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Friday, 01 June 2018 17:15

J.D.A. RACEWAY ON TRACK

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J.D.A RACEWAY IS ON TRACK AT EVERGREEN

For the first time since it opened in 1982 the race track at Evergreen Park has a name.

For the next 10 years, at least, the complex will be known as J.D.A. Raceway.

J.D.A. Ventures, with locations in Grande Prairie and Whitecourt, has purchased the naming rights to the track.

“J.D.A. Ventures Ltd. is very happy to be sponsoring the Raceway at Evergreen Park,” said Jarvie Dawson of J.D.A., son of founder Jarvis Dawson. “The track is somewhere where friends and family get together, and as a family-owned company, that is something that speaks to the core values of our business. We are excited to be connected to such a large part of the community and all the memories to be made out at the track.”

The first memories will be formed next week when the chuckwagons and rodeo performers hit the track for the 41st annual Grande Prairie Stompede.

“We’re very, very thrilled the track sponsor is such a strong community supporter as the Dawson family is,” said Evergreen Park General Manager Dan Gorman. “We would like to develop and grow and expand the track and add different things. So, we are going to work with the Dawson family and the Dawson group to be able to enhance and grow that.”

In many ways J.D.A. Ventures Ltd. history mirrors that of Evergreen Park.

J.D.A. owner Jarvis Dawson started – like the Grande Prairie Regional Agricultural & Exhibition Society (Evergreen Park) did with a county fair consisting of some tables of crafts and a few farmyard animals in downtown Grande Prairie in 1910 - from humble beginnings, worked hard to create something special and has seen his company grow to become an important part of the community.

Established in 1994 as a one-truck hotshot company operating out of an automotive shop (that’s where the “A” comes from in J.D.A.) today J.D.A. is a well-known light and heavy oilfield hauler operating out of branches in Grande Prairie and Whitecourt (established 2015) with over 150 pieces of equipment and 75-plus employees.

Jarvis is the middle son of teachers Martha and Leo Dawson and grew up in the community. In 1990, he married his wife Kim and they have four children - Mandy, Jarvie, and twins Dusty and Dylan. Kim has been his loyal and loving partner in life and in business.

At the age of 16 Jarvis started growing his infamous mustache, for which he is well known today, and thus began his career in the oilfield industry. In 1986, Jarvis bought a three-bay service station and worked as a power tong hand occasionally on weekends to meet the needs of his family. There was plenty of struggle in the early years, but it was at the service station where he got his feet wet as an entrepreneur and started learning the challenges of owning a business.

Jarvis is deeply committed to the community, local charities and organized sports. One of his joys as a young teen was raising a 4-H steer, and he continues to support the 4-H program. As his sons matured through hockey leagues, he began to support local team programs and still continues in that commitment with the donation of transportation for a number of sports teams including the J.D.A. Kings hockey team. A number of other community organization and charities have been recipients of the generosity of Jarvis and Kim.

The commitment to the community continues with the naming rights to the J.D.A. Raceway at Evergreen Park. The 10-year agreement is valued at $25,000 per year.

J.D.A. Raceway is part of a complex that includes Gordon Badger Stadium, the Pines Restaurant & Casino and the Pines Family Restaurant. While the track is active in the spring, summer and fall the facility is open year-round.

Jarvis Dawson came up with the name for the track.

“When he first said he wanted to call it J.D.A. Raceway I thought that sounded like a stock car track so I googled raceway and found there are a lot of horse racing tracks called raceways in North America,” said Evergreen Park Marketing and Sponsorship Manager Don Moon. “J.D.A. Raceway also rolls off the tongue very nicely so it’s a very appropriate fit.”

Following Stompede, Boots & Moccasins Chuckwagon Racing & Powwow Weekend will be held June 15-17 and then in July and August J.D.A. Raceway hosts The Horses At Evergreen Park. One of the bigger events of September is the South Peace Horse Club Trials. The track also hosts events like monster trucks, Nitro Circus, high school rodeo and more.

J.D.A. Raceway, considered one of the safest horse racing tracks in North American, is 7/8th of a mile and is made of sand and loam with a clay base.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018 07:08

The Horses Are Coming!

