For a young man – a boy, really – this is truly a moment to cherish.
Cody Ridsdale, in only the second chuckwagon race of his life, posts a win.
Not only that, he betters a grizzled veteran – a man who competed nine times in the GMC Rangeland Derby, a man who once upon a time smashed the track record at the Calgary Stampede.
A man who is his father, Glen Ridsdale.
So that night in Rio Grande, Alta., getting his bearings on the Western Chuckwagon Association circuit, is a big one for the kid.
Only 16 years old.
Teaching Pops a lesson.
“We were side by side,” recalls Ridsdale. “I was pretty fired up when I beat him.”
And for what has evolved into a steady driving career –14 years’ worth and counting – that race provides a nice boost, being able to push past the old man at the finish line.
“Well,” says Ridsdale,”I thought I did.”
Family lore, you see, ended up packing a twist.
“Three years ago, Dad said, ‘Do you ever go back and watch that video?’ ” says Ridsdale. “So we did and I could see, now that I have lots of experience, that I was really trying to win and he was sitting back holding his horses. He was actually holding his horses back.
“I was letting mine run and he was just kind of watching me. He didn’t tell me for years.”
Not that Ridsdale begrudges being gifted his first-ever triumph.
Not when everything’s working out dandy – he’s here at the Stampede for the first time.
Well, for the first time as a driver.
Because as a little kid he’d been on site plenty of times. But it would be a stretch to say he was engrossed by the action.
When his dad established the track record in 1993, he was only six. The feat failed to resonate.
“I don’t remember anything,” says Ridsdale. “I was way too young. I was too busy playing on bales and that kind of stuff. I didn’t really pay attention.”
But, over the years, it’s fair to say that his appreciation for the sport, for being a contender, for earning an invitation to Calgary, has grown immeasurably.
“As I got older, I realized how tough it is here,” says Ridsdale. “There’s been some big-name guys running here. For my dad to come and set the track record? That was a special time for the whole family. As I got older, I realized that that’s tough to do.”
So last fall when he finally got the Stampede nod – via voicemail, because there’s no cell service when you’re hauling gravel in the bush near Paddle Prairie, Alta., four hours north of Grande Prairie – it was awfully meaningful.
To say the least.
“I freaked out instantly, I was so excited,” says Ridsdale. “A surreal day. Can’t even really explain it. The emotions were going pretty strong.”
Right now, however, it’s strictly business.
Even if getting to Calgary, from the WPCA stop in Ponoka, and organizing his barn became a bit of an ordeal.
“Like turning down the streets and stuff,” says Ridsdale, smiling. “Mike Vigen, he came out and helped me, so I thank him for that because I probably would’ve taken the wrong turn and ended up downtown, right?
“The first day was kind of hectic – we were up till midnight setting up everything. But now we’re getting into the groove of things.”
Having his fiance Katrina on hand, of course, helps – for a number of reasons.
She happens to be an equine massage therapist and chiropactor.
“To say the least, the boys get looked after pretty well,” says Ridsdale. “If a horse is feeling sore, not being himself, she’ll work on him and that day he’s feeling better. You can tell.”
Rookie adjustments aside, Ridsdale is feeling at home this week when the horn blows.
“When I get on the race track, it’s another day,” he says. “It’s game time. I’m just going to focus and treat it like another race.”
His father would approve.
Glen is scheduled to arrive in town in the next day or two.
That occasion is sure to pack some emotion, too – the original Speedy Gonzales witnessing his son roaring around the barrels here.
“It’s a special moment in a guy’s life to make it here – a dream come true,” says Ridsdale. “I was here from when I was three to 13 years old. So, now, to actually be here and compete, it’s very special to follow in my dad’s footsteps, eh?
“It’s my first year here, (but) you’ve got to set your goals high. Everyone wants to win the Calgary Stampede, the Stanley Cup of wagon racing.”