Formula One meets Florida swamp buggy racing
Ahead of the inaugural Miami GP, drivers Max Verstappen and Yuki Tsunoda try their hand at a different type of Florida racing.
Race week has finally arrived for the inaugural Miami GP, conjuring up images of pristine white sand beaches, swanky clubs and Art Deco architecture. But Formula One drivers Max Verstappen and Yuki Tsunoda left the cosmopolitan glamour of Miami behind to experience a much different side of Florida -- a regional form of high-octane competition known as swamp buggy racing.
Two hours west of Miami lies the city of Naples, surrounded by the Florida Everglades and, since 1949, home to the tradition of swamp buggy racing. These 900 horsepower V8 buggies with 68 inch wheels draw large crowds to witness head-to-head racing around a track submerged in standing water. Traveling to the far side of the Florida peninsula, Verstappen and Tsunoda were joined by 250 East Supercross Champion Jett Lawrence and Skateboarding Olympian Zion Wright for a true Floridian experience and showdown in the swamp.
The quick camaraderie and smack talking between the four competitors abated a bit once they witnessed the swamp buggies in action with deafening motors screaming and the massive wheels spraying water 30 ft into the air. Nervous laughter and apprehensive looks were aplenty as the drivers received instruction on how to operate the buggies: a clutch, two gears and no brake.
With a few last questions answered, Tsunoda and Wright strapped themselves in and headed into the water for a practice lap around the track. Somewhere between driving and gliding, both got the hang of it quite quickly as Lawrence and Verstappen followed with practice laps of their own. Verstappen in particular laid down such a fearless first lap that he turned heads and wowed the locals. The track management immediately invited him to race in the next swamp buggy championship in December. Verstappen kindly promised to check his schedule.
With all practice laps under their belts, the racing began in earnest with the first matchup: Verstappen vs. Wright. Off the line it was all Wright, but a dramatic second half comeback by Verstappen clinched him the win. Next up was Tsunoda vs. Lawrence. Tsunoda was hot off the start, causing the buggy to wheelie in the water as he thundered off the line. But his aggressive launch wasn’t needed, as unfortunately Lawrence immediately stalled and flooded his buggy and was unable to continue. This set up the final race, Verstappen vs. Tsunoda. Tsunoda was out front quickly, once again wheelieing his buggy and getting the jump on Verstappen. Verstappen again made up time in the second half of the lap, gaining momentum down the final straight, but was unable to catch up, giving Tsunoda the win.
The racing complete, the drivers said their farewells and departed, with Verstappen and Tsunoda heading east back to Miami for the upcoming Miami GP, with their “Florida man” status confirmed.