The National Swamp Buggy Races of Naples are one of Southwest Florida’s unique traditions. With a long-standing history in the community, the Swamp Buggy races hold a special place in the hearts of locals, and I take to the track to find out why.
I walk in through the entrance of the Naples Sports Park, following the crowd. Amid the fumes of gasoline and fried food, the culture of the Naples Swamp Buggy Races shows itself. I sit in the stands among hundreds of spectators from near and far, to enjoy a day in the hot Florida sun and watch the buggy face-off. Engines roaring, the races are underway, and I am left with one question continuously circling in my head: How did it all begin and what about these races brings folks together and keeps them coming back? In pursuit of the answer, I venture around the sports park grounds to uncover the history of the age-old Swamp Buggy Races.
Somewhere between the bustling crowds and packed vendor lines, I discover that as legend has it, every year just before the kick-off of hunting season, locals would take one week to prepare their buggies. In this process, buggy races would ensue. The first of the organized swamp buggy races took place in 1947.
As popularity for the Naples race grew, so too did rewards for the winners. Thus, the incentive become better and faster bigger continued. During this era, race traditions were conceived. One of the fan favorites being the legendary Swamp Buggy Queen’s annual mud bath. The dunking custom first took place in 1947 and still occurs at every race. This grimy tradition happens at the end of every race when the winner picks up the Swamp Buggy Queen, and together they jump into the murkiest section of the swamp known as, “The Sippy Hole.”
As I take a seat to enjoy the first bites of my pulled pork sandwich, I realize that the Swamp Buggy Races are so much more than just a competition of speed against two hand created vehicles; it is an event that is filled with tradition and exemplifies the essence of the Southwest Floridian spirit.