Saratoga Lions Club hosts state championships


H.B. Lawson

Telitha Bergeson-Wood works to get her father's horse fired up for raceday.

The Saratoga Lions Club is hosting the 35th annual Donald E. Erickson Memorial Chariot Races the state championships in Saratoga this year. The annual event is a Platte River Valley tradition that, according to organizer Joe Glode, dates back to the late 70s and early 80s when the coal mines started to shut down and members of the Saratoga Community were faced with the challenge to find something to liven up the community through the long winter months. Chariot racing has been a winter staple every since.

Glode recalls how chariot racing first came to the Valley, "Patty Lufkin had come from Steamboat where there was a lot of chariot racing in those days and along with Don and Rosemary Erickson who were very active in the chamber of commerce came up with the idea to start chariot racing here in Saratoga," Glode said.

The first races were held at Shively airfield on one of the runways but according to Glode there were many reasons the races had to eventually be moved to their current location. "First of all, safety was a concern at the airport. But there were also traffic issues along with wind and mud."

As the races progressed and became more popular the Lions Club took over more and more of logistics until it evolved to its current format where the races are organized by the Lions Club and the chamber is responsible for promoting it.

In recent years, the number of racing teams have dropped dramatically from around 40 teams to less than half of that for this year's races. The Jackson invitational was canceled this year due to weather and lack of teams willing to attend. Glode attributes the drop off to the change in lifestyle in and around the Platte Valley. "You just don't see that many horses and horse people anymore ... Those that were so inclined [to chariot race] have mostly switched over to team roping which has gotten huge over the last few years," Glode said.

For now at least the tradition is alive and well and although there isn't much new blood coming into the sport, the fire in the veins of the old blood is hot enough to keep the chariot wheels spinning.

The Saratoga Lions Club is planning a kid's race in honor of Kirsten Campbell.

Campbell loved children and loved chariot races. Sadly, she passed away in 2014.

"It will be kids pulling kids during the intermission," Lions Club member Richard Raymer said.

Maybe that ride will spark an interest in chariot racing.

Jim Stoker, of Star Valley, who has been chariot racing since 1967, loves coming to the Valley. "It's one of my favorite sports because you get to have a great competition with some interesting people," Stoker said.

Raymer, one of the Lions Club organizers for the event, hopes the weather will clear up before this weekend's races and expects 18 to 20 teams for the event. "We'll probably head out to the track starting on Wednesday to clear out the snow and get it ready for the races."

The state championships will be hosted in Saratoga for the next two years, but when asked if chariot racing has a future beyond that, "it depends on who gets involved," Glode said.


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