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Hear that sound? It’s hoofbeats in the distance!

That can only mean one thing – the steeds are rumbling towards Grande Prairie in preparation for The Horses At Evergreen Park.

You can get your bet on, watching live pari-mutuel racing, starting Saturday, July 7. The Horses go every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday, August 26. Post time for Friday and Saturday is 6:30 p.m. until Friday, August 17 when it switches to 6 p.m. All Sundays are at 1 p.m.

Horse racing in the area is a tradition that dates back to 1911 when the first “official” competition was held in downtown Grande Prairie going from 101 Ave. and 101 St. down to Bear Creek and back.

The photo to the right was taken almost 100 years ago – on July 1, 1918.

There were plenty of official, and unofficial, races at county fairs and other events leading into the second half of the 20th century when pari-mutuel racing became officially official at the County Fairgrounds on the east side of the city.

For over 35 years pari-mutuel racing has been a fixture at Evergreen Park and has come a long way since that first “official” race on that dusty downtown road.

Today, jockeys bolt out of a fancy starting gate (replacing a flag that signalled the start of races back in the day) and roar past a grandstand that holds almost 3,000 people looking for a share of a purse for their owner that can reach over $50,000. Bettors, who place their bets electronically as well as with a real person at a wicket, can watch in ecstasy, or agony, the last race on replay screens under the Gordon Badger Stadium.

A lot has changed about the sport, but a lot hasn’t. A combination of good horse and a good jockey is usually a good bet for a financial return and support of the public and sponsors is very, very important.

“We have been able to increase our attendance annually over the last few years,” says Evergreen Park Marketing & Sponsorship Manager Don Moon. “It’s a great place to bring the family and enjoy an evening or afternoon on a warm summer day. The fact there is no admission charge, and we have a fun play area for the kids, is certainly appealing. There are not many places you can go today and be entertained for free.”

Financial support from the community is also important.

“Sponsorship is critical to ensuring racing fans in the Grande Prairie area can enjoy live pari-mutuel racing every summer,” said Moon. “We don’t charge admission so there is no revenue stream there. We have to rely on other sources and sponsors are part of that.”

The Horses At Evergreen Park offers a variety of options for companies, or individuals, interested in supporting The Sport Of Kings. Click on The Horses At Evergreen Park to the left to view complete sponsor opportunities information.

It starts with a $20,000 title sponsorship.

“Naming rights for the race season gives a company a lot of exposure in the Peace Country. The company logo would be everywhere – banners, posters, website, promotional screens, newspaper ads and more – and it also includes naming rights to a race day in July and another in August including the VIP tent.”

Naming rights to the Grande Prairie Derby (July 22) and the Peace Country Derby (July 29) are also available.

Every race day the VIP Experience – which includes a tent to entertain staff or clients, or both – is a popular sponsorship.

The Kids Zone, one of the busiest spots at the races, is also up for naming rights.

“One of my favorites is the tote board sponsorship,” said Moon. “There is no spot on site that gets more attention before and after every race.”

There is also a radio reports sponsorship, value of $8,000 but only $2,500 to the sponsor, as well as banners, PA announcements and program ads available.

“All of these sponsorships help keep the sport viable in the Peace Country,” said Moon, “whether it is towards purse money or improving the facility for racing.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring the race program can contact Moon at 587-298-0548.

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

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.
Thursday, 05 April 2018 07:01

Be A Horse Owner

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It’s time to brush up on the reading skills with a glance at the Daily Racing Form.

Evergreen Park Racing Club is but weeks away from opening up year number two on its horse club.

The rules haven’t changed much, if at all. One share will cost $250 and that’s all the money the club will ask for. Up to 200 memberships are available.

The money goes towards stabling, veterinarian, blacksmith, training fees and other expenses.

However, there are some rules, namely governmental red tape.

“The only requirement is through Horse Racing Alberta,” said Norm Tremblay, manager of Evergreen Park Racing Club. “There’s a licensing form to fill out so you must meet the criteria for the licensing. And you cannot be personally involved with a horse prior to joining the club. You can own a horse after joining the club but not before.”

