Grande Prairie’s Kelly Sutherland has made his last competitive barrel turn after 50 years in the sport. “The King” of chuckwagon racing has retired following his final race this past weekend in Rocky Mountain House.
Sutherland, who will turn 66 this year says he has been mentally preparing the past few years for this final season.
“I have had the ultimate career,” said Sutherland. “I feel blessed actually to have been able to compete that long and win that much in a career I loved. I just know from a health standpoint that I am going to get hurt if I stay competing at the level I’m trying to compete at.”
He started racing at 14 and had his first win at age 22. He says he remembers that first time of being on stage in front of 40,000 people.
“When you’re in the sport you only dream about getting the opportunity to win and I was fortunate when I was young.”
In 2010, Sutherland broke a record by winning the World Championships for an 11th time. Then in 2011, just a few months shy of his 60th birthday he added a 12th world championship to his collection.
He retires with many championships under his belt, including 12-time World Champion, 12-time Calgary Stampede Champion, and nine-time champion in Ponoka.
Kelly Sutherland’s only Grande Prairie Stompede win was in 1979, however he is the only driver to have competed in all 40 Stompedes.
“My intention was to let people know exactly where Grande Prairie was because it has always been home to me and I intended on doing that through the sport of chuckwagon racing…There’s always been huge fan support in the Grande Prairie and north peace area and I would just think to say ‘thanks’ because many of them have followed this sport for well over 40, 50 years.
While other competitors maybe would have retired after Calgary Stampede, Sutherland says he wanted to go right to the end this year for the fans.
“One of the most moving things that hit home was in Saskatoon. I had a couple of ladies come up to me after the event when I was taking the tarp off the wagon. They were quite emotional and I didn’t know who they were but they said, ‘you can’t quit, we’ve followed your career for 40 years,’ and we had a hug and we talked about wagon racing. Those kinds of things are pretty moving to me, the fact that I’d impacted people that I never even knew that live in a different province.”
So now what?
“I am certainly going to ride a lot of horses with my grandchildren…There’s a seven-year-old and a five-year old, so there’s quite a few tears when I pack up and leave. And the day I get back we saddle up and go riding in the bush a little bit, and fool around, and I think there will be a lot more time for that,” he said.
“I haven’t seen the grass turn green in June since I was 14 years old. There’s going to be an adjustment and certainly a big vacuum in my life…. I think I’ll phone a few of my buddies and see if they want to go riding, or fishing or maybe go chase a few cows around.”
(Photo of Kelly Sutherland racing in Grande Prairie Stompede 2017)