Humble racer a menace on the track

Marty Hastings
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Darcie Lafontaine races her chariot down the home stretch Friday afternoon at the Prince Albert Exhibition. Herald photo by Marty Hastings

Darcie Lafontaine isn't old enough to drive a car.

But that doesn't stop the 15-year-old from careening around a racetrack in a horse-drawn chariot at breakneck speeds.

"I like everything about racing," said Lafontaine, who started driving chariots with the Prince Albert Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association last year when she was 14. "I just like driving, and going out there and supporting other people."

Her hobby of choice may seem a little extreme to some, but Lafontaine carries a blasé, nonchalant attitude when it comes to her work on the racetrack.

"It wasn't too hard to learn, it's just like riding a bicycle," Lafontaine said without an ounce of sarcasm in her voice.

She learned most of what she knows from her father Jason, an accomplished chariot and chuckwagon driver in his own right.

He's happy to see his daughter following in his footsteps.

"I wasn't holding her back when she wanted to race," Jason said. "I started to train her at home. Then she stared racing on her own."

Lafontaine's mother, Redeena, has a slightly more cautious view of her daughter's sport of choice.

"I didn't want her to do it because it's rough and you can get hurt in these type of events," Redeena said Friday morning, hours before her daughter was scheduled to race again. "But she likes it, so . . ."

The venturous young thrill seeker, a budding talent, no doubt, is anything but a braggadocio.

When she drives Bud and Ranger - her two racehorses - to victory, she finds it a little awkward when her accomplishment is acknowledged.

"It's OK," Lafontaine said of PAPCCA announcer Dwight Shields bouncing her name off the loud speakers. "I kind of get shy."

Lafontaine's shyness instantly peels away when the horn sounds to signal the start of a race. With all her strength, the teenager guides her horses around the starting barrels and heads towards Turn 1.

And she'll do her darndest to record the fastest time possible.

But once Lafontaine crosses the finish line, she leaves her competitive drive on the track and heads back to her family's trailer.

The ability to 'leave your work at the office,' in city-slicker terms, hasn't been mastered by all of Lafontaine's counterparts.

"Most of them are all right, but some of them are really competitive and they seem real grouchy after (a bad) race," Lafontaine said. "Some of them, they seem mad, and some of them don't."

Friday afternoon's race wasn't as successful as Lafontaine would've liked. She finished third in her heat.

But as she collected her cowboy hat from race judge Harvey Sanderson (not surprisingly, it was launched from her head when Bud and Ranger kicked into gear), Lafontaine was grinning ear-to-ear.

"I'm just here to have fun," she said.

Growing up near Sturgeon Lake Park, Lafontaine was often in close contact with animals, and she plans to remain in contact with furry creatures for years to come.

When she graduates from St. Mary High School, Lafontaine will likely pursue a career as a veterinarian.

"I care for animals and I like helping them," she said.

But Lafontaine isn't ready to trade in her cowboy boots for a vet's stethoscope just yet.

The youngster reckons she has at least a few years of competition left in her, and hell, she hasn't even started her chuckwagon racing career.

One has to be 18 years of age to ride chucks with the PAPCCA - Lafontaine is well aware of the age restriction.

Next year, she plans to hitch a ride with the northwest chuck and chariot association, as its legal chuckwagon-racing age is set at 16.

"It'll be something different," she said.

For the time being, Lafontaine will be at the helm of her chariot, spurring Bud and Ranger towards the finish line.

Lafontaine is in action today at the exhibition grounds. The chariot racing gets underway at 11 a.m.

Organizations: Prince Albert Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association, Mary High School

Geographic location: Sturgeon Lake Park

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