The owners of the horses come from a wide variety of occupations including: business owners, farmers and politicans. You certainly don’t need to be a member of the House of Saud to sign on the dotted line.

“Last year we had 103 members in the club,” Tremblay said. “We started out the season with two horses and ended the season with three horses. We had a very good season, winning four races. At the end of the season we ended the club and dispersed of the horses, who carried on to race at other tracks.”

Early on, the club expects to expand its stable.

“Our plan is to having three or four horses to start that we’re bringing out of Phoenix Turf Paradise Race Course in Phoenix, Ariz.,” Tremblay said. “They’re probably going to range from five years old up to eight or nine years old.”

Currently, the horses are running in $3,000 claiming races so the total value should cross the finish line in the neighbourhood of $12,000.

Tremblay doesn’t pick the horses himself. He relies on Canadian-born trainer Robertino Diodoro to make the decisions. The manager expects to have horses that run different distances. Some may be milers and others might be in the five to six furlongs distance.

Diodoro has won multiple top-trainer awards at Canterbury Downs in Shakopee, Minn. Last season, he was second in trainer wins at Oaklawn Park with 31. Oaklawn is in Hot Springs, Ark.

“He knows what we’re looking for in horses,” Tremblay said. “The main thing is that they’re sound,  in good physical shape. He scouts for us during the winter, and at the end of the meet in Phoenix, which is wrapping up (soon) we start picking horses, making some deals and try to find the best possible options for what we need in Grande Prairie.”

Tremblay has a schedule figured out, hoping to get the horses some rest before they head north to Evergreen. He hopes to get them into action in about a month’s time.

“I’m going to move them to a farm in Phoenix to give them some time off before we move them up,” Tremblay said. “I’ll either bring them to Lethbridge or Edmonton, depending on which trainers are there and how the track conditions are. I’m just going to keep them in shape, maybe run them once or twice, before bringing them to Grande Prairie.”

Diamond Cut, a mare foaled in 2012 in California, will be the first horse to join the stable this year.

In 41 career starts, Diamond Cut has been in the money 19 times, with seven wins, six places and six shows. The mare has won $168,061 in her career, an average of $4,099 per start. She has raced five times this year with two wins and a third-place showing and has earned $11,270.

For people interested in joining the club they can fill out the requisite forms on the Evergreen Park website or fill out forms at the racing facility.

 

Friday, 23 February 2018 13:46

Pipeline Growing The North Topic

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The provincial government continues to be adamant on ensuring the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is approved.

“We’re not going to stop fighting until that pipeline gets built. Not only will the pipeline allow us to diversify our markets, but (will) allow us to get world class prices for our world class oil. I find it quite frustrating that because we are reliant on one buyer, they set the price and because of that, we lose about $30 a barrel from the differential,” said Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade.
 
Bilous discussed the pipeline, economy and caribou draft plan among other issues at the Growing the North Conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21 in the ENTREC Centre at Evergreen Park. He said the expansion is critical to the Canadian economy.  
 
“We’re talking about continuing to put pressure on the federal government. This is their jurisdiction,” said Bilous. “No provincial government has the authority to dictate what goes in the pipeline. It went through a series of consultations, it met all the environmental approvals and then the federal government approved it.
 
“What British Columbia is doing is unconstitutional, it is illegal and our government will continue to fight them until this pipeline goes through.”
 
Bilous said measures like these are sending the wrong message to international investors as the provincial government tries to attract and attain companies.
 
The provincial government ended talks with B.C. on electricity and banned importing wine. 
 
“The Premier also created a task force that minister (Marg) McCuaig-Boyd, (Environment Minister Shannon) Phillips and I sit on with a number of industry leaders, including the former deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and others that are looking at different options.”
 
Economy shaping up well
 
Bilous said more people are working in Alberta as it had the fastest growing economy in the country last year. 
 
He announced there have been about 75,000 new full time jobs in the province, primarily in the private sector. 
 
