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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Monett Speedway preps for chuckwagons

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gal Pals competed last year in the Chuckwagon Racing Association races at the Monett Speedway. According to Randy Mooneyham, owner of the Monett Speedway, it was the first time the chuckwagon racers had the chance to race under the lights on a permanent track. The races attracted a big audience despite the heat. [Times Photo by Lisa Florey]
The Monett Speedway is one of the oldest and tradition-rich dirt tracks in Missouri.

On Saturday, the seasoned dirt track will experience horsepower in the purest sense of the word as the Midwest Chuckwagon Racing Association races along the three-eighths of a mile track.

"We are extremely excited about this opportunity," said Randy Mooneyham, owner of the Monett Speedway. "It's rare for the chuckwagons to race under the lights on a permanent track."

The race was originally scheduled for July but the extremely hot weather made hosting the event impractical.

There will be live entertainment before the event, and a benefit auction held at intermission to help with medical expenses for Sean Spurlock who suffered major trauma during a chuckwagon race earlier this year in Oklahoma.

Chuckwagon racers have a very unique set of rules to their races.

The driver sits in the wagon, reining back the ponies, mules or horses. A "cook" stands behind the wagon, ready to toss a simulated bedroll into the back.

Another team member waits nearby with the reins of his horse in one hand and the handle to a "cook stove," typically just a box or satchel, in the other.

At the starter's command, the cook loads the bedroll and hops aboard the wagon. The starter fires his pistol, and the third team member, called the outrider, tosses his stove into the wagon before mounting his steed. Both teams must round a barrel and then proceed to race around an oval track. According to the rules of the sport, the outrider must cross the finish line ahead of the team's wagon.

"Your wagon can be the fastest wagon out there, but if that outrider is not ahead of you at the finish, you come back with no time," said Mooneyham.

Racers are matched based on the size and type of animals they drive. Categories include 46-inch mules, 46-inch ponies, 52-inch mules, 52-inch ponies, "big mules" and "big horses."

The pinnacle of the sport is the buckboard and classics division, which features traditional horse-drawn vehicles and full-sized animals and no ball bearings to smooth the ride.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 to 15 and kids 11-and--under are free.

Gates will open at 5 p.m. with racing set to begin at 6 p.m.

Friday night racing

The Speedway, which has traditionally held weekly races on Sunday nights over the last 40 years, is switching to Friday nights next year.

"Our car count remained strong this year," said Mooneyham. "However, our spectator attendance was not. Fans voiced a desire for the weekly programs to move."

Mooneyham said that area schools starting in mid-August and running until around Memorial Day also took a toll on attendance.

"It just seems like people today didn't want to come to the races and have to get up early to work on Monday mornings," said Mooneyham.

The Dallas County Speedway, in Urbana, is the only other area track open on Fridays.

"We share few cars and we're far enough apart that I don't think it will affect either of us," said Mooneyham. "After talking to fans and drivers, I think this move is for the best."

There will be three exceptions to the Friday night slate: Sunday-night races will remain for the Tony Roper Memorial on Memorial Day weekend and the 4-State Dirt Track Championship over Labor Day weekend. A late model special also will be held on July 3, a Wednesday night.

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