Class and feature-race winners in Sunday’s Winter Classic swamp buggy races at the Florida Sports Park:
Pro Modified 2-wheel drive -- Tyler Johns, Patriot.
Pro Modified 4-wheel drive -- Eddie Chesser, The Rapture.
V8 Sportsman -- Lorrie Johns, Lady Liberty.
6-cylinder – No entries
4-cylinder – Nikki Johnson, Grits.
Air-Cooled – Gene Johnson, Puddle Jumper.
Jeeps – Steve Armstrong, Evil & Wicked.
Little Feature – Nikki Johnson, Grits.
Intermediate Feature – Lorrie Johns, Lady Liberty.
Big Feature – Tyler Johns, Patriot.
V8 Sportsman Marathon – Charity Palmer, Thunder.
Jeep Scramble – Sean Gould, War Jeep.
NAPLES — When the 2010-11 Budweiser Cup Series swamp buggy racing championship wraps up March 6 at the Florida Sports Park, it promises to be a quite a finish.
With Pro Modified 2-wheel drive victor Tyler Johns upending October champ Dan Greenling in Sunday’s Winter Classic and taking Big Feature honors as well, the points lead going into the Spring Classic belongs to eight-time series champion Eddie Chesser.
Though having to accept a second-place finish in the Big Feature for the second straight time, Chesser’s Pro Modified 4-wheel drive machine called The Rapture is in position for Cup No. 9.
“Same story,” a somewhat dejected Chesser said after his runner-up finish to Johns in the afternoon’s finale. When the drivers drew pills to determine lane choice for the final race, it was Johns who got the inside lane. In October against Greenling, Chesser also drew the “bad” lane.
“Give Tyler credit, he was runnin’ good,” Chesser said. “But whoever gets that inside lane is going to have an advantage. Get the inside lane and you can gain three lengths.”
Chesser and Johns were running dangerously close to one another as they exited the first right-hand turn around the south island at the Mile-O-Mud. On the inside, Johns was able to use his momentum to roar by Chesser and take command of the race.
“He held his lane and made me stick it in there close on the inside,” an ecstatic Johns said after winning his first Big Feature since October of 2009. “That was a tight race. That 4-wheel drive of his can pull out on you.”
In addition to assuming the points lead, Chesser had another reason to find solace in his second straight runner-up finish. His said he hopes his father, legendary buggy builder Lonnie Chesser, will be able to attend the racing in March, even if only for a brief time.
It was in October that Lonnie Chesser suffered a major stroke. After several months in a St. Petersburg hospital, he only recently was able to return to The Heritage in Naples for additional rehab.
“Every day he gets a little bit better, moving a little more and things like that,” Eddie said of his father. “I’m hoping he can come out in a wheelchair in March even if he can’t stay the whole time.”
The victory over Chesser was a thrill for Johns, who had to dethrone Greenling in the finale of the Pro Mod 2-wheel drive class. In that race, Johns posted one of his fastest laps ever at 52.91 seconds. In fact, it was Sunday’s fastest lap by any of the competitors.
Johns drew the inside lane for the class finale as well, and admitted that gave him an advantage.
“The race with Dan was a heck of a race,” Johns said of his green-to-checkered win. “We both were on our 'A' game and I got the inside lane. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
There was a time when Johns would drive his buggy on two wheels when going through the corners at full speed. Now, though, the handling seems to be much improved.
“It handles much better,” Johns said, unwilling to reveal any of his trade secrets.
“A couple of springs here and there, you know,” he said with a laugh.
Johns said he didn’t take his success for granted as the afternoon unfolded.
“You always have some doubts,” he said. “You don’t want to get ahead of yourself out there.”
Tyler Johns was not the only member of the Johns family who made waves on the soupy, canal-like oval. His mother, Lorrie, won the V8 Sportsman class and the Intermediate Feature. However, because of a bad water pump gasket, she was not able to go to the starting line against her son in the Big Feature.
It was in the V8 Sportsman class semifinals that Lorrie Johns had to drive her hardest. Wayne Harris’ Southern Thunder gave her all the competition she wanted.
“Wayne Harris made me race way harder than ever before,” she said. “He made me take that corner around the island full speed. It was an awesome thing, a great race, but very scary.”
Lorrie Johns wasn’t the only women driver making a splash. Nikki Johnson, making her first appearance in the 4-cylinder class, took class honors, and ran second to Lorrie Johns in the Intermediate Feature.
Steve Armstrong, who drove Evil & Wicked, was tops in the Jeep Class and Gene Johnson’s Puddle Jumper was best among the Air-Cooled entries.