Crystal Schick/ Postmedia CALGARY, AB -- Vern Nolin leads the pack for the win of heat nine on day one of Calgary Stampede's GMC Rangeland Derby, on July 9, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Postmedia) (For story by ) Postmedia CRYSTAL SCHICK / POSTMEDIA
Vern Nolin ended up in the big race a year ago.
It appears he intends to get back to the $100,000 Dash For Cash – and win it this time.
The 43-year-old guided his Dentons Canada LLP rig across the finish line in 1:12.17 on Friday, tops on opening night of the Rangeland Derby.
“A guy has to be realistic,” Nolin said of his quest to make it back into the final four.
“Thirty-six other guys have the same plan, so you just have to hope for a lot of luck.”
The Dewberry, Alta., driver has qualified for the semifinals three times at the Stampede.
But Friday night was just his second day-money run.
“That was our long-barrel outfit,” Nolin said. “We take them off Barrels 1 and 2 and that’s usually the result we get with them.”
In his first season on the WPCA circuit after 16 years on the CPCA tour, Nolin has shown he belongs with the big boys.
He won the second show of the year in Saskatoon and comes into the Stampede sitting fourth on the world charts.
And he’s off to the perfect start.
“Yeah, but I won’t get too big-headed about it,” Nolin said.
“We’ll put it behind us and tomorrow is a new day.”
IRVINE FINDS CHEMISTRY
You don’t have to win the $100,000 to have a successful Calgary Stampede.
Just ask Doug Irvine.
The Bonnyville driver was in the middle of the pack at the 2015 Rangeland Derby when he started to tinker with his lineup.
And he came up with a winning formula.
“I think I put that outfit together on Day 6 of Calgary,” Irvine said of the outfit that been as fast as any on the WPCA circuit. “We won a bunch of money at the end of the Stampede.
“And then they just kind of continued on.”
Irvine wrapped up the season by winning the Battle of the Rockies at Rocky Mountain House and then claimed the third tour stop of the 2016 season by winning the Medicine Hat Exhibition & Stampede.
That’s two of the last six shows. Not a bad winning percentage.
And this outfit could be scorching the Half Mile of Hell for years to come.
“I think without the right wheeler, Fleet, on there, they would be different,” the 40-year-old reinsman said. “They’re all young horses. (Fleet) is the oldest at nine. He starts and charges hard.
“The lead team – Sky and Guage – are real good, too. And when I put Margo on the left wheel, it kind of completed them.
“They were really good on the short barrels but now, with that horse on there, they’ll be good on the long barrels, too.”
Irvine, who guided his B&R Eckel’s Transport rig around the oval in 1:13.70 on opening night, comes into the Stampede sitting in 14th spot in the world standings.
“I was just hooking some new stuff in Grande Prairie that I probably should have waited on,” Irvine said. “I was just trying to figure stuff out.
“They didn’t do anything bad. They just didn’t do anything great, either.”
KEEPING IT CLEAN
The judges were mostly spectators on Night 1 as only three drivers picked up penalties.
Colt Cosgrave (Trinidad Drlling Ltd.) and BJ Carey (Professional Excavators Ltd.) each crunched a barrel and have a long road back to the top.
Rae Croteau Jr. (Sundre Golf Club) picked up three seconds.
AROUND THE BARRELS
Kirk Sutherland (Ghostpine Environmental) and John Walters (The Brakemen Foundation) split second/third at 1:12.24. Gary Gorst (BD&P Put the Boots to Hunger/CEL Electric; 1:12.33) and Rick Fraser (Knoxvilles Tavern; 1:12.54) rounded out the top five.