Pro-modified driver Brian Langford wins the Big Feature in his return to swamp buggy racing following a 10-year layoff. Langford won at Florida Sports Park on March 3, 2018. Adam Fisher/Naples Daily News


Fans at Florida Sports Park on Saturday, especially ones new to the sport, might have been surprised at who the fastest driver was at the Swamp Buggy Races Spring Classic.

Brian Langford, the owner of the fastest buggy on Saturday, wasn’t. While most drivers have been working on their vehicles since the last race five weeks ago, Langford has had a decade to perfect his machine.

In his first return to the Mile-O-Mud in 10 years, Langford won the Big Feature at the Spring Classic with his pro-modified swamp buggy Rubber Duck. The 44-year-old Naples native beat out former champion Dan Greenling’s Roll On and finished the final race in 53.75 seconds, the fastest time of the day.

“I just recently caught the (racing) bug again,” Langford said. “We’ve had 10 years to think about what we wanted to do and put it all in one buggy, and it’s working.”

More: Greenlings hope to chase down Johns at Spring Classic

More: Tyler Johns completes comeback, wins Winter Classic with prosthetic arm

More: Swamp Buggy Races return after 10-month layoff due to Hurricane Irma

Langford ripped through swamp buggy royalty to win his first Big Feature. In the first round he knocked off Winter Classic winner Tyler Johns. Then Langford beat Eddie Chesser, who owns the record with 11 Bud Cup season championships, before beating Greenling, who holds the track record for fastest time (47.97).

“I had to beat the three fastest buggies out here today,” Langford said. “Of course there’s a lot of luck involved, but the buggy performed above our expectations.”

Langford’s father, Terry, started racing swamp buggies in the 1970s. Brian grew up helping his dad build and work on buggies before getting in the driver’s seat himself sometime in the 90s.

Terry Langford won the Bud Cup in a buggy called Rubber Duck in 1992. He retired about 15 years ago, and Brian Langford stopped racing a few years after. But following a 10-year layoff, Langford wanted to get back into the sport that is a tradition in his hometown and has a long history of racing families.

Before the Big Feature, Greenling posted the fastest time of the day in the pro-modified semifinals (54.22).

In the final race, Roll On and Rubber Duck nearly touched tires coming down the front straightaway for the first time. Langford had the inside lane. When the spray from his tires got into Greenling’s face, Greenling said he had to slow down for a fraction of a second, which gave Langford all the time he needed to pull ahead.

Greenling, a former Bud Cup winner, still was pleased with his finish. He was about 3 seconds faster Saturday than he was at the Winter Classic in late January.

“It was running fast again,” Greenling said. “I’m proud of our pit crew to get in the final race. We just weren’t lucky enough to get the right lane. We made a lot of progress.”

Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Lorrie Johns, a two-time Bud Cup winner, cruised to the V8 Sportsman division title to earn a spot in the Big Feature with the two pro-modified buggies.

It was vindication for Johns, who didn’t complete a race last time out in January. Her V8 broke down in qualifying for the Winter Classic, then she had to borrow a pro-modified motor and race in that division, breaking down twice.

“Today Lady Luck was with us,” Johns said. “It was our day to do a little bit better.”

Johns said she was inspired by her son, Tyler, who won the Winter Classic less than two years after losing part of his left arm in an airboat accident. On Saturday, Tyler Johns’ pro-modified Patriot had a motor failure in its first race and couldn’t return.

“I’m trying to drive a little bit more like my son because he drives so well and I’m so proud of him,” Lorrie Johns said. “More aggressive. I no longer am trying to give and take on the track. I’m going to take a bit more.”

Langford won $3,536.50 for his Big Feature title. Lorrie Johns earned $1,914.

Andy Foust won the 6-cylinder class in Barefoot Florida Sunshine, taking home $765. William Thornton received $480 for winning the 4-cylinder title with Cold Duck.

Jordan Gardner won the air-cooled title in Air Jordan to take home $672. Jeep winner Tommy Elmer in Son Ova Ditch won $1,206.20.

Race added

Track officials announced Saturday that the third racing weekend of the 2018 season will be April 7-8. The third race, what usually is the final of the season, was scheduled to be in November, but the past two Fall Classics were canceled due to inclement weather – first flooding, then damage from Hurricane Irma.

There still is a race planned for November. It hasn’t been decided yet if the season-long Bud Cup points championship will be determined after the April race, or if the racing season will extend to four events and include the November race.

The Swamp Buggy Parade, held every fall since 1949 except for three cancellations, still is scheduled for November.

Chesser honored

Before the Spring Classic started, the Swamp Buggy, Inc., board of directors honored a driver who paved the way for many of those who raced Saturday.

Leonard Chesser, called “The Godfather of Swamp Buggy Racing” by those in the sport, turned 78 Saturday. He was honored with a ceremony retiring his No. 10 – no buggy will ever have that number again.

Chesser has won more swamp buggy races than any driver in the history of the sport, which started in Collier County in 1949.

The biggest surprise came when Chesser arrived and saw his old pro-modified buggy Dat’s Da One sitting on a pole 15 feet in the air, on permanent display at the park. Chesser raced the buggy for decades, up until he was 70.

“I was after it for a while,” Chesser said. “I went out with a bang.”

Chesser eventually gave Dat’s Da One to his daughter, Amy, who raced it. His son, Glen, drove his pro-mod Shredder in Saturday’s races.

Eddie Chesser, Leonard’s nephew, still races and has won the season-long Bud Cup championship a record 11 times. Lonnie Chesser, brother to Leonard and father of Eddie, also raced and built buggies before he died in 2014.