“There are more than 2.3 million jobs in Alberta today. That’s the most in our province’s history,” said Bilous.
 
“Average yearly earnings are increasing too. They are by far the highest in Canada.”
 
Locally, he said Windsor Ford was building a new dealership in Grande Prairie on 100 Street noting that it will be the largest dealership in Canada.
 
Seven Generations Energy Ltd., a liquids-rich natural gas developer in Grande Prairie, received conditional approval of a $5 million tax credit to build a natural gas processing facility in the Montney Kakwa River area.
 
“For Seven Gen, this is great news for them expanding further and making new capital investments. Our government introduced the Capital Investment Tax Credit as a way to support business and provide some incentive,” he said. “Essentially what we’re doing is we’re levelling the playing field. These types of parameters exist in other jurisdictions and we want to encourage companies to invest today.” 
 
The tax credit helps Alberta companies take on new construction costs by returning up to 10% of the cost of new machinery, equipment or buildings. 
Business can claim the credit once the assets they purchased are used. 
 
Concerns rose over draft caribou plan 
 
As the federal government imposes each province to roll out a plan to protect caribou, municipalities have been expressing concerns.  
 
Bilous said the province needs to ensure they find the right balance in protecting jobs and caribou. 
 
“Part of it is through conversations we’re having with municipal leaders and industry on what does that balance look like. People have to remember it is the federal government that has laid out the framework or sandbox and we’re trying to do what we can in that sand box to ensure we’re not losing a significant number of jobs.”
 
The provincial plan will have a minimal impact on jobs, industries, specifically oil, gas and forestry, all will protecting caribou, Bilous said. 
 
“We’ve tried to be as responsive as possible. The draft plans are posted for everyone to see and we’re encouraging Albertans to weigh in on that.”
Friday, 23 February 2018 13:43

Tenille Has A Big Heart

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An annual campaign is scheduled for this weekend in support of the Sunrise House emergency youth shelter.  
 
The Big Heart for Big Kids concert fundraiser will be held at the Entrec Centre with the show beginning 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24. It will feature a silent and live auction followed by musical duo High Valley rocking the stage with songwriters Tenille Townes, Barry Dean, Tom Douglas and Keelan Donovan. 
 
“I’m a so thankful to be a Grande Prairie girl. I’m constantly in awe of the generosity and community spirit that I feel so proud to be a part of and to always been anchored in,” said Tenille Townes, musician. “I feel thankful for the opportunity to get to reach out to youth in our community. Home will always be such a special place to me and I think that’s our job as human beings, to look out for one another and find ways that we can lift each other up.”
 
Townes started the program when she was 15-years-old in 2010 after hearing about the number of children her age that needed a safe place to go. 
 
“It’s so important that they have the Sunrise House as a place to be able to find that love and guidance that they need. To keep the doors open and the operations running is very important and I’m really thankful for the way that Big Heart for Big Kids can play a part in that,” she said. 
 
In its inaugural year, the fundraiser generated $30,000. In 2017, they raised over $265,000 bringing in $1,256,000 in eight years. 
 
The money came in a time when the shelter’s future looked bleak. 
 
“The night of the very first year, the shelter director came to me in tears explaining that the doors of the shelter had to be closed that morning due to lack of funding,” she said. 
 
“That night, I think something stirred within all of us in the room to really step up and find a way to make those doors open again,” she added. ”I just can’t get over how remarkable everyone is in the way that they just keep showing up and make it happen.”
 
A year and a half later after the first event, the Sunrise House renovated, re-staffed and re-opened to youth in need in northern Alberta. 
 
“We’re able to focus on the job we are here to do as opposed to having to focus, on a regular basis how we’re going to maintain and keep our doors open. This event really took that pressure off the agency to have to be continuously fundraising or continuously looking for additional grants,” said Tanya Wald, executive director of Sunrise House. “We’re able to focus on the kids and make sure we’re providing the best care and the best services we can for them.”
 
Wald expressed tremendous gratitude to Townes in starting the event to keep the doors open. 
 
