Rangeland changes questioned

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Not everybody likes change.

The Calgary Stampede yesterday announced sweeping changes to the Rangeland Derby.

Chuckwagon racing's richest show will follow in the footsteps of the Calgary Stampede rodeo beginning in 2009.

The major changes include the addition of a Semifinal Saturday, in which the top eight wagons compete for four spots in the championship dash, and a different invitational criteria.

The World Professional Chuckwagon Association gained six invites (from 12 to 18), while the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association lost four guaranteed positions ( from 12 to eight).

Veteran chuckwagon driver Jim Nevada said the CPCA has more than eight world-class drivers and added the new invitational system will force young drivers out of the sport.

"This is a delicate sport," Nevada said. "There is no big reserve of wagon drivers.

"If you're a kid with $100,000, you can't afford to go on the WPCA.

"And now with just eight (CPCA) spots, they have no chance of going to Calgary. Why would they buy horses?"

Nevada, 44, spent 25 years with the WPCA before joining the CPCA last season.

With the average age of chuckwagon drivers continuing to climb, Nevada said it's imperative the sport brings in some new blood.

"If you had Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull playing for 100 years, how would you ever know when a Wayne Gretzky comes along?" Nevada questioned.

"You wouldn't, because he'd never get a chance."

The Calgary Stampede insists it wants the best of the best at its show.

Stampede senior manager of corporate communications Lindsey Galloway said there's no room for training wheels on the Half Mile of Hell.

"First and foremost, we're hosting the world's premiere championship," Galloway said. "What we want is to have the very best competitors here and the top-performing drivers consistently come from the WPCA.

"If that changes, we'll change the ratio. But we won't allow for the Rangeland Derby to become a developmental circuit.

"We won't be compromising safety. Inviting inexperienced drivers to the GMC Rangeland Derby is not something we feel is in the best interest of having the most competitive and most safe competition."

Nevada isn't buying it.

"This isn't a safety issue," he said. "All three drivers (Kelly Sutherland, Ray Mitsuing and Gary Gorst) involved in last year's wreck are veterans. The kids aren't the ones causing the wrecks."


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