Ten Day Tarmac Babies ’in it for the fun’ and charity
By Christopher Walsh
For years the best parties on the Stampede grounds have always been held away from the general-admission public, back in the barns where the chuckwagon drivers prepare for the races and corporate bigwigs guffaw and drink, practicing secret handshakes in front of the barbecues while entertaining “VIPs” — everyone sharing some suds and whooping it up.
At least, that’s how it used to be, before the young corporate PR girls with their tight pants and even tighter personalities started to run things. Now, the barn tent parties are of the most boring variety. Besides the pants and the personalities, those PR girls have an even firmer grasp on the beers, as if parting with one will be taken out of their paycheques at the end of the week.
But even now, in this age of corporate tedium, some tents are still an old-fashioned good time. Anyone who set foot in the barn tent area over the last 10 days recognized right away that the one good place to be, the one tent that was continually filled with people celebrating the old Stampede spirit, was the Ten Day Tarmac Babies’ tent.
That’s because TDTB is not your traditional corporate chuckwagon sponsor. It’s a collective of 189 individuals with not only a love of chuckwagons in common, but also a goal of helping out charities.
The group was founded by former Heritage Park general manager Rick Smith three years ago. The idea was to celebrate the Stampede’s centennial by sponsoring a chuckwagon driver and raising enough money to help out some local charities in the process.
So Smith got the word out and the ball started rolling. He collected $350 a year from the individuals with the plan of sponsoring a chuck team this year. To have 189 members was no random number. One hundred people for the centennial and 89 more for the number of years the chuckwagon races have been held at the Stampede.
The response was overwhelming. Smith had to turn people away.
“We started talking to people. It was all word of mouth. We’d talk to people and then they’d know someone else and it all kept snowballing,” he says. “We kept persevering and it all worked out.”
Smith and other volunteers held a few barbecues over the years to attract people to the new idea and some old friends and former members of the Calgary Stampede board also helped sell.
On the Monday after the Stampede, Smith was looking back on the whole experiment, declaring it a success.
“After the last 10 days, people really gave a great response,” he says. “It was a great way to celebrate the centennial of the Stampede, and you’re involved in the chuckwagons and that was fun. And the charitable aspect, too, was the coup-de-gras. People loved that. We’re not just having a party and sponsoring a chuckwagon, we gave what we had left over to charity.
“We had a great time. People were asking to join next year, it was something great to be a part of.”
The idea first came to Smith while he was running Heritage Park, where they would sponsor a chuckwagon driver every year. But by the mid-1990s, the cost was getting out of hand. That’s when Smith and others formed the Friends of Heritage Park and solicited donations from the public.
“This is where I really had the idea,” he says. “Let’s get individuals involved and not use park resources, which can raise some eyebrows because we’re a charity. So we started the Friends of Heritage Park and I went out and collected some money for that. It was the same thing, people were supporting Heritage Park but they were getting involved in the chuckwagon business, too.”
Three years after retiring from his position at Heritage Park, Smith began work on this new collective.
The name started as a bit of a joke. Smith and other chuckwagon enthusiasts would attend the Stampede to watch the chucks for the last 25 years and at one point someone called them tarmac babies – referencing the location from which they would watch the races. Then someone else did the math and pointed out the number of days the Stampede runs. So, it only made sense they would be called the Ten Day Tarmac Babies.
“When this opportunity arose three years ago we had to come up with a name, so I thought well, we’re kind of the poor man’s chuckwagon [sponsor], we’ll be the Ten Day Tarmac Babies,” Smith recalls. “A couple people raised their eyebrows but most people liked it so we went with it.”
The name created a buzz during the Stampede and as people started to understand what the group was and what their goals were, Smith found himself inundated with people wanting to get in for next year.
This year, the group paid $140,000 to sponsor Luke Tournier’s chuckwagon and had $50,000 left to donate to 11 small charities around the region.
“We focused on smaller ones that fly below the radar, and have their challenges raising money,” Smith says. “The charities where $1000 or $2500 donation is a big deal to them. They were overwhelmingly appreciative and that was our intention all along.”
Next year TDTB will be looking to sign up 500 people at $500 a piece. The goal is to raise $100,000 for charity. They will be partnering with the Stampede Queens Alumni to help raise money for the group who traditionally does a lot to help disabled people.
“It’s tough for them to be able to raise money and this is sort of a vehicle for them,” Smith says. “We think $500 from 500 people is very doable.”
Like this year, not everyone who donates will be permitted a pass, as the Stampede limits the number of barn passes every night. But a lot of donors this year were just happy to help out. In fact, Smith took some of the passes the group was allotted and invited strangers off the tarmac to go back to the barns for a behind-the-scenes look at the chucks.
“They were just overwhelmed,” he says. “We had some military fellows that were in town and we had a family from Mexico on different nights. That was something I enjoyed doing. It’s like going behind the scenes at the Indianapolis 500 or in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room. People were quite happy.”
There will be a few Ten Day Tarmac Babies social events taking place this year, to get everyone back together and to plan for next year. And while the group did have a few corporate sponsors who donated to the charity side of things, the TDTBs remain a group of like-minded individuals who love the chucks and helping out the community — and as their hosting tent suggested all week, a group of people who know how to celebrate that old Stampede spirit.
“We’re in it for the fun and we’re far from corporate,” Smith says with a chuckle. “We had a really good response and we achieved our goal of celebrating the centennial and doing some good things for some good little charities.”
Information on joining the group is available on its website.