The World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) will once again bring its Pro Tour finals to Balzac this August, after announcing the extension of a deal with Century Downs Racetrack and Casino to continue hosting the event.
The agreement between the two organizations was originally to host the WPCA Pro Tour finals at the Century Downs racetrack for three years, starting in 2019. The inaugural finals were a success, with Kurt Bensmiller ultimately winning the world title for the fourth time in five years.
But the 2020 finals, like every other public event that year, were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And though the tour was able to go ahead in a modified and abbreviated format in 2021, Century Downs opted not to host the finals, given the ongoing public health restrictions at the time.
The chucks finally returned last year, with Calgary Stampede Champion Kris Molle winning the show title and Layne MacGillivray capturing the WPCA's world title.
The WPCA Pro Tour starts in May and includes 10 stops throughout western Canada, culminating with the association's championship finals at Century Downs in late August. Throughout the week, the association doles out more than $300,000 in prize money to the winning drivers.
WPCA general manager Paul Ryneveld said there are a few benefits to hosting the tour's championship finals at Century Downs – a main one being the venue's proximity to Calgary, where another popular chuckwagon event just so happens to take place every summer.
And for people who enjoy watching the Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede every summer, Ryneveld reminds that the WPCA's Pro Tour comprises many of the same drivers. In fact, he argues the quality of competition may even be higher at Century Downs, given the prize money up for grabs. The feature race is the $75,000 championship on the final Sunday.
“It is the same calibre [as the Stampede] and it might be even a bit better, with the money and titles that are on the line,” Ryneveld said. “The competition is probably heightened because of that.
“It’s obviously a different experience – the Stampede is in a large stadium. Century Downs, though, is a little bit more up close and personal.”
Other benefits to hosting the finals at Century Downs, according to Ryneveld, is the high-quality racing track and the venue's top-notch stables.
“The crew at Century Downs is very much invested in the event,” said Ryneveld, who was previously the Balzac-based casino's general manager. “Those are all positive attributes to put on a successful event.”
Ryneveld said the inaugural event at Century Downs in 2019 was a success, but the positive momentum was basically wiped out by the two years of COVID-related cancellations. When the finals went ahead in 2022, he argued it felt like starting from scratch yet again.
“Obviously, we have another year to build on and we’re hoping it can continue to build,” he said. “When you look at some of the other events on the [racing] calendar – the Stampede, for example – that’s over 100 years of history. And many other stops on the tour have been going for quite some time.
“With a little bit of traction and no stoppages, I think this event will evolve into the “true” finals that it’s meant to be.”
The 2023 WPCA World Finals will be held Aug. 23 to 27. Early bird general admission tickets will be on sale in February through showpass.com.
For more info on the WPCA or its annual Pro Tour, visit wpca.com