This week all eyes have been on Kurt Bensmiller, the man who's won three of the past four championships of the GMC Rangeland Derby. On night three of racing, Bensmiller turned the fastest lap on the Stampede track and is back in familiar surroundings – first - with 35 chuckwagon drivers trailing. Rounding out the aggregate leaders are Kris Molle, Vern Nolin, Ray Mitsuing, and Todd Baptiste.
All of these men are seasoned wagon drivers with multiple years of experience in Calgary. But there are two men experiencing driving at the Stampede for the very first time. Neither is a stranger to the Calgary Stampede. Curtis Morin, as an outrider for his father Bruce, has been here before. And Danny Ringuette learned the lay of the land as a hired hand for driver Doug Irvine over the years.
But this is different. Way different. Morin and Ringuette are in Calgary to serve as demonstration drivers for the GMC Rangeland Derby chuckwagon 101 before each night of racing. Which means they have their own horses, their own wagons, their own helpers – and their own barn space on the grounds. Which means it is a big deal.
"For myself, pulling in here with a liner of horses, that in itself was a big deal for me – very exciting – and it made things very real," says Morin, a World Professional Chuckwagon Association driver from Prince Albert, Sask. "It's great for myself. It lets me know that I'm going in the right direction. It's great for 2019, definitely."
The gentlemen were officially invited last fall. It's a call Ringuette won't soon forget.
"Oh, gosh, yeah – pretty unreal," says Ringuette, a regular on the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association's tour. "There's a lot of guys who want the spot. To be recognized by the Stampede is just awesome. It's kind of our foot in the door." Even though they don't participate in the heats, they are part of the scene. Big parts, in fact. Nightly, before racing begins, Ringuette or Morin do one-wagon runs in front of the packed grandstand as the track-announcer explains the basics of wagon racing. The experience for someone like Ringuette is invaluable.
"It's a good learning curve for newer drivers, I think," says the 33-year-old native of Bonnyville, Alberta. "It helps us as drivers lots. It's a good thing for my horses … this is a totally different venue than what they're used to, right?" And he adds, "It's a really good first step into getting into the Stampede."
But for demo drivers, taking solo spins on the track are only one of the duties. They are also responsible for conducting barn tours, which is exactly what it sounds like – talking to sponsors and fans about the world of chuckwagons. On Friday morning, Ringuette showed around a half-dozen Australians.
"It's a whole new life when you come to the barns," he says of the visits. "A lot of people don't realize how much work there is and how much these horses are actually cared for. When they come back here, they get a totally new perspective on the life of a chuckwagon horse and the driver and the barn crew – what it really is. That's what's so great about those barn tours – it helps people understand."
So how has the experience been so far?
"Unreal," says Ringuette. "It's always been a dream of mine to be a part of the Calgary Stampede. To have the opportunity and be chosen to do this? It's just a good feeling. Hopefully I'll be here next year to compete."
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west. The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
For more information, please contact:
Communications Manager, Western Events and Agriculture