Stampede reduces number of chuckwagons in each race, ends tarp auction

Starting next year, only 27 wagons will compete in the Rangeland Derby, and the Stampede says downsizing from four chuckwagons per race to three will improve safety for drivers, outriders and horses.

Reduction of wagons is meant to increase safety

The familiar scene of four chuckwagons racing along the Stampede track will be a thing of the past after the organization reduced the number to three wagons per race. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Calgary Stampede is making changes to its Rangeland Derby, reducing the number of chuckwagons per race from four to three. 

That means a reduction in the number of drivers invited to compete, from 36 to 27.

"There will still be nine heats but three wagons in each, just giving those wagons a little bit more space, a little bit opportunity for manoeuvrability when they're in that infield, and then throughout the track, focused on safety," said Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes.

"We're focused on safety, and unfortunately sometimes that means difficult decisions."

Other changes include more pre-race inspections of horses, installation of collapsible arms along the inside rail of the track to keep wagons clear, and the cancellation of the annual tarp auction.

The tarp auction began in 1979 with sponsors bidding to have their names on specific wagons. The last canvas auction, in 2019, raised $3,285,000, with about 80 per cent going to the drivers and the rest used for prize money and safety initiatives.

In 2019, driver Troy Dorchester received the top bid, $150,000 from Graham Construction.

It will now be up to drivers to secure their own sponsors.

'Opportunity to build those relationships'

Barnes says the Stampede thinks the end of the tarp auction could be a boon for drivers. 

"This gives them the opportunity to build those relationships and build them differently," she said. 

"They could have multiple advertisers throughout the 10 days in Stampede, they could have a single one, they could have an advertiser that sponsors them during Stampede but also is with them throughout the entire year on their own independent circuit."

Okotoks driver Mark Sutherland says the Stampede can decide how to run its show.

"I don't know if it's a positive or a negative for the sport. I know that the Calgary Stampede does what they can to have a professional show and I guess their feelings were that 27 wagons would be better than 36," he said. 

Sutherland said there are a lot of uncertainties at this time. 

"So there might be some changes with the sport. Huge unknowns with the pandemic we're in. And then on top of that, you know, the financial problems that are coming because of the situation we're in," he said. 

"I think there are a lot of unknowns, and I'm optimistic that I am gonna wagon race for a while. But there are a lot of unknowns and there are a lot of concerned wagon drivers."


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