Chuckwagon races have long been an iconic part of the Calgary Stampede. But there was a period where an impasse between the Stampede and the traditional chuckwagon racers put their participation at risk. And Einar Brasso was part of a solution that has allowed for over 100 years of continuous chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede.
“The chuckwagon races had been going since 1916, but in the mid-1980s there was an impasse between the Stampede and the chuckwagon racers,” explained Einar Brasso, founder of Brasso Nissan. “As you know, the chuckwagon races are a huge symbol of the Calgary Stampede but because of this impasse the reality was that we might not have had chuckwagon races at the greatest outdoor show.
“Our rodeo manager knew about another association based in Saskatchewan. We contacted them and they agreed to bring 36 wagons to Calgary. There were going to be chuckwagons racing after all.”
Chuckwagon races evolved. It started as “who could get to town fastest for a cold beer,” Brasso said. It then progressed to more formal racing. Draft horses were upgraded to thoroughbreds as prize money increased.
Over the years rules were changed whereby drivers were allowed to have sponsors names on their tarps to help defray expenses.
Unfortunately, the challenge that came with these Saskatchewan-based chuckwagons was that there was a real risk that there’d be no connection for the advertisers to the community.
“In conversations — and I can’t take full credit for it, but I’ve been accused of being an instigator — I suggested we should introduce these people to Calgary businesses,” Brasso said. “So we organized an auction and invited local businesses to attend. The bidding started slow, but we did manage to get all the wagons sold.”
That started the auction that continues to this day. Today, the average auction price is closer to $100,000.
“This turned out to be a very good idea as it helps to support the huge expenses involved with professional wagon racing,” he said. “Necessity truly is the mother of invention.”
After a couple of years, the World Professional Chuckwagon Association racers returned. And, as it is today, Stampede racers come from both associations.
“When the World drivers came back, they had to make a decision to go into the auction,” Brasso said, adding it wasn’t an easy decision.
“Some had relationships that go back 20 years with advertisers.”
As he had before the impasse, Brasso continued to sponsor chuckwagons for many years. In recognition of his contribution, which included numerous volunteer roles including being on the rodeo committee, he was named a life member of the Calgary Stampede and inducted into the “Pioneer of the Rodeo” which honours notable cowboys, bucking horses, and builders.
But that’s not Brasso’s only connection to the Stampede. In fact, it’s not even the most important one.
“My dad was a car dealer. As a kid I went around cleaning cars, filling them with gas,” he said. “In 1964 I was a salesman working on a car lot in Calgary — Colonel MacLeod Car Sales — which, on a Saturday, had booked a radio remote.
“The station had hired a very pretty girl who had been the Stampede Queen the year before to be the coffee and doughnut lady for the day.”
That girl was Donna Thompson, who very quickly became Mrs. Brasso.
“Fortunately, it was a Saturday and it started at 10 in the morning. We closed down at 6 p.m,” Brasso explained. “Somewhere I got my verbal acumen going, struck up a conversation, and the upshot is we went to dinner that night. It was Valentine’s Day 1964. We were married in December 1964.
“She was definitely a ranch-raised beauty and was a spectacular Queen in the 50th year. A great queen in 1962.”