Lincoln Douglas struggles mightily when asked to name anything that matches the thrill of chuckwagon racing.
The feeling of four thoroughbred horses pulling the wagon at 35 kilometres an hour down a straightaway. The uneasy feeling taking the banked corners that have been the downfall of so many racers.
The adrenaline rush as three wagons speed side-by-side towards the finish line, their wheels separated by mere inches. The horses so close you feel you can almost reach out and touch them.
Few people have done this.
Few people would have the intestinal fortitude to do this.
Douglas is one of the rare breed, a courageous sort who faces the fear and tackles the challenge head on.
And now, he’ll be doing it on the biggest stage possible, heading to Cowtown July 8-17 for the world renowned Calgary Stampede.
“This’ll be my fourth year racing for the WPCA (World Professional Chuckwagon Association), but my first time going to Calgary,” the 50-year-old said. “This is the biggie. The one everyone wants to get to and I can’t wait to get there. I’ve got lots of people coming from Chilliwack to support me.”
Douglas, the chief of the Cheam band, raced ponies for 17 years prior to getting into chuckwagon racing.
He got into it because he wanted something more challenging, and from the very start he knew he’d hit the mark.
“It was a little bit different because there’s so much more horse to deal with,” he said. “You don’t know whether to hold on or let them go. It was quite a thrill, that’s for sure.”
Before each race, four thoroughbred horses are hitched up to the chuckwagon, a process that takes three and ideally four people to complete.
The wagon itself has to be more than 11 feet long with a wheel-to-wheel width of about six feet.
With solid-wood construction, the wagon Douglas uses weighs 1125 pounds. The wagon he used in pony racing topped out around 500 pounds.
“So it’s quite a rumble as these things go around the track, and sometimes you feel like you’re going to lose things going around a corner,” he said. “You see your life flash before your eyes some days, especially if you drop a line or it gets tangled up in the gear.”
Bullriding is generally regarded as the most hazardous rodeo sport, with good reason.
But chuckwagon racing is right there.
Douglas rolled a wagon years ago with the ponies, but he’s never been involved in a serious chuckwagon crash.
One of his friends rolled wagons a couple times, wrecking a shoulder in the process.
“You can’t think about it and most of us are pretty good at avoiding accidents, and it’s not just our own personal safety we worry about,” he said. “We love our animals and we don’t want to see them hurt. I enjoy what they give me and the best part of this for me often is just taking care of them in the morning. I try to work with them every day if I can.”
You will likely know when Douglas leaves for Calgary, because his caravan is nearly impossible to miss.
“I’ve got a ‘96 Peterbilt pulling a 53 foot van with 18 horses inside,” he said. “I’ve got a stock trailer for the feed and gear and I’ve got a holiday trailer that we load the wagon into.”
Chuckwagon racing isn’t a lucrative pursuit.
Douglas finished 22nd on the WPCA circuit this year, making $40,000 and covering a lot of expenses out of pocket.
Calgary is one of those rare big-ticket events where he could win a big chunk of change.
Wagons at the Stampede have ads on their canvas, sold at auction.
Douglas’s canvas fetched $70,000.
The Calgary Stampede keeps 20 per cent, leaving him with approximately $56,000.
Even if he ran dead last every day during the Stampede, he’d collect another $20,000.
“This year I’ll still only cover my costs because I’ve got to pay the guys who help me on the road and the guys who help me during the races,” Douglas said. “You’ve got your feed bills, fuel bills, vet bills and shoeing bills. It all adds up.”
Douglas barely qualified for Calgary, sneaking in just under the cut-off.
“Finishing 22nd on the WPCA, I was right on the bubble as far as being one of the 36 who make it,” he said. “I didn’t know until the last event in Edmonton (Labour Day) that I’d made it, and even then I thought I might have missed it.”
Now that he’s in, he’s hoping to make a lasting impression.
The trip will be all business, with most of his time spent tending to the horses and the public relations demands of Stampede competitors.
Douglas is a realist and doesn’t suspect he’s going to win the Stampede title. But when the horn sounds, he thinks he can make some noise.
“There’s some pretty competitive guys out there and only being in my fourth year on tour I’m still building my team,” he said.
“But if I can finish in the middle of the pack, I think I’d be happy with that.”