“She is an absolutely incredible human being, who we’re so proud to have as part of our agency,” Wald said. “She’s provided mentorship to some of our youth that have come to the shelter. Her involvement has gone beyond the Big Heart for Big Kids event. She’s one of my favourite people.” 
 
“Now with her success, she’s very busy growing her career in Nashville (Tennessee) and yet her heart is at home and the things that she has built here, she’s not forgetting about. That means a lot to us,” Wald added.
 
In its ninth year, Wald said she continues to be amazed by the amount of support from the community through the event. 
 
Sunrise House provides a 24 hour emergency shelter to support youth between the ages of 12 and 17. That includes front line staff and counselling support. 
On average, 100 children per year come through the door seeking support.
Wednesday, 27 December 2017 15:43

Champion Display at XFFC 16

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There were only five matches at the XFFC 16: Festival of Fists 2 on Dec. 15 at the ENTREC Centre at Evergreen Park. 

Of those, four bouts featured Champion Gym athletes.

The first fight was an amateur lightweight match-up with Champion’s Will Robbins versus a very tough Joe Westbrook by way of Grande Prairie’s Heiho Dojo. This bout went to a unanimous decision in Robbins favour after some spectacular trades on the stand-up and several takedowns throughout all three rounds.

The next amateur match featured lightweight pitted Jesse Bull versus local Riley Kilpatrick. Outside of some occasional strong offence, Kilpatrick was handily outstruck by the taller Bull in a mainly stand up bout.

Rounding out the amateur part of the event was Champion’s featherweight Isaiah Metituk looking for his third win against Brody Zariwny, finding it quickly 2:05 into the first round via guillotine choke.

Then, Champion’s Kyle Francotti made his impressive debut to open up the professional part of the event in the heavyweight division against Ronin Warrior’s Chris Harrison. Initially putting up resistance, Harrison was unable to match the storm of striking, ground and pound and resultant rear naked choke submission by the Bill Mahood product 3:09 minutes into the first round. 

The main event, featuring a long-awaited professional rematch between Champion’s Randy Mahon and Progressive Fighting Academy’s Tom O’Connor of Lethbridge, was explosive and short. Early in the first round, O’Connor quickly capitalized on a mistake in the stand-up and was able to get Mahon in a rear naked choke. In an incredible display of courage, Mahon refused to tap out and the referee had to stop the match 44 seconds in.

 

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 15:24

Sutherland Saluted For 50 Years Of Wagon Racing

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Fifty years of racing, winning and family.

That was pretty much the theme of the Salute to Kelly Sutherland & Chuckwagon Racing in Clarkson Hall at Evergreen Park on Saturday.

In an event put by Evergreen Park, the Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation and Stompede, Sutherland - who celebrated his 66th birthday the day after the event - was praised, kidded and cajoled by a group of speakers including long-time chuckwagon supporter Al Side; long-time Stompede volunteer Alex McDonald (who spoke on behalf of himself and former Stompede board member Glen Keddie, who couldn't make the event); former world boxing champion from Grande Prairie Willie deWit; Western Chuckwagon Association member Lane Kimble; Chuckwagon Heritage Association member Justin Tidd; and new Stompede president Trevor Denis.

Side's speech stretched back to the Kelly's early days in the sport in the 1960s and those involved, including people like Ralph Vigen, Dave Lewis, Tommy Sinclair, Tommy Dorchester, Archie Hackwell and Kelly's father Max. Hackwell was Kelly's first tarp sponsor and Max was an important builder of the sport. They, along with people like Side himself, Fred Tissington and others, were instrumental in forming Stompede in 1978.

McDonald, who spent years as a volunteer grooming the track at Stompede cutting figure-eights like no one else, said he was told by Keddie to "not blow smoke up anyone's  _ss".

He didn't, talking about several Sutherland "adventures" including one that featured some interesting evenings at Sutherland's bar in Clairmont. He also told a story about looking for Kelly on the grounds of the Calgary Stampede and found him behind the bucking chutes sharing knee-slapping laughs, and a few beers, with a "little" guy. McDonald said that was the first time he ever met former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who became a very good friend of Kelly's.

