Mark checking the soil on the track (‘in the dirt’)

Morning Calgary!

How have you been enjoying your Centennial Calgary Stampede thus far? I know for myself, it has easily been one of the greatest experiences of my life to date. The energy in the city feels more contagious: everywhere you look everyone is sharing in this incredible moment in our history together. I’ve said it before, but I will say it once more- I am truly so lucky to be a volunteer for such an incredible organization as it brings me opportunities I would never normally have a chance to have. One such occasion is the topic of my blog this morning- interviewing the Chair of the Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon committee, Mark G. Damm.

Mark epitomizes all we hold dear here at the Calgary Stampede- preserving and promoting western heritage and values. Overseeing a committee of 42 volunteers is no easy task- so I was thrilled when he not only agreed to in interview, but also a behind the scenes barns tour as well. (I had to pinch myself at that point to ensure this was all really about to happen). Please read on as I get to know one of our incredible volunteers.

Bar 80 , the newly registered brand for the Chuckwagon Committee

1. How did you get involved with Chuckwagons?

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan, and have been involved in farming and ranching all of my life. I became a Chuckwagon racing fan in my teens and have followed the sport closely since coming to Calgary in 1990.  The 2012 Centennial Stampede will be my 21st Stampede as a volunteer, and my 9th as a member of the Chuckwagon committee.  I  was  recruited  by, and  transferred to the  Chuckwagon committee, in January 2004.

2. What have been some of your roles on the committee?

I started in the “Eye in the Sky” as a member of the Production Team and have been the Track Manager for each GMC Rangeland Derby for the past five years, controlling the flow of the races and calling the racing heats on to the track.  As a member of the committee executive during the same timeframe, I have been involved in all aspects of the committee from budgeting and yearly planning, Stampede branding and marketing, to personnel and recruiting, to all elements of racing,  and  long-term  strategic planning, with an emphasis  on ensuring the longevity of the sport, both generally, and in particular, at the Stampede.

Infield at the Chucks & Executive Office happenings.

 3. I can tell you’re very passionate about the sport and the people involved in it. What makes the Chucks at Calgary Stampede so special?

Chuckwagon racing is a true family sport – from the drivers and outriders and their families, to the Stampede “family” of staff and volunteers, particularly the members of the Chuckwagon committee. It is the people themselves that make this sport so great – and of course, there are a lot of shall we say, “colourful characters”, involved in the sport!

4. It takes a lot of people to put this all together, how do you do it?

Not much sleep and a lot of pain, sweat and tears!  Seriously, we have great support from the management and staff of the Calgary Stampede- but it is the forty-two members of the Stampede Chuckwagon Committee that work their tails off year-round,  and put in ridiculous hours for the two weeks surrounding  the “Big Show”  that  make  it  all  happen.    We  also have  an  additional thirty ten day volunteers that help us out immensely during the 10-days of Stampede itself.

5. How long is an average day for you and your fellow volunteers during the 10-day show?

From sunrise, to long after sunset!  Chuckwagon committee members put in an average of 18 to 20 hour days commencing on the Tuesday before Parade Day, through to the end of the 10-day show!

Various Chuckwagon Committee Members in the Centennial Parade, Walking thru the barns & Checking out Mark’s favourite wagon paint job.

6. Do you have one standout memory from all your years at the track?

To date it would be during the 2010 GMC Rangeland Derby, when “The King” Kelly Sutherland won his 11th GMC Rangeland Derby during a very tough spell for the Sutherland family — Kelly was in tears on stage speaking about his wife, Debbie, and his family.  Equally memorable was when Jason Glass  won the Guy Weadick Award and  spoke fondly of his grandmother (the matriarch of Chuckwagon racing) the late Iris Glass.  …so you can see how it is all about the people of Chuckwagon racing!

 7. Can you give a little bit of insight into what happens behind the scenes in the barns?

The Chuckwagon Barns are a working barn area and the temporary home of our equine athletes, the true stars of Chuckwagon racing!  It is akin to the garage and pit area of a NASCAR or Formula One race, except add horses and everything that goes with them!  The barns are a beehive of activity from 6:00 am practice on the track, morning chores, mid-morning video review by the drivers and outriders of the previous nights’ races, afternoon naps and then starting at about 4:00 p.m. the electricity and excitement builds leading up to the evening’s racing.  Another element is the exclusive hosting by canvas   advertisers and the Chuckwagon committee that occurs every evening both pre and post-racing.

Golf carts are the preferred mode of transport in the barns!

8. For newcomers to the Stampede, what do you think is the most exciting aspect of coming down to watch the Chucks and stay for the Grandstand Show?

In one word it has to be that the Show which we are putting on is unique – from four wagons and twenty-four horses racing around the track during each of nine nightly heats come rain or shine and the sounds, smells and colours of the GMC Rangeland Derby, to the amazing Grandstand Show put on every night by our own Young Canadians – it is such a unique, and world-class event… words don’t do it justice – you have to see, feel and hear it to believe it.

9. Social media is quickly becoming a very important way of communicating- how has your committee adopted this new form of correspondence?

The Chuckwagon committee has massively ramped up its presence on both Facebook and Twitter (@CSChuckwagons), and several of the committee including myself (@MGDamm) have engaged social media to provide an insider’s perspective on the sport, the committee itself and the GMC Rangeland Derby!

10. Our committee is putting together a Time Capsule that will be opened 100 years from now. If you could include one item, what would it be and why?

On March 29, 2012, the committee hosted the 2012 Centennial Chuckwagon Canvas Auction for the thirty-six drivers that would compete in the Centennial GMC Rangeland Derby from July 6 – 15, 2012. The thirty-fourth annual Canvas Auction set new records for both the highest cumulative total bid (namely $4,015,000.00) and the highest single bid ($300,000.00 by Tervita for twelve-time Rangeland Derby winner Kelly Sutherland). Each high bidding advertiser at the Auction successfully purchasing the right to advertise on a chuckwagon canvas received a Limited Edition 2012 Centennial Canvas Auction Advertiser Buckle, and a thirty-seventh buckle was created to commemorate the 2012 Centennial Auction.

The Chuckwagon committee, on behalf of our forty-two hard working full committee members is presenting a Limited Edition Centennial Canvas Auction Advertiser Buckle, (numbered 37) as our contribution to the NGC Centennial Time Capsule– in commemoration of our record setting 2012 Auction and the Stampede Centennial!

Mark, thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to meet with me and make one of my Stampede dreams come true. The barns are a fascinating place where you can feel the family energy and love. Also, we as a committee officially thank you and your fellow members for your contribution to the Centennial Time Capsule. It is an item that will hold a tremendous amount of significance one hundred years from now. We’re Greatest Together! 

Mason and Mark – thanks for the tour guys!