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Swamp Buggy Races: Chesser credits crew after beating Palmer, Johns for Fall Classic title

Adam Fisher
Naples Daily News

Editor's note: Terry Palmer finished second in the Big Feature in his V8 sportsman buggy Mow Power. This article has been corrected after initially listing Palmer's finish incorrectly.

By his own account, Eddie Chesser shouldn’t have even lined up to start the finals Sunday at the Swamp Buggy Races Fall Classic presented by Naples Jeep Ram.

That’s how badly his pro-modified buggy The Outlaw was busted up going into the Big Feature championship race.

But Chesser, who owns the record for the most season titles in the Naples original sport, and his pit crew persevered. After some expedient emergency repairs, The Outlaw raced past Terry Palmer in Mow Power and Randy Johns in Top Gun to win the Big Feature and the Fall Classic title at Florida Sports Park.

“It was my crew,” Chesser said of his win. “My pit crew got me through. Even before (the finals), they fixed everything on there, man. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

In the semifinals of the pro-mod class, Chesser won, but the mechanical assembly that holds down the driveshaft in The Outlaw broke. Chesser didn’t know if he’d be able to continue into the Big Feature.

But the Outlaw’s crew got to work. In roughly 10 minutes, Chesser’s team had the buggy fixed – or at least together enough to compete.

Chesser won his first Big Feature since March 2017. The 56-year-old owns 11 Bud Cups, awarded at the end of each season to that year’s points winner, including six in a row from 1995-2000.

Johns, the other pro-modified buggy to advance to the Big Feature, had his own mechanical issues. He broke a wheel in the first turn of the Big Feature but was able to complete the race.

With Johns struggling, Palmer's V8 sportsman buggy Mow Power was able to pass Top Gun on the backstretch and finish runner-up in the Big Feature. 

Eddie Chesser leaps out at the start of the Big Feature race in his buggy The Outlaw at the 72nd Swamp Buggy Races Fall Classic at Florida Sports Park in Naples Sunday afternoon, December 6, 2020. Chesser went on to win the race.

“I came in on three,” Johns said. “You can’t run out here on three tires and be competitive.”

It was the second straight Big Feature appearance for Johns since he returned to the driver seat after more than seven years in the 2020 Spring Classic in March. He stopped driving to focus on being the crew chief for his son, pro-mod driver Tyler Johns, and wife, V8 sportsman driver Lorrie Johns.

In March, the Johns son beat his dad to win the Big Feature. On Sunday, the family patriarch got a measure of revenge. Randy Johns drew the inside lane in the pro-mod semifinals and earned a rare victory against Tyler Johns.

Spring Classic:Tyler Johns beats dad for Big Feature, Greenling wins Bud Cup

“It’s the first time I’ve beat him in about 20 years,” the elder Johns said. “They asked me if I was going to let him win. I said, ‘If he don’t earn it, he don’t get it.’”

Chesser took a big step toward his 12th Bud Cup title. The second of the season’s three races is the Winter Classic on Jan. 30-31.

Three-time reigning Bud Cup champ Dan Greenling exited early on Sunday. He won his first race in pro-mod Roll On, but then lost to Tyler Johns in the second round. It was Greenling’s first loss in a race he’s finished since January 2018.

Tyler Johns had the fastest time of the day in his win over Greenling, circling the “Mile-O-Mud” in 55.13 seconds.

At Saturday’s test and tune practice session, Bobby Williams won $1,000 for having the fastest buggy, his pro-mod Barefoot Florida Living, in 55 seconds.

Scenes from the 72nd Swamp Buggy Races Fall Classic at Florida Sports Park in Naples Sunday afternoon, December 6, 2020.

Chesser won his last Bud Cup in 2015 when he won four of six season titles driving The Rapture. Coming off Sunday’s strong performance, the record-holder from swamp buggy’s first family is confident about the rest of this season.

“I think I’m back,” Chesser said. “I’ve got a buggy now. And I know that I can make better improvements. The Outlaw’s back.”

No prize money was awarded Sunday. With Florida Sports Park struggling financially due to the economic recession, the drivers voted to forgo a purse while still paying their entry fees. The goal is to resume paying prize money at the Winter Classic.

Swamp Buggies:Drivers band together to buoy sport during COVID-19 pandemic, recession

Palmer won the V8 class in Mow Power and also won the Immediate Feature to advance to the Big Feature, where he finished second.

Rodney Batcher, a former class champion, won the 6-cylinder title by beating Lorrie Johns and Scott Marcotte, the only other drivers in the class Sunday.

Buddy Thornton returned to 4-cylinder buggy Cold Duck and won the class on Sunday. Ray Thornton, Buddy’s father, usually drives Cold Duck, which they built together. However, Ray Thornton is battling cancer and was in the hospital on Sunday recovering from surgery.

Scenes from the 72nd Swamp Buggy Races Fall Classic at Florida Sports Park in Naples Sunday afternoon, December 6, 2020.

Buddy Thornton said he’s been driving for 20 years, including Cold Duck, and has won a lot of 4-cylinder races. But Sunday’s win for his dad was especially sweet, he said.

“It always feels good to win,” the younger Thornton said.

Scott Van Wagner won the air-cooled class in Special Blend III. In his first race of the day, Van Wagner set an air-cooled record by winning in 1:39.03. He broke the 18-year-old class record, previously held by Ray Wells, by 11 seconds.

Mark Birkenmeyer drove Kryptonite to victory in the Jeep finals. Sean Gould’s War Jeep won the $500 Jeep challenge, a separate race sponsored by Creel Tractor.