Class and feature-race winners in Sunday’s Spring Classic swamp buggy races at the Florida Sports Park:
Pro Modified A main — Eddie Chesser, The Rapture
Pro Modified B main — Steve Dunson, Pump It Out
V8 Sportsman — Dan Greenling Jr., Southern Thunder
6-cylinder — Becky Boyd, Barefoot Florida Sunshine
4-cylinder — Ken O’Neil, Gritz
Air-cooled — John Parks, Sidewinder
Jeep — Sean Gould, War Jeep
Little Feature — Ken O’Neil, Gritz
Intermediate Feature — Ken O’Neil, Gritz
Big Feature — Eddie Chesser, The Rapture
Budweiser Cup final standings (top 3) — Eddie Chesser, The Rapture, 29; Lorrie Johns, Lady Liberty, 22; Ken O’Neil, Gritz, 19.
Jet’s Pizza Jeep Scramble — Scott Van Wagner, Special Blend
NAPLES — Seems like these days, the only swamp buggy driver who can one-up Eddie Chesser is Eddie Chesser himself.
The 48-year Collier County road and bridge inspector played every card in his hand Sunday to capture his Pro Modified A main class and Big Feature honors in the Spring Classic. In the process, he also earned an astonishing 10th Budweiser Cup Series points championship in his burgundy missile called The Rapture.
“I don’t know how I will win another championship,” Chesser said late Sunday afternoon after outdueling Steve Dunson’s Pump It Out in the finale of the chilly mudfest. “It’s just getting harder and harder to win in the Pro Mod class. To win another championship is just going to be very difficult.”
Chesser went into Sunday’s action trailing points leader Lorrie Johns by six points and second-place Bonnie Walsh by two. The door to the title opened early in the day when Walsh lost her first heat race against none other than Chesser.
Johns, meanwhile, wasn’t able to repeat as champ. In the semifinal of her V8 Sportsman class against Dave Brewer’s Challenger, Johns led, but slowed heading down the backstretch and ultimately had to stop completely as she exited the final turn.
A broken axle was the culprit that took Johns out of the championship running. Had she been able to win her class and advance to the Big Feature, she would have had enough points to lock up a second crown.
“At least we didn’t crash,” Johns said. “It was a safe day and we needed that. To lose because of a breakdown is better than crashing.”
Chesser ended up first with 29 points, while Johns collected 22 and Ken O’Neil finished with 19.
Dunson’s appearance in the finale was not the only surprise. The third buggy in the Big Feature was the impressive four-cylinder Gritz machine driven by O’Neil.
The finale was a crowd-pleaser that had Chesser and Dunson running side-by-side most of the way after quickly pulling away from the underpowered O’Neil.
Chesser said that, once again, the luck of the draw helped him because he was on the inside lane at the start of the Big Feature.
“I knew my buggy was running good, but like it always does, it came down to having the inside lane,” Chesser said after his narrow victory over Dunson. “He was flying. I had him in the first corner, but then he pulled up tight all the way around.
“I finally lost him on the back stretch,” Chesser added. “I must have hit some hard ground or something because my buggy really launched. I never saw him after that.”
“I worked hard to get here,” a proud Dunson said. “I was givin’ her all I had.”
Sunday’s Big Feature win was Chesser’s second of the 2012-13 season. He took top honors back in November as well.
All nine of Chesser’s previous championships were won with a buggy that was a four-wheel-drive machine. When Chesser outsloshed the competition in November, he revealed that he had switched to the two-wheel-drive configuration.
While Chesser won the Pro Mod A division, Dunson’s B division victory came as the result of outmuscling the always-fast Roll On driven by Dan Greenling.
Rules changes a year ago prompted Chesser’s switch. Previously, two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive Pro Modified entries competed in separate classes. The number of four-wheel-drive machines was normally much lower than the two-wheel-drive list, which competitors said gave Chesser an inside track on advancing to each event’s Big Feature that has the highest number of points at stake.
Now the rules dictate that all Pro Mods compete in one class, whether they are two-wheel or four-wheel drive.
The crowd was treated to some hair-raising competition among the big buggies. Things started with a bang when in the first heat race of the afternoon, Pro Mod drivers Tyler Johns (Patriot) and Troy Ortega (Terminator 3) staged a neck-and-neck battle the entire race.
Ultimately, Ortega won by a scant 10 one-hundredths of a second.
Not to be left out of the winners circle were Jeep champion Sean Gould (War Jeep), Air-cooled champ John Parks (Sidewinder) and Jeep Scramble winner Scott Van Wagner (Special Blend). They were not able to advance in the feature round, however, against O’Neil’s Gritz.
O’Neil’s Gritz is owned by Mike Johnson, and O’Neil drove the buggy this year as a substitute for Nikki Johnson. She took the season off to tend to her newborn, according to O’Neil, who also drove the On The Run buggy in the V8 Sportsman division.