Pour it on

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

MEDICINE HAT -- Smokin' Norm Cuthbertson has had a little trouble lighting his customary pre-race smoke lately.

And the Halkirk chuckwagon driver's growing a little weary of the soggy conditions across the province.

"Very much so," he said yesterday prior to the first night of racing at the Medicine Hat Exhibition & Stampede.

"It's getting to be a habit that we need to break. But wagon racing is wagon racing. You have to go, rain or shine. The show must go on."

The 36 WPCA drivers were forced to run in the mud four of five nights last weekend in Grande Prairie.

And with the wet stuff continuing to fall throughout the week, Cuthbertson and Co. appeared to be headed for another sloppy weekend.

But a somewhat co-operative Mother Nature and relentless work by the Medicine Hat committee had the track in good condition last night.

As muddy as the past week has been, every driver has experienced far worse.

"One time in Calgary, we ran eight nights out of 10 in the mud," recalled Cuthbertson (Rod Streeper Trucking), who was third-quickest last night with a time of 1:05.81.

"That was hard on humans, horses, everyone. It takes its toll after awhile and you get grumpy.

"My horses are already getting sour. They don't like being in the barn. It's not fun when it's wet and muggy."

Surprisingly, some of the tempermental thoroughbreds actually enjoy the mud.

"It's like some people like spinach and some don't," Cuthbertson said. "If they have to do it, they'll do it but I think most of them prefer to run on a dry track.

"That's what I'd be like if I was a horse."

Reigning world champ Rick Fraser (Kendal Pipelines) said it takes awhile for a driver to determine which horses will go to work in adverse conditions.

"There's some who don't like it and others love to splash in it," Fraser said.

"I don't know why that is but some seem to excel in it, for sure."

The Grande Prairie driver wasn't too upset with the rainfall at the Dodge Pro Tour's opening show.

"When we were at home last weekend, it didn't bother me at all because I was getting some water on my hay crops.

"I told my wife I'll be happy to run in the mud."

Fraser finished ninth last night, stopping the clock in 1:06.73.

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KING'S COURT: The King is in cruise control.

Kelly Sutherland roasted the No. 1 barrel and roared around the half-mile oval in 1:05.27, putting his Citation Oilfield rig atop the standings after Night 1.

The 36-year veteran driver, who won the rain-shortened Medicine Hat show in 2002, wasn't about to get too excited over his day-money run.

"It's too early yet," the 10-time Rangeland Derby champion said.

"There's a lot of flashes in the pan in the spring --and I might be one of them."

For the first time this season, Sutherland used an old lead team he purchased from Ted Friesen.

"They've got a little age on them," he said. "So they need a little shorter course, I think.

"But they sure rapped on 'er tonight. Hopefully, they'll be just as strong tonight."

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FINISH LINES: Rae Croteau Jr. (65 North Contractors) posted the second-fastest time with a 1:05.52 followed by Cuthbertson's 1:05.81. Rounding out the top 5 were Jerry Bremner (TrailBlazer RV Centre; 1:06.15) and Luke Tournier (Big Country Pipeline Services; 1:06.31).

Listen to Night 2 live on AM 910 at 6:45 p.m.


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