PHOTOS: Swamp Buggies: Greenling edges emotional Chesser for Budweiser Fall Classic title

Class and feature-race winners in Sunday’s Budweiser Fall Classic swamp buggy races at the Florida Sports Park:

■ Pro Modified 2-wheel drive – Dan Greenling, Roll On.

■ Pro Modified 4-wheel drive – Eddie Chesser, The Rapture.

■ V8 Sportsman – Wayne Harris, Southern Thunder.

■ 6-cylinder – No entries.

■ 4-cylinder – William Thornton, Cold Duck.

■ Air-Cooled – No class champion (neither buggy able to complete class final).

■ Jeep – Steve Armstrong, Evil & Wicked.

■ Little Feature – William Thornton, Cold Duck.

■ Intermediate Feature – Wayne Harris, Southern Thunder.

■ Big Feature – Dan Greenling, Roll On.

■ V8 Sportsman Marathon – Duane Culbreath, Hillbilly Deluxe.

■ Jeep Scramble – Jeremy White, General Lee.

— Winning any kind of swamp buggy race is never easy. But Dan Greenling sure made it look like a Halloween treat Sunday in the Budweiser Fall Classic at the Florida Sports Park.

Consistently posting the fastest laps of the day at the soupy Mile-O-Mud oval, Greenling won his Pro Modified 2-wheel drive division, and went on to fend off defending Budweiser Cup Series points champ Eddie Chesser in the Big Feature.

Greenling’s Pro Mod 2-wheel-drive buggy was called Roll On. Chesser’s was a Pro Modified 4-wheel-drive creation called The Rapture.

“It’s never easy to get up here on Sunday,” a reverent Greenling said after coming from behind to win the Big Feature over Chesser. “You always worry. There are just so many little things that can go wrong. Every time you’re able to win on Sunday, you appreciate it even more than the previous time. That’s how hard it is.”

The finale of the four-hour show was emotional for all the drivers. Wayne Harris was supposed to be the third entry in the Big Feature in his V8 Sportsman machine called Southern Thunder.

But Harris ultimately was forced to withdraw because he could not get his buggy to back up, or even turn left in order to get into position at the starting line.

“Sure, I would have loved to run in the final,” Harris said. “I know I didn’t have anything for them, but it would have been fun. Dan and I have been racing together for years. He’s my teammate, and it’s the first time for us to get up on the podium at the same time.”

Chesser raced with a heavy foot and a heavy heart. A month ago, his father, Lonnie, a legendary buggy driver and builder, suffered a severe stroke. Recently, Lonnie was moved to a rehabilitation center in St. Petersburg. There have been slight indications that he is improving.

Many drivers Sunday dedicated their efforts to their missing comrade. Kiara Chesser, Eddie’s daughter, cheered from her spot among the Swamp Buggy Queen Court members. She was third runner-up in the recent pageant.

“Gotta cheer for Daddy,” Kiara said, pumping her fist as Eddie crossed the finish line of the Pro Mod 4-wheel-drive class final.

Eddie said that given his father’s situation, it’s been a tough few weeks.

“He can’t talk to us. He looks at us. He can hear us. I know he’s comin’ back,” the eight-time world champ said during the post-race trophy presentations.

“I wanted to do it for him. I tried extremely hard for him,” Chesser added.

The finale was a thriller. Chesser had the early lead, but Greenling was able to squeeze by on the inside lane as the two buggies exited the sweeping right-hand turn around the track’s south island.

“It was a clean race,” Greenling said. “Eddie gave me all I needed. I probably could have gone up on the bank a little more if I had needed to. Eddie could have moved over to block a little more if he had wanted to. But he didn’t do that.”

Even though he had the early advantage, Chesser said he knew Greenling was lurking.

“I didn’t actually see him until we exited the turn,” Chesser reflected. “I knew he would be there sooner or later. He’s running fast. It was a good race. My buggy’s running faster than it ever has. I’m happy with it. I’m very happy with it.”

Greenling’s winning time in the Big Feature was 53.09 seconds, compared to Chesser’s 58.68. Earlier in the day, Greenling had clocked the fastest lap of the weekend with a circuit of 52.84 seconds in his class final win over Tony Migliazzo’s Bada Bing.

The traditional Queen’s Mudbath ended the day’s festivities. Greenling and Swamp Buggy Queen Christa Jo Roberts were delivered via hunting buggy to the deepest part of the murky track in front of the main grandstands. Greenling picked up the queen and the two jumped into the chilly, oily water to the crowd’s delight.

Sunday’s race was the first leg of the 2010-11 Budweiser Cup Series points championship. The second leg is scheduled for Jan. 29-30, and the finale will be the first weekend in March.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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