Tournier on the inside

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Until the final two heats last night, chuckwagon racers battled each other on the Northlands Park surface.

From then on the competitors were forced to battle the elements, too. By the time they finished, most spectators had headed toward the exits, hoping to avoid the thunder and lightning that surrounded the facility.

Happiest of all at the finish was Leo Tournier of Duck Lake, Sask., who recorded the evening's second fastest time -1:24.68 - and wound up first in qualifying for the $50,000 Dash for Cash that highlights the last night of the annual Edmonton Chuckwagon Derby.

Others in the big-money clash are Rick Fraser of Grande Prairie, Reg Johnstone of Bashaw and Grant Profit of Cochrane.

The biggest surprise was Mark Sutherland's failure to qualify among the top four. He wound up in fifth place, less than a second behind Profit. Also in the category of close-but-no-big-payday were Troy Flad, Cliff Cunningham and Barry Hodgson.

Most impressive in some ways was the Cunningham performance.

Competing in the opening heat, the former pony chuckwagon champ displayed massive consistency and registered the third-fastest time of the night - a wind-blown 1:24.90, which left him mere ticks behind the impressive, and probably unexpected, postings by Johnstone and Leo Tournier.

No other wagon bettered 1:25 as teams found it impossible to equal their speedy performances of opening night.

"The track has been different every night," said Fraser, the former world champ who finished 10th on opening night and was tied for ninth last night. In between. his rig finished first and second.

Before the race, he decided to return to the team he had used on opening night. Somewhat confident that his first-place cushion would be enough to keep him in the race for the lucrative final heat tonight, he recognized that finishing first could become a major advantage.

"We were in the final at Calgary (where Luke Tournier won the $100,000 prize) and thought we had a chance, but we picked the wrong barrel."

Tonight, Luke's brother gets first choice because his total time of 5:39.86 was clearly superior to Fraser's combined clocking of 5:41.16. Johnstone - the Bashaw Flash, competing on a night when flashes from the sky were common - finished at 5:41.91.

Winding up at 5:43.00, Profit left the disappointed Mark Sutherland less than 1.5 seconds away from his shot at the big money.


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