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The National Championship Chuckwagon Race is held every Labor Day weekend at Dan and Peggy Eoff’s ranch in Clinton (Van Buren County). Spectators from across the United States travel to the small town nestled in the Ozark Mountains to see the largest outdoor chuckwagon race in the country.
The chuckwagon is associated with Charles Goodnight, who designed the first wagon to follow the cattle trails in the 1800s. Stories hold that, at the end of the cattle drive, the cowhands would collect their pay, pack up their supplies, and race into town. Legend has it that the last one there had to buy the first round of drinks for all.
The races were started in 1986 when Dan and Peggy Eoff decided to host a Labor Day party for a few of their friends, inviting them to bring their horses and wagons and have a race. The Eoffs expected about 100 people to attend, but over 500 came to watch the eight teams that participated. Following the weekend’s event, people who were not able to attend persuaded the Eoffs to have another one. The next year, the Eoffs advertised, traveling throughout the state to promote the event. That year, sixteen teams entered, and the crowd grew to about 1,500. Year after year, the number of teams increased, as did the number of spectators. In 2006, the twentieth anniversary of the first chuckwagon race, over 20,000 people attended to watch 135 teams participate. Nearly 5,000 equine (horses and mules) were verified through the gates, making this event the largest equine event in the state.
Over the years, days were added to the event, now stretching the entire week before Labor Day. Concerts, trail rides, camping, and horse/mule activities occur throughout the week.
The race has very few rules. Three people make up a team—the driver, the cook, and the outrider. At the start of each race, the cook and the outrider are on the ground. At the judge’s instruction, the cook loads the stove and gets into the wagon. When the gun is fired to start the race, the outrider loads the tent into the wagon, gets onto his/her horse, and must pass the wagon before it crosses the finish line. The cook and driver must be in the wagon, along with the tent and the stove, as it crosses the finish line to receive a qualified time. Although that may sound simple, with four teams at the starting line at once, the excitement and noise of the crowd, and the unpredictability of animals, it is not as easy as it sounds. Often times, the outriders cannot mount their horses, stoves or tents are not loaded, and occasionally wagons turn over.
There are five different divisions of chuckwagon races, depending upon the size of the animals. Other events during the race include a mule race, a bronc fanning (a bucking horse event wherein horses are flanked out of a chute, and the rider must not only ride the animal for six seconds, but take his hat off and “fan” the animal to show that he has conquered it), and the Snowy River Race, a thrilling horseback race that includes two downhill runs and a plunge into the South Fork of the Little Red River. Spectators bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit along the bluffs that overlook the track.
For additional information:
Eifling, Sam. “Wild, Wheeled West.” ESPNOutdoors.com. http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/general/news/story?page=f-eifling-07chuckwagon-pg1 (accessed September 20, 2007).
Dan EoffClinton, Arkansas
Last Updated 9/20/2007
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