Mark Sutherland posted the fastest time Friday in opening-night chuckwagon action at the Calgary Stampede GMC Rangeland Derby. Running in the fifth of nine heats, Sutherland made it around the track in 1:11.13. Rounding out the top five were Mike Vigen’s wagon driven by his son Chanse, Vern Nolin, Kris Molle and Kurt Bensmiller.
Bensmiller, as the chuckwagon-racing world well knows, guns for first place with singleminded intensity and unprecedented success. Anything less is a letdown.
"I used to be the guy who, if I made the top four or the top eight, I was excited, but I got over that a few years ago," said Bensmiller. "To me if I'm not setting (a goal) to be No. 1 at every show, it'll hinder me. There's no point in striving for the middle, right?
"In my head, it's doesn't matter who's in your corner or who you're running against, if you don't push yourself, nobody else can make you do it."
Right now there's no arguing – he is the sport's dominant driver. In 2017, the Dewberry, Alberta, native ran away with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association's year-end title, in addition to claiming the Ponoka Stampede and the Calgary Stampede's aggregate title and showdown dash. Add it up and he's the first-ever modern-day Grand Slam winner.
"Nobody else has been able to do that in wagon-racing history so far," said Bensmiller. "I'm sure someone will eventually, but to be the first one means a lot. To break records and to set them, it's definitely meant a lot." And in 2018 there have been few signs of fading. Capturing the High River and Saskatoon shows, Bensmiller tops the heap once again. In the season's five events, he's slotted No. 1 or 2 in the aggregate four times. And now he's back in Calgary, where he's won the GMC Rangeland Derby three of the past four years.
"The Stampede you have to treat it like it's in its own category because of what's at stake," said Bensmiller. "If a guy treats it like every other show we go to, I think your end result will be the same."
Bensmiller is among 36 drivers vying for $1.45 million in prize money at Stampede 2018. The field features the finest drivers in the WPCA and CPCA – Vern Nolin, Kirk Sutherland, Evan Salmond, Rick Fraser round out the World Professional Chuckwagon Association's top five. Kris Molle tops the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association's standings.
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.
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Communications Manager, Western Events and Agriculture