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Sports This Week: Weekes, Sask. driver shines on Stampede chuckwagon track

The season culminates with the Century Downs World Chuckwagon finals Aug. 23-27.
Wade, Salmond who joined brother Evan on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association circuit in 2019, is the second Salmond to earn the coveted Orville Strandquist Memorial Award. Cousin Rod Salmond previously won in 1994.

YORKTON - Nothing exemplifies the Calgary Stampede more than the storied chuckwagon races.

And this year, as the dust settled for a final time, a Weekes, Sask. driver had emerged as the top rookie driver.

Wade Salmond driving his De Havilland Aircraft of Canada chuckwagon was awarded the Orville Strandquist Memorial Award.

“It’s pretty special,” said Salmond in an interview with Yorkton This Week, adding it is made special because “Orville Strandquist was one of the greatest drivers ever in the sport.”

Wade, who joined brother Evan on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association circuit in 2019, is the second Salmond to earn the coveted award. Cousin Rod Salmond previously won in 1994.

While Salmond is happy with the Strandquist nod, he also looks back on the week of racing and wonders if he had just made a couple of runs cleaner, could he have been among the final three drivers in the penultimate ‘Dash for Cash’.

“We had a barrel on the third night that sort of knocked us out of things,” he said.

Salmond said they might have managed to overcome that mistake but then on night five “we had a three second outrider penalty. That really knocked the wind out of our sails.”

But that is the way the Stampede is. The competition is fierce and mistakes cost drivers big time.

“Things are really tough out there,” said Salmond.

But the Weekes driver kept pushing, maybe too hard on the final night.

“I wanted to see if I could push out and get day money,” he said, adding a hard run was also a personal effort to show he belonged and could run with the top rigs, but again drew a penalty.

Still there were good moments.

It started with just being invited to run in Calgary.

Salmond said it used to be a point system to qualify, and while results at other races no doubt factor in, they simply invited 26 drivers.

“You still have the best drivers in the world,” he said.

So when the invitation arrived Salmond was rather happy.

“Oh man! There’s nothing anyone who has ever driven a wagon in their lives wants more than to drive at the Stampede. It’s the Stanley Cup of racing,” he said.

The invitation came after Salmond thought he was going to be involved and the COVID shut down racing for two years.

Then last year, he admitted he was expecting an invitation, but it didn’t come.

That actually turned out OK in the end as Salmond ran the North American Championships in Lloydminster running the same time as the Stampede. He ended up in the $100K final, finishing second.

“So, I was happy to get to go to Lloydminster,” he said.

Still, finally running the Stampede this July became even sweeter.

Salmond said his daughter was in the wagon day one as he rolled out on the Calgary Stampede track.

He said his daughter remarked “Holy man dad there’s so many people,” and he said it is intimidating have 30,000 people cheering and staring.

As for Salmond he felt some nerves but also realized that the atmosphere of the Stampede was the zenith of the sport.

“It doesn’t get any better,” he said.

And there was one notable win edging Chanse Vigen by a literal nose in a race. Vigen, who placed third at the Stampede, has been on fire all season, noted Salmond.

“He’s been almost unbeatable,” he said.

Notably at the Stampede daughter Jorja Rose was part of one of the winning teams in the wild pony races held during the intermission of the afternoon rodeo, which her dad spoke of with obvious pride.

For Salmond the Stampede was a sort of culmination of a career that started three decades ago on dirt tracks from Melfort to Archerwill to Yorkton and dozens more, running in the Eastern Professional Chariot & Chuckwagon Association.

“In 1993 I started running chariots. I was 14,” he recalled.

Two years later, at age 16, he was in the seat of a chuckwagon.

“I ran in Yorkton for 20 years,” said Salmond.

Running pony chariots and chuckwagons was something Salmond was basically destined to do. It was very much in his blood with grandfather Cleve a founding members of the EPCCA.

Father Neil Salmond has won countless pony racing championships and in his 60s today still races.

Wade Salmond said it was natural for he and his brother Evan to drive, and he has a number of uncles and cousins who compete today.

It was only in 2019 that Wade took the step up to the big wagons, joining brother Evan who took the step years earlier.

Salmond’s first races with the WPCA were in Grand Prairie.

“Usually I’m a pretty laid back guy but you’re pretty nervous with so many eyes on you,” he said.

In that first year Salmond said he was probably over cautious, wanting to drive safe and clean maybe more than win.

“Still looking back it was probably the right thing to do,” he said.

Now there are more races to attend. Salmond is on the road from May until September with the WPCA, and he notes it is a team effort, with a nod to wife Kim, and to Bruce Ridsdale who looks after his horses year round.

Next up will be the Strathmore Stampede Aug. 4-7.

The season culminates with the Century Downs World Chuckwagon finals Aug. 23-27.