The Cowboys Randland Derby implements new safety measures

The Cowboys Randland Derby implements new safety measures


The Cowboys Randland Derby implements new safety measures

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Back following a two-year absence, the Cowboys Rangeland Derby has implemented a few new safety measures.

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While they’ve received mixed reviews from competitors, the 27 chuckwagon drivers taking part in the 10-night spectacle are just happy to be back competing in front of fans who pack the GMC Stadium stands.

“This is where all the wagon drivers want to be and need to be,” said Codey McCurrach, who decided not to drive on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association last season after the entire 2020 schedule was wiped out due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s a good revenue generator for us and helps us sustain our business throughout the year.

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“Of course, the atmosphere of the city and just being here, it moves our sport to the next level.”

Unfortunately for McCurrach, he ran over a barrel before heading out of the infield during Heat 4 on Sunday and finished well back of the leaders in a time of 1:21.69.

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In previous years each of the nine nightly races featured four chuckwagons per heat, but that was lessened to three outfits this year.

“Less horses on the track, less chance of injury,” said McCurrach, who understands why the decision was made. “I guess you can’t argue with those stats, but at the same time, we run four all season (on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association tour) without incident. I don’t believe that that’s going to be a huge impact.

“Definitely there’s more room in the infield and whatnot, but I think it takes away from the excitement to be frank with you. It’s just a wagon race. For us, it takes a little bit of the strategy out. I think for the crowd, it takes some of the excitement out and I’m not sure with the three wagons, the safety factor is huge.”

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Fellow driver Chad Fike had similar sentiments when asked about the switch from four chucks per heat to three.

“We only run one other show (Medicine Hat Exhibition in mid-June) with three to a heat and it’s less of a show for the fans,” said Fike, who led the aggregate standings heading into the night. “It makes no difference to us as wagon drivers. You don’t drive any different because the races set up pretty much the same as they would with a four-wagon show. It is what it is I guess at this point, but I’d prefer four.”

Driving his Shaw GMC outfit, Fike finished third in the sixth heat in a time of 1:15.67. In the same heat, Chance Bensmiller (PCL & Partner) raced around the track in 1:13.36, while his older brother Kurt Bensmiller (Versatile Energy Services) was a wagon length behind in 1:14.61.

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“I’ve got a Bensmiller sandwich out there,” Fike said. “That’s good. They’re both very good drivers and competitive drivers and if you’re in fast heat you’re going to be fast on the night.”

Thanks to his quick time, Bensmiller unofficially moved into top spot in the aggregate standings with a combined time of 3:41.42 through three races.

Pending the results of the eighth heat, which was being reviewed, Obrey Motowylo, aboard his Grant Production outfit, had the top time of the night of 1:13.17 in the ninth heat.

A safety measure that both McCurrach and Fike had no issue with involves the delineator arms that were attached all around the inside of the track that have resulted in the wagons staying at least six feet out from the rail.

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“However, with the safety lane and the delineator arms, I know some guys aren’t a fan of it,” McCurrach said. “I’m pretty neutral on it. I understand the premise of it. If a guy gets in trouble and gets in a tight spot, he has somewhere to go.”

It’s something that may have helped back in 2019 when Chad Harden was cited for “driver error” when it was ruled that the veteran driver impeded the wagon of Danny Ringuette, causing it to collide with Evan Salmond’s outfit.

“Would it have prevented the incident in 2019,” asked McCurrach in regards to the accident that resulted in the death of one of Salmond’s horses and the disqualification of Harden for the rest of the show (Harden was also hit with an $10,000 fine and ordered to pay an addition $10,000 to cover the cost of Salmond’s horse). “Well how it’s set up, yeah, potentially it could have, but I don’t know how the horses will react going into them (arms) either. You can get close to them, but the horses naturally, everywhere else that we go, they want to go to the rail.

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“It’s not a huge deal, it’s just different. Just like any industry, it’s change and people sometimes aren’t adaptive to change. You do have to understand the pressure that the Stampede is under and we have to be progressive as the Calgary Stampede and chuckwagon drivers.”

From his perspective, Fike hasn’t noticed too much of a difference through three nights of racing action.

“It looks like just another rail when you’re running out there and then the horses, it hasn’t fazed them,” he said. “Calgary made some good steps in safety. I don’t mind them at all. I think they’re just fine.”

McCurrach brought 18 horses with him to Calgary and he’s had to be strategic with how he uses them since there are only three spots along the barrels in the infield.

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“It kind of opens your options there, but then at the same time the horses can only compete six times in a 10-day span now,” he said. “That’s a rule now. We’ll have to watch that and see how they’re doing. Same for outriding horses.”

The ultimate goal of all the aforementioned measures boils down to safety of the animals and competitors, which is something McCurrach agrees with wholeheartedly.

But he’s hoping that officials from both the WPCA and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association can be involved in helping the Stampede in making any future changes.

“The Stampede has been proactive on the safety decisions and in letting us know, but I think one step forward is involving the associations and making like a working group and saying let’s all stack hands, let’s leave this room and have a press release and say, this is how we’re going to impact safety together,” he concluded.


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