The Kid sneaks in

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

Kurt Bensmiller didn't think he had a prayer.

So he didn't even bother looking to the heavens.

Sitting well back in ninth place heading into the final night of qualifying, Bensmiller wasn't contemplating how he'd get into the top four and a spot in tonight's $25,000 Grande Prairie Stompede championship dash.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I was two and a half seconds out.

"I had a goal when I came to Grande Prairie that I wanted to be in the top 15 in the world and then I'd go from there.

"We were kind of joking that everyone would need to hit a barrel for me to get in."

Most of them did, or encountered some other type of trouble, and Bensmiller vaulted his Cascade Services Partnership rig into fourth spot after a 1:19.66, third best on the night.

Luke Tournier (Happy Trails RV), who was sitting third in the aggregate, hit both of his barrels last night to fall out of contention.

Home-town boy Mark Sutherland (Swamp Donkey Hot Shot Services) was in fourth spot but dropped to last after an equipment problem prevented him from leaving the infield.

"It's not the right way to get in to the dash," Bensmiller said. "But that's wagon racing."

Bensmiller will face aggregate champion Chad Harden (Neil Withers Trucking), Jerry Bremner (TrailBlazer RV Centre) and Neal Walgenbach (Super 8 Motel) in tonight's championship heat.

Bensmiller said he wouldn't be tempted to borrow a few of his dad, Buddy's, horses for tonight's final.

"There's a lot of horses over there I like to look at but I never seem to get ahold of them," Bensmiller joked.

"We're running about the same right now so I think we'll stay with what we have."

This will be Bensmiller's fifth trip to the dance and he's still looking for that elusive winner's cheque.

A few years back, he put two wagons in a championship heat at Dawson Creek (his dad drove the second one).

"I had as good a chance as anyone ever will have," Bensmiller laughed. "And I still didn't win it."

AROUND THE BARRELS: Bashaw's Reg Johnstone (Keddies Tack & Western Wear) had the fastest time of the night at 1:18.92. Grande Prairie's Rick Fraser (Kendal Pipeline) was third at 1:19.44, followed by Bensmiller's 1:19.66. Rounding out the top 10 were Chad Harden (Neil Withers Trucking; 1:19.85), Jerry Bremner (TrailBlazer RV Centre; 1:20.16), Jason Johnstone (Superior Car & Truck Wash; 1:20.81), Kirk Sutherland (Dahler Pressure; 1:20.93), Layne MacGillivray (Mones & Associates; 1:20.94), Buddy Bensmiller (Majestic RV World; 1:20.96) and Neal Walgenbach (Super 8 Motel; 1:20.98).

BACK IN THE BOX: Doyle Mullaney is back on the track after a nasty crash put him in the hospital last summer.

He ended up missing the rest of the 2004 season and finished 35th out of 36 drivers in the world standings.

"I'm not 100 percent yet but things are improving," said Mullaney, 60. "It takes a long time to heal some wounds."

A lot of fans will be glad to see Mullaney back in the box. Known for his nickname 'Doctor' (he's a veterinarian who runs an animal clinic in Okotoks) and the shamrocks adorning his wagon in recognition of his Irish heritage, Mullaney has been a world ambassador for the sport.

With more than 40 years of experience driving chuckwagons, Mullaney is the longest competing driver on the WPCA Dodge Pro Tour. He has raced wagons all over North America from Fort Nelson, B.C., to Mexico.


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