Rick Fraser’s mind is made up – he will retire immediately after racing in the GMC Rangeland Derby, his 20th straight appearance at the Calgary Stampede.
Surely, though, there is some wiggle room?
“Yeah, there is, actually,” replies Fraser, smirking. “If I find out Hell froze over, I’ll consider reconsidering. That’s the only way.”
In other words, say goodbye to one of the most decorated chuckwagon drivers of all time. After the final day, July 15, he won’t again grace the wagon box.
And if you’re expecting tears to gush and lips to quiver when the man discusses the matter, well, you’d be surprised.
Fraser, quite matter of factly, says it is simply time.
But it must have been a hard decision, eh?
“It wasn’t,” says Fraser, 58. “Not at all. It was coming. It would’ve been either this year or next year, for sure. No, it’s not an emotional decision to make.
“When Kelly (Sutherland) retired last year, everybody was saying, ‘Oh, Kelly’s gone.’ But when you start any profession – it doesn’t matter what it is, whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, school teacher, truck driver – every day that goes by is one day closer to retirement.”
Fraser points to the legends – Tommy Glass, Dallas Dorchester – and how they left the sport on top. He admires that.
“Those guys were still the guys to beat,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m the guy to beat, but I’m one of the guys to beat. I’m good with that.
“I’m still competitive. I didn’t want to hang on and just be one of them guys that stayed too long. I didn’t want to do that.”
So this past spring, shortly before heading for Grande Prairie for the first stop on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association circuit, Fraser began to contemplate the future. He and his wife Sue were sitting at home one day in Wetaskiwin and she brought it up.
“Sue said, ‘We need to talk about what we doing here. Are we going to keep running?'” recalls Fraser. “I said, ‘What do you think?’ And she didn’t really give me an answer. I said, ‘OK, we’ll have an auction in Calgary. And that’s the end of it.'”
Make no mistake – this is not talk.
There will be a proper sale outside his barn (E6, to be exact) – with auctioneer/track-announcer Les McIntyre presiding over the dispersal of 20 horses – on July 14.
“We’re happy with our decision,” said Fraser, who’s already sold his liner. “The horses are running well. They’re going to help a lot of guys. I’ve got a big horse trailer if anyone wants a 10-horse horse trailer.”
As calm and collected as Fraser appears about his impending life change, he acknowledges that there are things he’ll miss.
For starters, spring training.
“It’s always fun because it’s just the horses,” he says. “It’s just awesome. You get new horses and you’re trying them and breaking them and seeing what they’ll do. And you get the old guys in. They’ve all got their own personalities. I’ll miss them. I’ve got a few horses that I’ll really miss. I have one good ol’ leader (Nickel) … he’s not going to go through the sale. I’ll sell him privately. I think I found a really good home for him.
“It’s a great sport, don’t get me wrong. There’s quite a few really good people involved. The horses are spectacular.”
The Rick Fraser resume is a mittful.
A two-time world champion (2004, 2013). A four-time qualifier for the Championship Sunday Final Heat at the GMC Rangeland Derby. The Orville Strandquist Award as top rookie driver at the 1999 Stampede. The Guy Weadick Award in 2005. And, at the start of it all, a highly regarded outrider.
Proud of yourself?
“I’ve never thought of it (in those terms),” he says. “I don’t know if I’d even consider it good, but I’ve done OK at it. I cannot compare myself to the greats like Ralph Vigen, Dallas Dorchester, Dave Lewis, Tommy and the Glasses. I don’t believe I’m that calibre at all. But I’ve done OK.
“One of the biggest thrills I ever had was when (the legendary voice of the Stampede) Joe Carbury called my name for the first time. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Or how about the time Fraser, piloting the wagon of leg-broke Shane Carter for a chunk of the season, helped his chum qualify for GMC Rangeland Derby?
Fraser calls that “the most satisfying thing I ever got to do.”
He’s got no plans, concrete or otherwise, short-term or otherwise.
“We have nothing,” says Fraser. “We’re just going to go home with an empty liner. Then we’ll figure out what comes next.”
Now, of course, comes a week of racing. Who knows? Maybe he’ll win Calgary for the first time.
“We want to run here, have some fun, see what happens,” says Fraser. “Then we’ll move on to the next chapter – whatever that is, because we have no idea.”