De Wit, who is now a judge based in Calgary, had some good-natured jabs to hand out and also praised the toughness of chuckwagon drivers. He said it was appropriate on his last night of racing at the Calgary Stampede Kelly ended the night with blood streaming down from his head after, de Wit said, he had been kicked by a horse..

He added, "a horse whisper had spoken with the horse and the horse told him he had wanted to do that for a long time."

Kimble, one of the most successful drivers on the WCA circuit, credits Sutherland for getting him started in the sport.

He got some horsepower from Sutherland - 12-time Calgary Rangeland Derby champion and 12-time World Professional Chuckwagon Association champion - and several other WPCA drivers and, handily won his first-ever race held at Stompede using a foursome of steeds that had hundreds of races under their belt.

Chuckwagon racing was so easy  he was sure there would eventually be a sign - just like the one that says Home of Kelly Sutherland on it at the north entrance to the city - erected for him with "Home of Lane Kimble" on it.

On Day 2 of Stompede Kimble hit three barrels and at that point realized that winning over dozens of championships like Sutherland has might be a little more difficult than he thought. Put the sign on hold . . . winning races is more than just about having good horses!

Kimble praised Sutherland's dedication to the sport realizing, now that he has been in it for a few years, it's a year-round job of worry, planning and expertise.

He said he was also amazed with Sutherland's knowledge of horses relating a story about a time in Dawson Creek when he couldn't figure out why one of his horses wasn't pulling properly. He said he spent a lot of time trying to diagnose the problem checking out the horse from top to bottom and finally went to Sutherland, who walked into the barn and within seconds had it figured out. "Your horse has a pulled groin," said Sutherland, who walked out of the barn past a stunned Kimble scratching his head amazed at the quick, and correct, diagnosis.

Tidd and Denis, who have been heavily involved in the sport through their association with the Heritage Foundation and Stompede respectively, also heaped praise on Sutherland for putting Grande Prairie and the local chuckwagon racing scene on the map.

Mayor Bill Given gave greetings from the city comparing Sutherland to feisty just-retired councillor Helen Rice. County of Grande Prairie No. 1 Reeve Leanne Beaupre sent a recorded message telling Sutherland how much an inspiration he has been for County residents and those around the province, country and world.

And then Sutherland, who picked up the nickname ``King`` during his 50-year career, spoke.

His wife Debbie, who has been a backbone of the Sutherland racing operation for 50 years, was just 16 and Kelly 17 when they got married, he said.

He recalls telling his dad, Max, that he and Debbie were getting hitched. Kelly didn't have a job and money was a bit of a problem in the Sutherland family.

He said his dad was broke "and I was broker."

Max told him he wasn't going to work pumping gas so he phoned a friend and got him a job at a rig site in northern Alberta - three weeks on and a week off.

During one of those weeks off he and Debbie were married on a Wednesday and headed out on a honeymoon - to Pouce Coupe. They spent two days there and then "upgraded" for two more days to Dawson Creek . . . and then it was back to the rig for another three weeks.

Debbie and Kelly have three children - Tara, Mark (a WPCA driver) and Mandi as well as six grandchildren (grandson Dayton is also a driver) and one great-grandchild. Tara is married to WCA chuckwagon driver Dean Dreger. Kelly`s brother, Kirk, is also a driver as is Kirk`s son Mitch. Another brother, Murray, died in an accident several years ago.

Kelly, winner of the Grande Prairie Chuckwagon Stompede in 1979, talked about the importance of family and the role they played in his success. He said it was really tough on the family, sometimes with and sometimes without him, from May to September during chuckwagon racing season missing graduations, weddings and other events in Grande Prairie.

He said there are a lot of people who don't like him, but "they don't know me."

Those who know him know about him visiting children at a cancer clinic in Calgary three times a year to pick up their spirits and encourage them.

His father had cancer so Kelly has some experience with the disease. The doctors told Kelly that Max had six months to live after the initial diagnosis. When he told Max the bad news they agreed they weren't going to give up. They didn't, ensuring Max got treatment, kept positive and kept fighting. He lived for 13 years after that and that's the story Kelly can tell to those young people battling the disease thinking there is no hope.

