The Saratoga Sun -

Saratoga Lions Club hosts state championships for second year

 

Saratoga Sun staff photo

The Saratoga Lions Club is hosting the 36th annual Donald E. Erickson Memorial Chariot Races, the state championships, in Saratoga this year.

Traditionally held President's Day weekend, this year's Chariot Races were moved to correspond with the state racing association finals to be hosted in Saratoga.

It is expected there will be about 19 racers competing this year, which is up from last year's number.

Awards are given for each of the races, as well as for the overall fastest time. Members of the Interstate Racing Association are eligible to qualify for the "Dave Pennock Good Times Trophy" and the Interstate Racing Association Traveling Trophy." On Saturday, a race will be chosen at random to be the "Norm Epler Memorial Race" with the winner receiving a hand-blown glass chariot team.

Food concessions will be available and run by the Boy Scouts. The beer tent will be operated by the Ladies Auxiliary Club.

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 Saratoga winter staple ever 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 from around 40 teams to less than half 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 ," said Glode. "Those that were so inclined [to chariot race] have mostly switched over to team roping which has gotten huge over the last few years."

For now 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.

 

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