Swamp buggies are a staple of Florida life, essential for traversing the state’s vast and boggy swamps. The first swamp buggy was invented by Ed Frank in Naples, Florida in the 1930s, as a way to get around during the early days of development in the Everglades.
The original swamp buggy, known as the Tumble Bug, was tall and ungainly-looking, with huge balloon tires that could take it anywhere from hunting expeditions deep into the Everglades to Sunday afternoon outings. As more and more hunters built swamp buggies, they would gather together to share their homespun engineering knowledge and discuss ways to improve their vehicles.
An editorial in the Collier County News claimed that swamp buggies were “as important to Florida as the cow pony is to the west,” noting that they were the only practical means of transportation once you left the main roads. Today, swamp buggies are still an essential part of Florida life, helping people get around in one of America’s most unique and beautiful state.
The Early Years
As more and more hunters built swamp buggies, they would gather together to
share a few homespun-engineering tips, and before long, one hunter would
challenge another to a race through a muddy bog on Raymond Bennett’s potato
farm, which, according to swamp buggy inventor Ed Frank, “was the biggest hole
in the vicinity of Naples.”
The first organized races took place on Mr. Bennett’s potato farm around 1943,
featuring a dozen or so local hunters. These early races were the start of what
would eventually become the Official Swamp Buggy Races.
By the late forties, 30 to 40 racers would gather the week before hunting season
to race for the valued prize, which was usually a new shotgun donated by a local
merchant. On November 12, 1949, the first “Official” Swamp Buggy Races were
held, with a field of almost 50 competitors, in Naples, Florida.
The Official Swamp Buggy Races have been held annually ever since.
The Mile O'ud
The Florida Sports Park is home to the famed “Mile O’ Mud,” a seven-eighths of a mile oval that attracts racing enthusiasts from all over. The track is approximately 60 feet wide, with a one-eighth mile diagonal lane slashed through the center. The depth of the mud is hard to gauge because brown swamp water covers every inch of the track, making it appear to be about a foot deep, although it drops to between five and six feet deep in three places. Buggies driving through these holes often disappear up to their steering wheels and exhaust pipes. The largest pit, located in front of the grandstand, is the treacherous “Sippy Hole”, named after “Mississippi” Milton Morris.