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The Toughest Competitor You’ve Never Heard Of! By Glen Mikkelsen, CFE

This summer, the toughest competitor you have never heard of is forced to retire. Unless you follow professional chuckwagon racing, you likely do not

know Kelly Sutherland. At age 65, Sutherland faces mandatory retire- ment from the sport. For 40 years, Sutherland has thrilled spectators mostly in Alberta grandstands, but also in a few select towns in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Known as “The King,” he is the most successful chuckwagon driver in history. And you will not  Professional chuckwagon racing is a sport born in the Canadian

West, and it remains a unique horse race. A Calgary Stampede chuck- wagon race consists of four chuckwagons, pulled by four thorough- breds. From a dead-start, each wagon performs a circle-eight pattern  compensate for the longer running distance around the track. Once the wagons turn the bottom barrels, they race around the half-mile 

Chuckwagon races also include two outriders. One outrider steadies the lead team of wagon horses before the klaxon blows. At the rear of the wagon, the second outrider is the “stove man,” and he throws the “stove” into the wagon (now a rubber drum). When the race starts, the outriders perform their duties, jump on their thoroughbreds, and follow the wagon around the barrels and track. These 1,300 pound wagons reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. With

chasing outriders, there are 24 horses and 12 men in each race. It is strategic pandemonium – western-style! In 2008, Las Vegas reporter Ron Kantowski described chuckwagon

racing, “This might be the best way to describe it: If you broke into  of the chambers and Walter Brennan in the other -- then threw the big  after all the morphing, is chuckwagon races.” Since entering wagon racing in 1968, Kelly Sutherland has been in

 times (he has also won the World Championship a record 12 times). He has won a hundred major awards and has won essentially every major event. He is the greatest chuckwagon driver of all time. Despite his achievements, Sutherland remains an under-appre-

ciated mythical sports competitor. Outside of select communities in Western Canada, he is unknown. There may be no other sport or competition, where a competitor can win at age 22 and still dominate   talent, Sutherland’s intensity to win has not diminished. He says, “I remain focused all the time and try to be a threat to win every time as most competitors do.” Adding, “You know, for some reason, I seem to be able to roll up on

top. I have no answers for that, but I do think I’m certainly the guy to beat every time we pull out on the track. A lot of people think that’s arrogance ... that doesn’t matter ... I still think that I’m the guy to beat. “I’ve won the Calgary Stampede in every decade. As things change in the sport, I found a way to adapt.” Sutherland’s intensity to win is traced to his childhood. Sutherland

46 Facility Manager Magazine

says, “I can remember I was riding on a small racetrack outside of Grande Prairie, Alberta, at the Rio Grande Fair Days. I was riding an old thoroughbred mare for my Dad. I was nine or ten years old. I came second in the race, and my Dad rode up on a saddle horse to pick me up. “I said, ‘Gee, I had a good race. I run second.’ “And my father said, “Yeah, son, that was a good race, but you al-

ways want to remember one thing in life... they only remember the winner. Only the winner. Second place don’t count.” Sutherland says, “I never, ever forgot that. Whatever I’ve had to do in sports, that’s my determination. That’s kind of what’s shaped who I am today.” When examined, Sutherland’s achievements are truly remarkable.

Firstly, wagon races are won and lost in the hundredths of a second. Within the time it takes to read this “word”, races are won and lost. Not only is Sutherland responsible for his own actions, he is also train- ing, driving, and trusting his thoroughbreds, his gear, and his outriders. Although his talents are essential, he also must inspire horses and men to perform to their best, not just for one race, but in the Stampede’s case, for 10 races over 10 nights! Sutherland says, “Not everybody can drive a wagon. Not everyone

in the world. I mean, there are very few in the world when you look. There are maybe 100, maybe 125 men, who can actually drive a thor-  where there is chance for a wreck.”      be picture perfect. Every horse has to do his job, and all it takes is a split-second. All it takes is a horse to make a mistake - not work per- fectly. If he’s pointed in the wrong direction, if he jumps a split second before the horn, or if he’s backing up before the horn goes. They’re just like humans, they may not have a perfect day.” With so many uncontrollable factors, Sutherland attributes some of his success to luck. He says, “I mean it’s luck. You’ve managed to get there. Everyone’s managed to get there. You’ve managed to settle the horses down. Mentally they’re prepared. They’re all alert, and bang! - they’re just waiting for the horn. Then all hell breaks loose - four wagons – 24 head of horses! It’s such an exhilarating feeling.” Out of his many races, for Sutherland, “The 2010 Calgary Stam- 

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