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Kelly 'the king' Sutherland shares thoughts on racing

Kelly Sutherland is one of the most accomplished chuckwagon drivers on the WPCA circuit, having qualified for 66 final heat competitions and winning 20 of them.
Kelly Sutherland off to a great start on the final day of racing at the Bonnyville Chuckwagon Championship on Sunday.
Kelly Sutherland off to a great start on the final day of racing at the Bonnyville Chuckwagon Championship on Sunday.

Kelly Sutherland is one of the most accomplished chuckwagon drivers on the WPCA circuit, having qualified for 66 final heat competitions and winning 20 of them. Sutherland shored up his title as “the king” by winning both the Ponoka Stampede and the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby in 2010.

In the three and a half weeks leading up to the Bonnyville Chuckwagon Championship Sutherland won around $175,000 for his hard work and dedication to professional chuckwagon racing. While in Bonnyville he made time to share thoughts on the exciting sport of chuckwagon racing with the Nouvelle.

“It's probably the best run I've had in a long time,” Sutherland says, adding that he hoped it would carry on for the rest of the season. He said while the start of his season was a little cold, his season started to turn around High River at the North American Chuckwagon Championship June 24-27. He finished with an aggregate total just three seconds behind the winner of the competition Luke Tournier.

Sutherland had nothing but great things to say about competing in the Bonnyville Chuckwagon Championship. From great accommodations for the drivers on the grounds, to the permanent grandstands with a roof, and a strong organizing committee, Bonnyville's Championship is among the best.

“That's what it takes, the whole community to get involved. The tarp sale is always very strong here, there's always lots of local support, and that bodes well for our industry. I think there's a big future here,” he says. “It's going to be one of the premier stops in a few years on the tour.”

Sutherland credits his family support for his success, noting that the sport of chuckwagon racing is very family orientated. He says one reason he keeps going after 45 years is the opportunity to travel with his son Mark, who has also become very successful in chuckwagon racing. This year Mark came in fifth in aggregate time at both High River and Ponoka, and eighth in Calgary.

“It's very much family orientated and throughout my whole career I've just been very lucky at the sport,” Sutherland says. He adds that he feels he still has some time of competitive racing ahead of him although he takes it year-to-year.

How does Kelly Sutherland maintain that competitive edge after so many years of accomplished chuckwagon racing? While he attributes some of his success to luck and family support, he said that Mark's coming on to the circuit changed the way they train their horses - for the better.

“Everybody buys horses in the same place. The fact that they run faster for somebody than they do for the next guy, that's usually a result of the little things that you do with them,” Sutherland says. He notes that the sport is much more competitive today than when he started racing, making livestock maintenance and training all that much more important.

When he started racing, maybe five drivers had a good chance of coming in first on any given day. Now he says at least 25 have a good chance of winning, making his job more difficult.

“That makes it a lot more difficult for guys like me to win or guys like them to win. I find that very intriguing. I like to win and it's much more difficult to win,” he says.

He says while earnings in other sports may be significantly higher and require less investment, chuckwagon racing provides a lifestyle worth continuing.

“In our sport, we have nobody telling us what to do, when to go to camp, when not to go to camp. There is no other sport that I'm aware of that you can win when you're 18 and you can win when you're 62. When you take a gamut of 40 to 50 years of being able to be competitive at something through your whole life, to me that's worth a lot,” he says. “In a business decision most people wouldn't do it.”