Kelly, other speakers said, worked tirelessly to promote the sport and rolled his sleeves up to do such mundane things as spending hours picking rocks off of race tracks so drivers and horses would be safe; using his own resources to help shape tracks; sponsor events related to the sport of rodeo and chuckwagons racing; and helping out after the disastrous floods in High River.

He was also one of the first chuckwagon drivers who didn`t shy away from a reporter or camera and was, as Al Side said, ``a fresh face for the sport``.

Sutherland said it didn't matter if fans in the stands were cheering for him or against him, the important thing was they were there supporting the sport.

Kelly said, for years, he and former racing legend Tommy Glass of High River didn't get along.

"It never came to fisticuffs," he said, "but we did bump chests a few times."

That all changed in 2011 when the Royal Couple, Kate and William, visited Calgary.

Kelly said Glass had his nose a bit out of joint when he, and not Tommy, was selected to officially meet the couple while Glass had to remain in the seat of the chuckwagon.

Breaking all protocol Sutherland not only showed the Royals some photos and other items from the time the Queen was in Calgary and had her photo taken with Kelly at the Stampede, he also patted William on the back (a huge no-no) saying he would make a good outrider and then also advised him he should ``go sit on the seat of the chuckwagon with Tommy Glass - he`s a world champion driver.``

Sutherland said, ``Tom and I have been good ever since then.``

Kelly also talked about the sport and how expensive it is and the importance of financial and fan support. He said he has spoken to the organizers of the Calgary Stampede about the fact prize money has not been raised in 15 years. He says he is going to remain involved in the promotion of the sport.

Grande Prairie will always be his home, he said, and he is going to ``give back`` to the community in as many ways as he can.

His first two years in the sport he was an outrider and is looking forward to getting back onto horses and spending time with his grandchildren, including a granddaughter who is in love with them and would ``ride when it`s 20 below out.``

If they ride out to Evergreen Park they`ll be able to trot by a road sign that says ``Kelly Sutherland Way`` - the fist-ever road named after anyone at the Park. That honour was bestowed on Sutherland at Saturday`s event. He also received a beautiful silver belt buckle that included his name, the words ``King`` and ``50 Years".

Others said Sutherland`s records will never be broken, but the King himself feels, because of how sport has changed with training, better athletes and other advances his marks will fall at some point.

It will probably take more than 50 years!

Monday, 30 October 2017 08:51

Trevor Denis New Stompede President

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For 10 years Trevor Denis has been a volunteer organizer behind the scenes for the Grande Prairie Stompede. 

Denis has held positions such as grand entry director, beer garden director and has worked in the VIP area. For the previous two years he served as vice-president.

Last week, Denis was named president of the Stompede at the Annual General Meeting. He takes the position over from Terri Sudnik, who held the position for six years.

“It’s always good to be acknowledged amongst your peers. It’s good to be elected in,” said Denis.

“I’m really happy to have the team that I have to work with this year. I think they’re fantastic. I’m looking forward to it. We have a good group of people and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Sudnik was the event’s longest serving president.

“(Terri taught) a number of things. She was a heck of a president for being in there for six years. There is a lot of government funding and things like that you have to think outside the box to help fund our show and the western way of life,” noted Denis.

Denis, who becomes the 19th president of the Stompede, doesn’t believe the event needs any major changes.

“I think we have a formula there that seems to be working. I think the show’s going to grow, not only in the capacity with the event itself, but the people that partake,” he said.

“(The Stompede) has grown considerably. I was born and raised here, so when it was over at the water towers (on the north-east side of the city) and then when it moved out to Evergreen Park, it’s grown considerably with our midway and helping out Evergreen Park and growing that facility as well, it’s only benefited us.”

Planning is well underway for the 2018 event, noted Denis.

He said organizers are planning to have most of the show’s bookings finalized by the end of 2017. The focus, he noted, will then shift to applying for government grants early in 2018. He said there are a few grants they’re hoping to receive that will help the Stompede “become more sustainable”.

The 2018 Stompede goes May 30 to June 3.

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