Although still wildly popular amongst fans, there’s no denying the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) is tightening the reins a little when it comes to the 2016 racing season.

Traditionally – and up to and including last year – the CPCA schedule featured at least 11 events per season, including the internationally renowned Calgary Stampede, which welcomes drivers from both the CPCA and the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA). This year, however, only nine stops, including Calgary, have been announced for the CPCA tour. While the Frog Lake First Nation races are back, missing from this year’s slate are the St. Walburg races, as well as those held in mid-July during Lloydminster’s Colonial Days festival.

The primary catalyst for this is likely the struggling economy. With only so much sponsorship money to go around – further evidenced by the drop in overall dollars bid in Tuesday’s CPCA Finals canvas auction – it’s become challenging for drivers, and for the association as a whole, to persevere.

One thing fans could always count on, though, was a summer filled with exciting action. Even that’s taken a hit, considering the Colonial Days event was always held at the same time as the Calgary Stampede, allowing drivers who did not qualify for the big show to still remain competitive. Going by the current schedule, these drivers will now have close to a month off between races. That’s unheard of, leading even the most die-hard of followers to wonder if the CPCA’s best days have already come and gone.

Adding to this is the fact the CPCA also witnessed the departure of some key individuals this year – both from the track and from behind the scenes. Popular drivers Vern Nolin, Layne Bremner and Curtis Morin have joined the world circuit, while Brian Hebson, the association’s marketing manager, recently accepted a similar role with the WPCA.

Yes, drivers do come and go from the CPCA every year, but it must be difficult when a competitor with a strong following takes that following elsewhere. At least the influx of new drivers eager to make names for themselves will help keep the sport alive. As veteran driver Ray Mitsuing said, new blood is the key to chuckwagon racing’s continued success.

CPCA vice-president BJ Carey, meanwhile, said one association cannot exist without the other. If this is indeed the case, perhaps it’s time the two organizations formed a more formal relationship. It works in other sports, such as hockey, for example, where the American Hockey League (AHL) serves as a farm system for the National Hockey league (NHL). When it comes to the chuckwagon racing, the CPCA could potentially serve as a training ground for young drivers who could eventually race in the WPCA. In turn, veteran drivers looking for a lighter schedule or to refine their skills could also move over to the CPCA. This could allow the two associations to keep each other strong both financially and in terms of talent, both of which will assure a bright future for the sport.