GLENDO – When you think of chariot racing, different images pop to the mind. Such as Rome, Sparticus, Kirk Douglas and perhaps Charleton Heston.
Certainly people from anywhere else but the wild wild west would not equate chariot racing to Wyoming. Glendo, Wyoming for that matter.
A weekend of chariot racing went forth with crowds of spectators, some standing ankle-deep in mud and a stout adult beverage in their hands.
“It’s been over 20 years,” said organizer and chariot racer Gene Daly. “We had 10 teams this year. And from here some will race in Afton, Wyoming, in the next few weeks and then on March 6 and 7 we come back here for the Wyoming State Chariot Races.”
Money taken in by the group goes to help the Glendo FFA, 4H and the youth group according to Daly.
“The racers all know each other and have really good camaraderie,” he said. “They’re great guys. There’s one driver here from Guernsey, one from Saratoga, several out of Afton and Glendo.”
After knowing the facts of people actually getting killed in the famous chariot race of Ben Hur, the question of safety is always a concern.
“It’s not too dangerous,” Daly said. “They have their horses fairly well broke, as long as they just don’t have a wreck. We’ve had some wrecks out here and it really gets the adrenaline going. We had one team that came out and hit a hump and threw the rider out. That’s why we have the outriders to catch up the runaway chariot.”
According to Daly, the teams have to have four outs to qualify for the state tournament and the Glendo races gave the riders two outs for the weekend.
“There’s a Shriner’s race in Afton in two weeks, I believe,” Daly said. “Most of these riders are going over there.”
There is no age restriction to drive a chariot which consists of the chariot on wheels pulled by a team of horses.
“We’ve had kids as young as 13 come out to race,” he said. “That last race Jackson Newman drove and he is only a teenager. Most of these guys, however, have been running forever. Most of them are over 50. We DO need more young guys in it.”
One of those veteran 50-year-olds is Tom Nelson who hails from western Wyoming. Nelson is 58 years old and has been racing chariots since he was 17.
“My dad was in it when I was younger,” Nelson said. “I just came following him into it. It was primarily in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Oregon had some teams years ago. They started racing their horses in the olden days. The horses they brought their milk into town with. So they started betting and they were running them down the main street of Thane, Wyoming. They stared with sleighs and then went to wheels about 50 years ago.”
According to Nelson, the sport grew and gained momentum with better horses and equipment until it came to what it is today with more sophisticated rigs. He also mentioned that because of the sleighs, they couldn’t run on dirt so it was pretty much a winter sport.
The teams who began coming into town early Saturday morning had five races on Saturday and five races on Sunday. In the pits there was a discrepancy as to who the favorite was. Some said Tom Nelson, but Nelson said Roy Morgan from Guernsey.
“I was in a wreck once,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t nice. A horse came over and bumped the wheel and tipped me up off the ground. It just dumped me out of the cart and landed in the dirt.”
Mike Newman is another racer who is not a stranger to an on-track mishap.
“I have had several wrecks,” Newman said. “But thank goodness I never got hurt. The one wreck that was probably the worst was on a very muddy track and I was tossed out of my chariot and slid on my shoulder for about 40 yards. The tongue came away from the neck collar and dropped into the ground. If you’ve ever seen the YouTube videos where it flips the guy, it was almost that scenario. So you just lean back on your cart and try to keep the tongue up, but by the time I was at the finish I was exhausted, the tongue hit the ground and it just shot me out of the cart.”
Many colorful stories about this curious Wyoming winter sport can be gained as you sit with some of the experienced drivers who know firsthand what it’s like to have a team of horses going top speed on a muddy dirt track. No back protection. A metal shield in front. A bit of skill and a lot of luck.
The Shriners run in Afton is Feb. 13-14 with all proceeds going to the Shriner’s Hospital. For information about the activities that weekend you can visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Shriners-Chariot-Race-100568755208353/
1st - Sagebrush Motel #1 driven by Roy Morgan Jr. - 44.91
2nd - Just Off Brothers driven by Jackson Newman - 46.12
3rd - M & O Colts driven by James Olguin - 46.71
1st - JWH / Dad's Bar driven by Clay Giles - 46.97
2nd - 47.57 HLH Nelson Qtr Horses driven by Tom Nelson- 47.57
3rd - Children's Inheritance driven by Stretch Austin - 47.80
1st - Sagebrush Motel #2 driven by Roy Morgan Jr. - 48.06
2nd - T&M Jack's Brats driven by Jenny Barber - 48.14
1st - Equine Addition driven by Stretch Austin - 49.36
2nd - Newman Equine driven by Mike Newman - 49.53
Wildbunch 4-H Club 50/50 Raffle winner - Bob Childs of Torrington who gave back half of his winnings.
The Wyoming State Chariot Races Championship will be March 6 & 7 at Glendo. Please contact Elaine Daly at (307) 331-9957 to register or with questions.