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Monday, 09 April 2018 10:05

Sutherland Nets Most For StompedeTarp

Written by Gordon Anderson, Daily Herald-Tribune
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Mark Sutherland won the top bid at the World Professional Chuckwagon Association's Grande Prairie Stompede tarp sale, taking in an $11,000 bid at Maddhatters on Friday night.

A total of $239,950 was bid in the auction for 36 available drivers, well above last years mark of $161,800. The community tarp also went for $6,500.
 
Grande Prairie Stompede chuckwagon director Phil Troyer was asked why the event was so successful, attracting $78,150 more than last year.
 
“You have to give some of it to the economy,” Troyer said. "The economy is on the uptick and we saw the same thing in Calgary (where the tarp auction raised $3,238,000 for the Stampede). That right there told us we should see an uptick. I would have been disappointed if our numbers had gone down from last year.”
 
Air Canada made the winning bid for Sutherland.  The 47-year-old driver was asked what he says when he strolls over to the table of the winning bid.
 
“First of all, this is my business and it’s kind of a weird arrangement,” Sutherland said. “NASCAR doesn’t have auctions and that’s one of the unique things about chuckwagons. I’m happy, thankful and grateful they want to invest that much money and their brand, and mix it with my brand. So, it’s a pat on the back for me, it means I’m doing some things right in the sport.”
 
Mitch Sutherland led the Grande Prairie drivers, taking in $9,000 while Chanse Vigen picked up $8,500. Mike Vigen got $7,000 and Kirk Sutherland pulled in $6,500. Rick Fraser, a Grande Prairie native who now calls Wetaskiwin home, pulled in $5,000 from Friends of Team 23.
 
Since it was a standalone sale, meaning it was a Grande Prairie only event, Troyer says that’s a big drawing card for businesses in town to pony up the cash but he also mentioned limiting pre-sales as another factor.
 
 “It used to be, in an effort to shorten the tarp sale, not make the event so long, we did pre-sales where you could pre -sale somebody for ten thousand dollars and that driver didn’t have to show up in Grande Prairie,” Troyer said. “(There are) no pre-sales, now. For sure, there are some deals made but it’s pretty legit. If somebody wants you for ten grand they can bid to that (number) because every one was selling on Friday night. There’s no limit on the high end.”
 
Sutherland was the only driver not wearing some combination of the traditional drivers gear, eschewing  a cowboy hat, jeans, cowboy boots and flannel shirt in favour of a suit and tie.  His hair was cut short and combed, not a whisker on his face.
 
“I do pride myself on my image,” Sutherland said. “It does irk some of the guys that I don’t walk around with a cowboy hat. I’ve always said ‘if you don’t think I’m a cowboy come to ranch and leave my gate open and see what happens.’ That’s not a good thing.”
 
“Professional image is what we’re all about and he, truly, represents the professional image we’re looking for,” Air Canada senior manager Cathy Redekopp added when asked why the airline decided to sponsor Sutherland.
 
This a business to the De Winton native and he treats it as such, in his approach and appearance. He’s his own sales pitch.
 
“About 90% of my budget comes from sponsorship and you can budget on sponsorship because it’s something that is a confirmed amount before the season starts,” Sutherland said. “You can’t budget on prize money because that’s like budgeting on winning the lottery.”
 
Sutherland pointed out it’s been a tough couple of years in the province with the decline in the energy sector and some drivers were, and still are, to a certain extent, feeling the money crunch.
 
“Wagon racing costs a lot of money and if you don’t get sponsorship, at some point, you have to start thinking that ‘I don’t want to wake up at fifty and be broke,’” Sutherland said. “I’ve spent my life working and  I’ve had some opportunities but I don’t want to mortgage the farm to wagon race. If you can’t get solid sponsorship in the sport you start looking at you exit plan and I was looking at my exit plan.”
 
The 2018 Grande Prairie Stompede runs May 30-June 3 at Evergreen Park.
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