Fourth-generation chuck-wagon racer Jason Glass has a handle on the pressure that comes with driving the family's trademark checkerboard wagon at venues across Western Canada.
Climbing into the driver's seat of a rotted old wagon, a young boy gives a quick jog of his imaginary lines, yelling to his just-as-imaginary horse team in the process. And away they go, around the Calgary Stampede's first barrel. Moments later - in remarkably record time - the team is crossing the chuck-wagon race finish line as the driver plots his victory speech.
All across Canada, young boys play out similar fantasies, and in more cases than not, such dreamers are either pretending to be Jason Glass or have just beaten him. Such is the life of Canada's first fourth-generation chuck-wagon driver - the only current driver carrying the sport's most famous name.
"I've been racing - at least in my mind - since I was a kid," Jason admits, only his dreams no doubt centered around someday beating his father, Tom Glass, against whom he raced for several years. "I'm comfortable with my last name, and the pressure that goes along with it. All I've ever wanted to do was get behind the lines and get the most out of the horses in front of me. And, for a couple of months every year, that's exactly what I do."
Surrounded by family history in his grandmother's home - itself a shrine to the sport that has always been front and center in their lives - the High River, Alberta, cowboy confesses to the old athlete clichÃƒÂ© of putting "more pressure on myself than anyone else." Just a few minutes into the conversation, it becomes apparent that the old saying isn't just a clichÃƒÂ© for Jason.
Wagons Come First
As is the case with many in his family, Jason has made a good living in recent years as a stuntman on movies filmed in Canada. He spends winters in Vancouver, British Columbia, where every major American film company now owns a studio. But he doesn't hesitate when asked whether he's a "chuck-wagon racer who moonlights on movies or a stuntman who's taken up chuck-wagon racing."
"If I had to pick one, I'd train horses and race wagons," he says without hesitation. "The movie business could go away tomorrow if I had to choose between them."
Following the usual path to the driver's seat, Jason started as an outrider - a mounted rider who competes with the chuck-wagon driver as part of a team. Outriders must load cargo into the back of the wagon at the race's start, then finish after, but not more than 150 feet behind, the wagon. Outriders are hard to come by - so the two dozen outriders in the World Professional Chuckwagon Association are shared from one race to the next by the association's 36 drivers.
"Outriding is the safest way to start," Jason says. "You're out there on the track, but you're on a horse [not driving a wagon], which cuts down potential problems. But it also gives you a chance to watch how everything unfolds on the track. It'd be fair to say that most outriders aspire to drive."
Jason spent four years outriding for his father and others. He won the sport's top individual event, the Calgary Stampede, in his rookie year as an outrider. But as is the case with most, Jason was only biding his time until he could get behind the lines.
He relates to those kids pretending to round the first Calgary barrel. After all, he was one of them some 25 or 30 years ago. There was a time when he was constantly sneaking into the family's trademark checkerboard wagons every time he saw an opening. Eventually, he got his start in the sport.
"When I was younger, dad would hook the outriding horses to a wagon and let me drive them for practice," Jason recalls. "They went everywhere, but that's why they're outriding horses, because they don't like to drive. But it's a good way to learn. I really learned how to move my hands and handle the lines - just at a pace I could handle at the time."
For the rest of this story, pick up the March 2007 issue of Western Horseman magazine.