Attending the annual National Championship Chuckwagon Races in Clinton is like entering a time warp, or stepping into an old Western movie, surrounded by horses and mules rattling by in wagons and buggies or racing across natural landscapes.
"It is kind of like stepping back into time," says Peggy Eoff.
National Championship Chuckwagon Races
Bar of Ranch, 2484 Shake Rag Road, Clinton
Admission: $30 per day, $20 Sunday, half-price children 6-12
It started 30 years ago as a simple Labor Day party that Bar of Ranch owners Dan and Peggy Eoff held for friends. Dan added a chuck wagon race as a little something extra to entertain their guests.
That something extra has grown over the years to a multi-day outdoor, cowboy-style event that welcomes around 20,000 people and more than 5,000 horses and mules to the ranch.
The center of the nine days is the series of chuck wagon races that gives the event its name. Chuck wagons were wagons that carried food and equipment during cattle drives. Now, they rumble at "warp" speed over an open course at the ranch, with dozens of teams competing for more than $25,000 in prizes in five divisions: 46-inch-and-under ponies and mules, four-mule teams, buckboards, big mules and the classic with horses pulling wooden-wheeled wagons.
The event goes well beyond the chuck wagon races, with bronc riding, a mule race and evening concerts with performers including Susie McEntire, Jo-El Sonnier and the Jason Roberts Band. They also host a variety of equine-related clinics and workshops, trail rides and a western trade show.
Another highlight is the horseback Snowy River Race with two downhill runs and a plunge in the Little Red River.
As for Eoff's favorite, she's partial to the bronc fanning -- an event in which a rider tries to calm a bucking horse.
"There is just something about watching those cowboys get on the bucking horses out in the middle of the pasture makes me think about how it was done that way back in the old days."
The whole event has an aura of "old days." People used to watching horse races in a setting like Oaklawn will get a completely different experience at the ranch, where the races are held in what Eoff calls a "natural amphitheater."
"People bring lawn chairs and sit along the bluff that overlooks the track below. This is all in the open -- no rails like at a horse race. This is a real rangeland derby! The view is breathtaking."
And there's plenty of room for everyone. People are welcome to spend the night if they want, with camping space available. Parking is plentiful and food vendors selling everything from crawfish to funnel cakes are set up all around the grounds.
Camping, parking and participation in all activities is covered in the admission fee.
Those who come out for the first time can, Eoff says, "expect to have the time of their lives! Everyone is relaxed and you'll make a new friend."
Weekend on 09/03/2015