By Tiffany Williams
The chuckwagon drivers and outriders are preparing to round the corners of the track at the Ponoka Stampede. The Stampede will feature six nights of World Professional Chuckwagon Association races starting on June 26 and finishing with the $50,000 Tommy Dorchester Dash for cash on July 1 to crown the big winner.
Mark Sutherland is currently tied for first place in the WPCA standings with Reg Johnstone both accumulating 266 points.
“It’s a pretty good start. I would have to be crazy not to be happy being at the top,” said Sutherland. “It’s even harder to stay at the top and it is still very early in the season.”
He thinks that his horses are running very well and he has switched up some horses. He believes that the key is to get a couple of outfits and he is currently working on some more horses.
He has been at Ponoka 15 times as a driver and six times before that as an outrider. His best finish at Ponoka was finishing in fifth place and is looking forward to racing this year at Ponoka.
“Ponoka has always been my Achilles heel and I always seem to run into outrider problems,” said Sutherland. “I’ve just had the monkey on my back when I go but not this year.”
Sutherland says that the biggest difference with the Ponoka Stampede is that there is extra planning required. Because it is a longer event he says you really have to decide what horses to run each day.
In 2007 Sutherland, who hails from Grand Prairie, finished 12 in the WPCA standings and in 2006 he was 13. He started outriding in 1987 and started driving in 1993.
His sponsor this year is Swamp Donkey Oil Field Services who paid $25,000 for him to wear their tarp.
“It’s a significant investment. They expect a good showing and it is just one of the many pressures,” said Sutherland. “Ponoka is a complex show and you want to make the dash but you don’t want to wear out your horses. You want to capitalize because you can win $50,000.”
He compares the Ponoka Stampede to a hockey playoff run because he says you have to do well at Ponoka and have something left in the tank for the Calgary Stampede.
“Between July 1 to 15 with the Ponoka Stampede and Calgary Stampede it is like Christmas time for chuckwagon drivers with all the big money up for grabs.”
In 2007 the Ponoka Stampede was named the WPCA chuchkwagaon association of the year. He says that when he votes for the award he takes in the track and race quality.
“We, as racers, love the improvements that they have made and they recently re-built the track plus the grandstands are great for fans,” said Sutherland. “That award is a testament to the work that the committee puts in to make that show a world class affair and it truly is.”