Put a most wanted poster up at the local post office because Dean Dreger is the most wanted chuckwagon driver in Grande Prairie.
The Western Chuckwagon Association (WCA) president, and current WCA driver, pulled in a cool $17,000 for the Grande Prairie Stompede portion of the WCA tarp sale at JP Outpost Fusion Grill & Bar in Clairmont on Thursday night.
“Being the top bid is pretty humbling, for one,” Dreger said. “It indicates our team has done enough leg work from previous years to earn that spot. It’s humbling to get something like that. I’ve had it, on occassion, quite a few times, but I have a huge support group behind us.”
In total, the dollar value for the seven-race schedule came in at around $400,000. In 2017, the WCA auction went for $337,350 for an eight-race schedule.
“We were up approximately 20%, overall,” Dreger said. “That reflects right back to the community. The economy isn’t very strong but the community is still supporting this sport, that’s promising.”
In terms of sheer dollar value the winner was Derek Aebly who netted $73,500 for the seven confirmed events the WCA is providing.
In 2016, Dreger finished first overall in the WCA standings but didn’t race the entire 2017 schedule after a back injury derailed him at the Teepee Creek Stampede.
“I had to get five vertebrae (operated on) in my back, Dreger said. “I was 13 points out of first, behind Eric Rever, and I just couldn’t race anymore. I went as far as I could but it would have been too dangerous for the horses or myself to (keep racing). I had surgery in September and I feel awesome. It’s incredible. I feel better than I did 10 years ago.”
Dreger can’t hone in on exactly when the injury occurred. What the 51-year-old does know is the injury was just an accumulation of living. Nothing more, nothing less.
“If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself,” Dreger said with a chuckle. “It’s some race-related but it’s just wear and tear. I can’t pinpoint it to one thing, it just all came together at once.”
The warning signs of a bad back were there for sometime but Dreger is like any other man on the planet and he probably ignored the symptoms, wishing them to go away instead of doing anything about it.
“I had a little tweak at the Grande Prairie Stompede and at home in the yard doing chores,” Dreger said. “I wrenched it a bit but I kept racing where I should have laid off. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore at Teepee so I had to quit.”
While recovering from surgery the Grande Prairie resident got a chance to judge a corner at the Dawson Creek Exhibition but that was as close he could go to the track.
“I can’t watch it, it drives me crazy,” Dreger said. “It’s hard to explain in words. The adrenaline is still there when you watch some of your friends and competitors out there. I made it to one show ... and it’s the closest I went back. I couldn’t watch.”
The Guitars and Wagons weekend event at Evergreen Park was cancelled this year due to ‘timing and economics,’ Dreger said, but a new race will take its place on the same weekend, with the customary three days of racing.
Dreger said the WCA is pairing up with an Indigenous group to offer a new racing event in its place.
Details on the new event will be announced later this week