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Collier County, Florida has the highest per capital income in the state. The 2017 Forbes billionaires list includes five people from Naples. Forbes doesn’t list the top redneck events but if they were to do so, Naples would make that list too. Naples is home to the nation’s swamp buggy races.
Non-U.S. readers might not be familiar with the term “redneck.” It is a derogatory term for a rural white man whose neck is burned red toiling in the sun. Over the years, it came to be an adopted term of pride by blue collar workers, especially in the rural South, driving pickup trucks, listening to country music and proud of their independence.
The Swamp Buggy Races are put on by an all volunteer organization. They started in 1948 when a much smaller Naples community [Everglade was still the county seat.] had a picnic with contests like a tug-of-war. Locals used swamp buggies, vehicles with huge wheels, to go out into the swamp to hunt. When there are men and motorized vehicles, there will be races. In those days, prizes included rifles, guns, sleeping bags and other camping supplies.
Today the not-for-profit corporation that runs the races contributes thousands of dollars to local causes. It owns the Florida Sports Park which has stands, food vendors, and the “mile of mud,” a figure-8 shaped flooded racetrack.
The vehicles race in six classes: 4-cylinder; air-cooled; Jeeps; Pro-modified; 6 cylinder; and V8 Sportsmen.
They no longer race the top-heavy traditional swamp buggy. These vehicles are designed for speed. But they still race Jeeps. The winning Jeep in the race I watched took a hair over three minutes and six seconds to complete the two laps. The winning Pro-Modified vehicle took 53.2 seconds.
There was plenty of barbeque and beer [Budweiser is a sponsor.] at the food concessions behind the stands. On my way back from having a snack, I met the Swamp Buggy Queen, Erica Marie Flesher, an amazing young woman.
Ms. Flesher is a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University [NCAA basketball fans might know FGCU as “dunk city.”]. She plays the bass clarinet and was invited to play at Carnegie Hall in 2014. She enjoys mountain hiking and hiked Pike’s Peak and the Appalachian Trail at age 16. During the summers of 2011-2015, she went on mission trips with her United Church of Christ church. During the summer of 2016, she studied in Greece.
Vehicles compete in three races for the “Bud Cup.” It used to be the three races were held during one winter season: November, January and March. Ironically, last November’s race was flooded out by heavy rain. Presumably it was the spectators not the racers who could not get to the track. So now they are running all three races in the same year. There was a race in January. I attended the race in March. The final race will be in November.
It is a volunteer organization, so their website might not be up-to-date, but you can find more information on Facebook and at https://swampbuggy.com/.