Rae Croteau Jr. doesn't look impressed as he knocks over a barrel right at the start of his heat, resulting in a five second penalty, nulling his winning run during heat five of day one at the 2015 Calgary Stampede GMC Rangeland Derby's Chuckwagon Racing in Calgary, on July 3, 2015. CRYSTAL SCHICK / CALGARY HERALD

LAURENCE HEINEN, FOR THE CALGARY HERALD

For Rae Croteau Jr. to improve upon his performance from last year, he’ll have to win the 2015 GMC Rangeland Derby.

After taking home $25,000 for finishing second behind Kurt Bensmiller in last year’s championship chuckwagon final at the Calgary Stampede, Croteau has now set his sights on contending to win the top prize of $100,000.

“You basically build your year around it,” said Croteau in regards to the build up towards competing in Calgary. “All spring and all summer leading up to here, you’re trying to get your horses ready to come and be competitive and be consistent. I think we’re there. We’ve got to get out there, have a good first night and let ’er roll from there.”

Although Croteau crossed the finish line in first aboard his Glover International wagon in Heat 5 on Friday night, he was assessed five seconds in penalties for knocking over a barrel, which dropped him to fourth spot behind Logan Gorst, Jason Glass and Vern Nolin.

Croteau, who was born in Bonnyville but currently resides in Sundre, Alta., was proud that he was able to join his dad Bert Croteau and grandfather Ray Croteau as a Rangeland Derby finalist last year. Now, his next goal is to win chuckwagon racing’s richest and most prestigious show.

“We’ll just take it one race at a time and try to keep the horses healthy and happy,” said the 33-year-old reinsman. “If I do my job driving, they’ll do their job. They’re all feeling good and ready to go.”

MEET AND GREET

Croteau was among a group of four drivers who signed autographs and chatted with fans on Friday afternoon at the GMC main display near the steps to the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Also at the meet and greet was Gary Gorst, who finished fourth in last year’s final while taking home a total of $43,850 in prize money during the 10-day event.

“It would be nice to get back there and get another shot at it,” said the 60-year-old driver from Meadow Lake, Sask., who also qualified for the final in 2012. “You’ve got to be penalty free if you want to be there. It’s tough to take penalties and come back from that.”

As for his success last year, Gorst said it was a matter of staying consistent throughout the 10-day event.

“The horses were riding consistent and I hit a day money, so that really helped out,” said Gorst, who won Friday’s sixth heat aboard his BD&P Put the Boots to Hunger — CEL Electric outfit in a time of 1:10.78.

Kris Molle, who won the 2014 Orville Strandquist Memorial Award as the rookie driver of the year, and Chad Harden were also on hand at Friday’s Meet the Chuckwagon Drivers event.

Every day during the Stampede, four different drivers will make their way to the GMC main between noon and 1 p.m. Wayne Knight, Rick Fraser, Jerry Bremner and Layne MacGillivray will sign autographs and interact with fans on Saturday afternoon, while the lineup for Sunday features Luke Tournier, Ray Mitsuing as well as brothers Kirk and Kelly Sutherland.