Sweet chariots

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— Shane Yeager, president of the Yampa Valley Cutter and Chariot Racing Association, said he's been running since he was two years old.

And about 30 years later, Yeager still will be running for this year's state championship and world qualifying competitions at Romick Rodeo Arena in Steamboat.

But he's not refering to running with his legs it's his horses that do all the work.

At the state championship this weekend, five teams from each of Colorado's two chariot racing organization will compete.

The rodeo grounds will be lined with horses and their drivers at noon Feb. 24 and 25 to find out which teams will make it to the world championship in March in Ogden, Utah.

"I'm definitely running this year. I don't put all this work in it for nothing," Yeager said of his participation. Yeager's cousin, Bobby, vice president of the association usually races, but cannot because an injured horse.

Each team runs once on Saturday and then again on Sunday, closest times of teams matched accordingly.

At the rodeo grounds, because of the width of the track and the snow, two teams usually race at one time out of a red and blue gate.

At the Winter Carnival chariot races two weeks ago, Yeager's horses, Stogy and Bodacious Smith, ran at 24.54 seconds, not quite what Yeager was hoping. He said running on a snow track increases the difficulty of the race.

"Last year's record was 23.03 at 48 miles per hour. There are not many cars that can go that fast on a snow track," Yeager said.

On the 1/4-mile straight away, 70- to 80-pound chariots race for about 24 seconds at about 40 miles per hour, over and over again until fans exhaust their bettting funds. Calcutta-style betting they call it.

Cutters, included in the proper name of the association, were the first chariots used in the '70s.

Cutters were 150-pound chariots that used a 55-gallon drum cut in half that was attached to skis, or runners.

Ed Duncan has been using the same cutter since he started racing in 1974.

"Cutters actually run smoother from the holes that the horses made," Duncan said. "With the runners, the chariot didn't bounce" like it does now.

Yeager said some runners still have "tankers," or cutters, but they're mainly used for breaking horses.

Comparatively, chariots now are about 75 pounds and are made of fiberglass, airplane aluminum and bicycle tires, Yeager said.

The Yampa Valley Association was officially founded in 1962.

When the association began gathering runners from the front range in the '80s, the Yampa Valley Association split into two associations. Now, chariot racers from the front range have their own association Front Range Cutter and Chariot Racing Association.

Since the split, the state championships occur in Steamboat every odd year with about 20 teams from the local area.

While the front range association usually doesn't have as many teams, last year they were equal.

Yeager said runners in the state championship have to be in at least four races throughout the year and belong to either one of the Colorado associations.

Yeager said a successful team is the perfect combination of horses and drivers.

"You have to find two horses than run together well. If one horse has a bigger stride than the other, it won't work," Yeager said. "So many things go into it. The driver makes a lot of difference on a snow track."

Getting that combination perfect is something that can't really be done, Yeager said.

"No one says they know everything. I've been running for 16 years and I don't know anything," Yeager said.

For a man that was born running chariot races, Yeager probably knows a little.

Chariot races, like any other horse race, are what Bobby referred to as, "a time you throw all the rules out the door because anything can change."

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