the feudin’ kind.

Dare we forget, there are some women drivers, too, the sort of leadfeet who like to get where they’re goin’ in a hurry and never dreamed of using their blinkers.

The Florida Sports Park entrance is about three miles south of Interstate 75 Exit 101, at the intersection of Collier Boulevard and Rattlesnake Hammock Road.

A variety of concessionaires will be on hand to provide the usual carnival-type cuisine all weekend.

On Saturday night, there will be the traditional country dance in the park’s air-conditioned pavilion, with live boot-scootin’ music.

Parking, you ask? There’s plenty on-site — and it’s free.

Now admit it, even Dolly Parton would call that cheap.

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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