A total of $375,500 came through Ponoka for the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) tarp auction.
Held at the Stagecoach Saloon May 4, the auction featured the 36 WPCA drivers who will compete for six nights of speed and horses at this year’s Ponoka Stampede. The amount raised is $57,000 more than last year.
For Blair Vold, Stampede president, the auction is not only a showcase of great chuckwagon racers, it continues a strong western heritage.
“I’m always excited with Ponoka. It’s been a traditional heritage rodeo forever and we’ve kept that focus,” said Blair.
Despite being among the largest paying rodeos in North America, Ponoka manages to keep that traditional heritage alive.
Chuckwagon auctions rebounding
If the recent tarp auction sales are any indication, the economy looks to be coming out of a slump.
In Ponoka for example, defending Ponoka champion Kurt Bensmiller took in $25,000, which was $7,000 more than last year.
WPCA president Ed Wittchen said the Calgary Stampede tarp auction hit the $2.4 million mark, which was more than $800,000 from 2017. “It was the fourth largest tarp auction in Calgary history.”
He pointed out that in 2017 there were several wagons under $60,000. However, at this year’s Calgary Stampede auction, the lowest bid was $60,000. “Calgary had nine new sponsors to the sport.”
The same could be said for the auction in Grand Prairie. Wittchen says the association is seeing more groups coming together to bid on a wagon, which has been a boon for the sport and drivers.
Things are moving well for the WPCA, added Wittchen, who pointed out that in previous years there used to be a cash call mid-season from the WPCA to ensure operations could continue. Now, events and programs such as the WPCA radio show are seeing a profit.
Wittchen loves bringing the races to Ponoka. “Here, between the rodeo and us, we are the show.”
He pointed out that many of the drivers, sponsors and members of the Stampede association have been working together for decades. “Other than Calgary it’s our best purse,” added Wittchen.
Development of new stands announced
The tarp auction also brought the big announcement that the Ponoka Stampede Association will develop new luxury suites.
In an interview with Allison McWilliam, the director of suite operations and sales for the association, the premium Wild West Suites are something that has customers buzzing with excitement. “The Ponoka Stampede hasn’t had suite availability in forever,” said McWilliam.
The rooftop has seating for 150 people and a capacity for 350 people and eight more suites will go along with that. Companies that are taking them can purchase multi-year deals, which gives those companies a chance to brand the suites with their own logos if they want.
They will be built on the southwest side of the stands in clear view of the bucking shoots.
“It’s going to be an all-new, all-suites grandstand,” said McWilliam.
Construction on the specialty suites is set to start after this year’s Stampede and should be ready for 2019.
The entire suite experience is being enhanced, and the new building will be more handicap accessible and have a range of features. Demand for the suites is high.
She’s excited to see this new space being developed and McWilliam added that she’s already started to receive deposits on suites.