The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was a great day in my world as I rounded the next curve through the fertile farmland of northern Louisiana. The fields were white with the next cash crop for the season as I barreled down the highway with my destination in mind. My journey was taking me to the site of one of my favorite motorsports events: a mud race.
My dad got me hooked on the extreme sport of mud racing at an early age. I was 6 years old in 1973 when I was introduced to this mucky obsession that borders on insanity. Now at nearly 40, the insanity still runs through me like a generational trait following the bloodline of a family's forefathers. The bloodline of my "4x4fathers" runs deeper than a bottomless pit of the miry muck they call gumbo mud. Even past close calls and crashes haven't diminished my desire to go full-throttle down a stretch of Louisiana gumbo mud.
Back in the days of my youth, mud racing invloved friendly, yet firecely competitive, romps through the swamp. These gatherings of 4x4s, friends, family, and rivals raced on a relatively short course that zigzagged though the swamp and looped through the creek like the backwaters of the bayou. They were timed events of about eight to ten laps through the same area of sludge. Each vehicle left at 5-minute intervals to try to keep the congestion down. A few deep-water holes or a bad bog would quickly disrupt the theory and bottleneck the proceedings.
There were two-man teams in each vehicle - the driver and the "swamper." The driver position was actually a very physical job. You have to remember the era - early Broncos, Jeeps, Scouts, homebuilt buggies, no power steering, and manual transmissions. The swamper needed to be a master of many skills, but his main purpose was to pull the winch line and hook up the cable. Many a race was won or lost based on the driver's ability to not get stuck and the swamper's skills to get them unstuck quicker than the other guys.
The spectators were up-close and personal with the racers. They would mostly congregate around the larger water obstacles and muddy slews, and these race fans were nearly as likely to be caught up in the mud splatter as the racers. This closeness was part of the draw of mud racing - the spectators got the sense that they were part of the race since they too were enduring the elements.
The year 1974 saw a new era in mud racing as these 4x4fathers of mine pioneered a new form of racing in the South: side-by-side mud racing. The sport's fanbase and number of participants had been increasing steadily over the years, and now with this new twist on the sport, its popularity grew even greater.