NAPLES — Laden with unconventional traditions and colorful competitors, swamp buggy racing may not be the fastest form of motor sports.
Yet that won’t keep the Monsters of the Mudway from getting some valuable national television exposure on the Speed channel.
Rob Swift, president of the Swamp Buggy Inc. Board of Directors, confirmed Wednesday that this weekend’s Winter Classic at the Florida Sports Park will be videotaped by Speed channel representatives and will be shown later as part of the Lucas Oil On The Edge series.
It will mark the first time in several years that the buggies – once a fixture on what was known as The Nashville Network – will get national/ international TV coverage. In recent years, media attention generally has been handled by various local and regional outlets. Such outlets, however, do reach audiences well beyond the boundaries of Southwest Florida because of Internet traffic that extends worldwide.
Speed is a cable and satellite television channel broadcast to various parts of North America, but primarily the United States. The channel, based in Charlotte, N.C., currently broadcasts mostly automotive-related programming.
Even though Sunday’s Winter Classic won’t be shown live, Swift said it’s his understanding that four different segments will be included on various episodes.
And while its range of programming runs the motor mania gamut, Speed is known for its coverage of NASCAR-related events, Formula 1, NHRA drag racing, monster trucks and even the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auctions.
“I think it’s really, really good that we’ll be getting this kind of exposure,” Swift said. “It gets us out there in front of the people.”
Longtime resident/race fan/track announcer John Norman, a Board Member Emeritus among the Swamp Buggy, Inc., ranks, agreed that having the sport return to national TV exposure is a shot in the arm.
“I see it really as kind of a rebirth of our sport,” Norman, a broadcasting veteran in his own right, said. “We’ve had some exposure like this in the past, but it’s been a long, long time. I think it’s a wonderful thing to have it on TV again. It will bring a lot of attention to the races, but also to Collier County and it won’t cost anything.”
Norman also hopes the attention will help spur ticket sales for the weekend festivities at the Florida Sports Park. Preliminary heats and time trials will take place Saturday afternoon and the Budweiser Cup Series points racing Sunday will begin at 12:30 p.m.
“This will help us in terms of getting more sponsors and it’s good for people who have not heard about us before,” Norman added. “I think people will be interested to come to the races just to see how the videotaping is done and how what they see at the track will look once it gets on television.”
The first leg of the three-race Budweiser Cup Series took place back in October. After this weekend’s action, the 2009-10 Series will conclude March 6-7.
The buggies – both men and women are at the wheel -- race in seven classes based on horsepower. The various class winners then engage in feature races to determine the day’s champion. In October, for example, Tyler Johns won the Big Feature to establish himself as the Bud Cup points leader.
One of the sport’s popular traditions includes what is called the Queen’s Mudbath. That is when the day’s Big Feature winner gathers up the Swamp Buggy Queen -- with flowing gown and all. The two leap into the murky water to the crowd’s delight.
This year’s queen is Megan Hoolihan, a graduate of Golden Gate High.
Swamp buggy racing is a Collier County tradition said to have been born in 1949 in Raymond Bennett’s sweet potato patch in East Naples.
Since that time, the overall look, craftsmanship and technology of the homespun machines have changed considerably. The fastest class of them all – the Pro Modifieds – have been clocked in excess of 70 miles per hour.
Given the fact that the water is at least a foot deep in most places and six-feet deep in specific spots of the canal-like track, a lap time of 54 seconds or faster defines swamp buggy racing Speed.