Chuckwagon racing a family affair for Bensmillers, Sutherlands

Chance Bensmiller with his horses in the chuckwagon barns at the 2016 Calgary Stampede on July 13, 2016. ELIZABETH CAMERONCALGARY HERALD

MICHELE JARVIE, CALGARY HERALD
More from Michele Jarvie, Calgary Herald

Published on: July 13, 2016 | Last Updated: July 13, 2016 8:14 PM MDT

 

The chuckwagon family tree is pretty tangled with four sets of fathers and sons and four sets of brothers on the track this year.

And while they’re all united in their love of the sport, some families are divided in their loyalties when the horn sounds.

Two Sutherland brothers and their sons are all competing against each other and while 12-time Rangeland Derby champion Kelly is down in the standings in 23rd place as of Wednesday afternoon, you can never count him out. He’s battling his brother Kirk, who’s in third spot overall, and their boys Mark and Mitch, who are racing hard to place. 

The Bensmillers are also part of chuckwagon royalty with patriarch Buddy (the Dewberry Rocket) a three-time Canadian champion. His sons Kurt and Chance grew up in the sport and spent many seasons in the wagon box with their dad. Chance was with his dad when he last won at the Stampede in 2003.

Eventually Kurt went out on his own and took his younger brother with him.

No longer.

As he did in 2013, Chance, 30, is driving his own wagon this week. And he’s got another Bensmiller brother, David, along for the ride as a highly respected outrider.

“It’s awesome to be out here with family. I wish (Kurt) and I could be hooked together but for now we’re in different heats,” drawled Chance. “Kurt’s doing well but if someone’s gonna beat him, I’d really hope it’d be me.”

Chance Bensmiller and the Western RV/Country 105 wagon rounds the barrels in heat 2 of the GMC Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede on July 12, 2016. GAVIN YOUNG /  CALGARY HERALD

A two-time defending Stampede champion, Kurt Bensmiller is going for his third straight title, something only three other drivers have done. And he’s got an ace up his sleeve as Buddy is in the wagon with him.

“He’s got the best supporter and best mentor in the box with him. I wish I had Dad in the wagon with me,” Chance said. “Well, yes and no. He’s a great mentor so if I was doing well, that would be great. But if things aren’t going well, I’m kind of glad he’s not in there with me ’cause I’d be hearing about it.”

With a quiet intensity, Chance admits his chances of winning this year aren’t looking as good as his brother’s, but he’s giving it his all.

“At this point to get into No. 1 is almost impossible. But there’s still a shot to get into the top 10. I’m hooked to Kelly Sutherland and he’s having the same kind of run as me. It’s been a clean show, but we’re just not lighting anything on fire.”

Win or lose, the brothers and their dad are here for each other. Chance and Kurt, who live only five kilometres apart near Dewberry, 200 km east of Edmonton, are each other’s biggest fans. 

Kurt Bensmiller eats some mud as he leads the way during heat nine on day two of Calgary Stampede’s GMC Rangeland Derby, on July 10, 2016. CRYSTAL SCHICK /  POSTMEDIA

“It’s a big relief to be out here with family. We’re pretty proud of our family and how tight-knit is it,” said Chance.

Behind the infield, in the barns, chuckwagon racing is all about friends and family. Cousins and uncles and aunties, they all pitch in to help tend to the horses, sweep the stalls, repair the wagons and lift the spirits of the competitors.

“There are lots of family and friends helping out. They take time out every weekend to help us out, to make sure the wagons are going and the horses are kept safe. They do it for the love of the sport.”