Chuckwagon racing returns to Griffin Park

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Photo/Steven Looney Members of the Cave City American Outlaws team makes their way around the course at the 2013 Hardy Spokes Chuckwagon Race. This year's event promises to be just as thrilling for spectators July 25-27 at Griffin Park in Hardy.

It is that time of year again, as chuckwagon racing heads to the area. For those of you who have never been, it is a real treat, not to mention a real sport. This weekend, teams from all over the mid-south will gather for the Hardy Spokes Chuckwagon race, sanctioned by the Arkansas Chuckwagon Racing Association.

The event, held each year at Griffin Park, provides contestants with an great location to enjoy the races, camp, relax and listen to some good music along the banks of the South Fork of the Spring River.

The 2014 Chuckwagon racing season, which began in March, consists of nine races throughout Arkansas and Oklahoma, which lead to finals in late August or early September.

Several local teams compete in the races including the Cave City American Outlaws team.

Those who have never been to a Chuckwagon race might not understand the point of horse drawn wagons running around a field. Chuckwagons were first used as mobile kitchens during cattle drives in the late 1800s, and the sport pays tribute to that heritage.

John Brown, a racer who not only loves the sport but participates all over the tri-state area on the American Outlaws team, explained the team racing procedure. "You got a team; you got a driver, you got a cook and you got an outrider, who rides the horse.When you leave the starting' barrel, one day you'll turn left, the other turn right, then you'll hit the track. The driver he drives; the cook, he's gotta take care of the bedroll, load it into the back of the wagon. Then they'll shoot the gun. The outrider's got a box, he's got to get that into the wagon. Then he's still got to get onto his horse, an' that's where you might lose him, cause you're already off. Before you cross the finish line you gotta have your box, your bedroll, and the driver and the cook has got to be in the wagon. The outrider's got to pass the wagon before you get to the finish line or you're disqualified."

In other words, chuckwagon races are exciting to watch.

Chuckwagon teams are divided into heats and flights. They race in pairs, matched by size of the two horses or mules pulling them. The carts are as lightweight as possible, for a competitive edge, so they jiggle and bounce and kick up a lot of dirt and stones from the track as they go, lending to the spectator experience.

The most famous chuckwagon race is perhaps the Calgary Stampede which began in 1923, growing to a purse of over $1.5 million in 2012. Arkansas hosts the National Championship Chuckwagon races each year in Clinton, and the sport has continued to grow over the last years, thanks to its heart pounding action.

The Hardy Spokes event begins on Friday, July 25, with an 8 p.m. welcome party at the main stage.

Saturday events begin with Pasture Roping at 9 a.m. The chuckwagon races are scheduled from 1 to 7 p.m. with music on the mail stage beginning at 7 p.m.

On Sunday, Cowboy Church is scheduled at 8 a.m., Pasture Roping will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by another full afternoon of chuckwagon racing.

Adult admission is $40 for all three days, single admissions are $10 on Friday, $25 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday. There is no charge for primitive camping at the park.

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