The pro-modified buggy Roll On beat out Bobby Williams' Barefoot Florida Living for Greenling's fourth straight Big Feature title Naples Daily News
On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon, Dan Greenling continued on one of the hottest streaks that Naples' original sport of swamp buggy racing has ever seen.
At the Swamp Buggy Races Winter Classic, under cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, no one could catch Greenling.
But what’s new?
The driver of the pro-modified buggy Roll On and track record holder raced to another title in the Big Feature, the championship of each racing weekend. It was Greenling’s fourth consecutive Big Feature victory, something very few drivers have accomplished since the sport was organized 71 years ago.
“We did what we had to do every race,” Greenling said. “My pit crew put me there. I had to drive hard a couple times, but I was just running my race.”
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Greenling’s dominance goes even further back than his four straight titles.
Sunday was his seventh consecutive appearance in the Big Feature, which includes the top two pro-mods and the winner of the Intermediate Feature. Greenling has won five of the past six Big Features, and the only one he lost — he had a big lead before a breakdown on the final homestretch.
Bobby Williams beat Greenling in that last loss, which was in November 2018. On Sunday, Williams’ pro-mod Barefoot Florida Living lined up with Roll On once again in the day’s finale.
The buggies were even through the crossover, the first stretch of the race that cuts diagonally through the Mile-O-Mud track at Florida Sports Park. From the inside lane, Greenling pulled ahead around the first turn and Williams had trouble rounding the corner with Roll On’s spray in his eyes.
Greenling finished in 53.84 seconds, while Williams was second in 58.57 seconds.
“I was there, but if you get in a little bit of that spray you can’t see and your equilibrium goes,” Williams said. “Getting in that rough water will slow you down.
“Dan’s got a good team. He’s dialed in. I think our team is, too. If we’d have had the inside lane it would have been a totally different outcome.”
In addition to winning $3,954 for his victory, Greenling took a giant leap toward winning a third straight Bud Cup, the swamp buggy season points title trophy. Last year Greenling became the second drive to win consecutive Bud Cups since the prize was created in 1991. Eddie Chesser, the only other drive to do it, won six straight from 1995-2000 and then back-to-back titles in 2010-11.
The third and final event off the 2019-20 season is the Spring Classic on March 7-8.
To win on Sunday, Greenling beat Reece Gardner’s Air Head buggy in the first round. Gardner finished runner-up to Roll On in November. Greenling then beat Brian Langford in Rubber Duck, the last driver and buggy to beat him without a mechanical failure. Langford beat Greenling for the Big Feature title in March 2018.
As the racing adage goes, to finish first a driver must first finish the race, and Greenling considers himself lucky they haven’t had any mechanical issues in over a year.
“It feels better every time,” Greenling said of the win. “There were a lot of fast buggies that broke (Sunday). They were right there as fast as me, and they were faster than me (in Saturday’s test and tune session). You never know when you’re going to get back up here, so it’s always great every time.”
Bonita Springs firefighter Dave Brewer won the V8 Sportsman class and $1,683 in his buggy Backdraft. Rodney Batcher won the 6-cylinder class and $1,005 in Barefoot Florida Living. Cold Duck, driven by Ray Thornton, was the 4-cylinder winner and took home $600. Steve Armstrong won the Jeep class and $1,428 in Evil N Wicked.
Maybe the most exciting race of the day – certainly the fans’ favorite – was the air-cooled final.
Brandon Kipp earned his first class title and $984 by going at a snail’s pace of 5 minutes, 18.78 seconds. The other two air-cooled buggies stalled out in the deep water of the “sippee hole” just 30 feet from the finish. Slow and steady, Kipp’s Mud Shark motored around the track and was the only buggy to finish.
His class title came after he took more than 7 minutes to win his heat race when his opponent also broke down.
Kipp blew two cylinders in the first race and had carburetor issues on Sunday, giving his buggy a considerable lack of power. Still, Mud Shark was able to keep moving all the way to the finish line.
“That’s why you never give up,” Kipp said. “Just keep going. You never know what’s going to happen.
“I love the sport. Seeing it as a little kid and wanting to be in it one day, to finally get up here (on the winner’s stand), it means a lot.”