CALGARY, A.B. – An unexpected late bidding war for the right to sponsor veteran driver Troy Dorchester helped push the annual Calgary Stampede chuckwagon canvas auction to a $47,000 higher total than last year.
Sponsorship bids for the 36 rigs competing at the annual tribute to cowboy culture totalled $3.29 million at the end of the event on Thursday night, up from $3.24 million raised at the 2018 auction, but well short of the record of just over $4 million pledged in 2012.
The auction is considered a bellwether for the health of the Calgary-based oil and gas industry, as many of the sponsors who pay to have their company names on the horse-drawn wagons in the July races are energy industry players.
Bidder Orlene King, director of communications for Graham Construction of Calgary, said the employee-owned company was willing to pay $150,000 to sponsor Dorchester because of his reputation as a safe driver who best exemplifies the sport.
“The tarp auction is a barometer of the economy in Calgary and Alberta,” she said. “While it’s not always as rosy as we like, Graham is doing well, great projects, great clients. We feel that Troy, like Graham, exemplifies that.”
Dorchester, 46, nearly left the stage early when the auctioneer thought bidding had ended at $100,000, but came back to watch as the crowd cheered the two remaining bidders to new heights.
He said the $150,000 is the most his rig has sold for in 20 years at the Calgary Stampede.
“It’s crazy,” he said in an interview. “You know, we need it, the drivers. It costs a lot of money to go down the road, tracking 20 head of horses, and this means a lot to all of the drivers.”
About 80 per cent of the canvas auction proceeds go to the driver; the rest is used for prize money, safety and other chuckwagon initiatives.
Natural gas producer Painted Pony Energy Ltd. of Calgary bid $105,000 to sponsor a chuckwagon driven by Gary Gorst for a third consecutive year. It plans to share the 10 days of races with Calgary-based AltaGas Ltd.
“It’s a bit of a tough decision this year, to go ahead, but we think it pays for itself,” said CEO Pat Ward, adding sponsorship gives the company the ability to bring about 40 employees, family members and clients to meet the driver and hang out in the barns on race nights.
“Oil prices are pushing towards US$60 (per barrel) and gas prices in the last two quarters have been OK so it’s feeling a little bit better. But we’re not out of the woods yet, no.”
Driver Kurt Bensmiller received the top bid of $130,000 last year and went on to win the chuckwagon derby for his fourth championship in five years.
On Thursday, he tied with driver Jason Glass with a $120,000 winning bid.