Not to say it was a total shock to the Western Chuckwagon Association (WCA) when they heard the news, but the club must have been a tad surprised upon hearing a Sutherland was intent on racing in the circuit this summer.
After all, the elder Kelly Sutherland has been long since retired from racing, while his son Mark Sutherland is working away in the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA), but let’s not forget about the third guy in the racing trifecta.
After two seasons of racing in the WPCA, the youngest of the Sutherland family, Dayton, decided to take a step back from the WPCA—for personal and professional reasons, with some of it being the cost and challenges of running in the top circuit.
He originally fiddled with the idea of joining the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) because they tend to have bigger shows and more prize money on offer. He also liked the fact the CPCA has a handful of drivers—on a yearly basis—who qualify and race at the Calgary Stampede.
Sutherland was the WPCA Top Rookie Driver two years ago. Last year, the De Winton resident won his first buckle in the WPCA at the Battle of the Rockies event.
Eventually, the personal tug of war in what to do next came from familiar voices, echoes from the past and the familiar present.
“I decided to come up to the WCA because Grande Prairie is home and I have lots of family up here,” Sutherland said. “The sport is huge, it’s a great community. It seemed like the obvious move. Seemed like the right place to be.”
Besides his “Grandpa Kelly,” Sutherland is the nephew of WCA driver Dean Dreger and cousin to second-year driver Tuff Dreger.
“(I made the decision to race in the WCA) probably a few months before the season started,” Sutherland added. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do. It was my grandpa who pushed me to come up here and that’s what I ended up doing. It’s been a really good experience so far.”
Short of expectations
But on the track is where the experience has fallen far short for Sutherland. Not in terms of the experience within the WCA family but it’s more to do with results. The 21-year-old burns hot to win and probably does a slow burn when he doesn’t win.
Currently, Sutherland is eighth in aggregate with 168 points. In 22 races, Sutherland has five top three finishes—two day-money wins, one second and two third-place finishes. He finished second to WCA rookie Colin Lefley at Rio Grande, four tenths of a second out of a first-place tie with Lefley.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I thought I’d be one of (the) toughest guys, if not the toughest guy to beat in the association,” Sutherland said. “I knew what the guys were like at the top of the association. I knew how top guys would run and I honestly thought I’d be right up there with them.”
While staying with his grandpa, Sutherland trained and competed hard with the Dreger’s during the spring, noting Dean “usually runs tough.” While he probably gained a measure of confidence from spring training, he went on to mention it was a tough winter for his horses and his poor start to the season set him back some.
But he’s the one ultimately responsible and he’s taken ownership for his results.
“(Where) I’ve definitely fallen off the boat is the consistency,” Sutherland said. “(The top) guys are a lot more consistent. I can throw a big run, win a day money, or second day money but it’s not every night. Most of the other time, I’m taking penalties and what not. I’m not thrilled with that part of my performance but it’s forever a learning curve. It seems like it with chuckwagon racing.”
Living up to a name
Sutherland noted it can be a blessing and a curse being a member of the famous racing family but said, “I’m good with it.” He will take advice from his grandpa and father but they aren’t with him on a daily basis. Kelly doesn’t attend the races and Mark is busy doing his own thing.
He’s got to be his own man and figure out what’s at the root of his inconsistency while planning on his return to the WPCA next year.
“You have to figure it out on your own and you have to discover what kind of driver you are and what horses work for you,” Sutherland said. “Usually, it ends up being the old guys are always right—I will admit that—but you have to figure it out on your own. At the end of the day, you’re the guy holding the lines when the horses go. No one can do it for you.”