60 years strong, Jackson Hole Shrine Club
Jackson – Cutter racing began in Jackson in the 1940s when local businessman John Wort began racing horses down the center of town on Broadway Street, right past the Wort Hotel. After a good run as a winter activity and revenue draw for the town, the Jackson Hole Shrine Club took over the races in 1971 to raise money for the Shriner Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah.
For the Shrine Club, their past 40 years running cutters near Jackson has earned them the honor of joining the “Half Million Club” at the National Imperial Shrine in Tampa, Fla.
Club President Rod Everett says the races allow the club to raise more money than most temples, of which there are two in Wyoming.
After moving through several locations for the racetrack, the Shriners now have a permanent location on the Melody Ranch south of town. Ranch owner Paul Von Gontard has reserved a portion of his land as open space, and past club president Bob Lundy says Von Gontard has set it aside for the cutter races.
“He explicitly told us that all we could ever use that ground for was cutter racing and other horse-related events,” notes Lundy. “Paul has been gracious and more than loyal to let us use that ground.”
Because of the declining economy and, therefore, a declining number of cutters, two Shriner races, one in January and today’s President’s Day weekend race, were combined into one along the way.
“This is the weekend that made us the most money to send to the hospital,” says Lundy, who has made it to all but one of the 40 races hosted by the Shrine Club.
Although the Jackson Hole Shrine Club sponsors the races, other regional Shrine clubs travel to Jackson to support the event. The clubs band together to help with taking admission at the entrances, and the Calcutta, a major fundraising component.
“Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the cutter races were really going good, it was nothing to see the Calcutta go up as high as $10,000 on an individual race,” recalls Lundy. Of those bets, the Shriners get 15 percent off the top to send to the hospital. “In the boom years we’d send close to $25,000 to the hospital just from Calcutta betting alone.”
Of his dedication to the event, Lundy says, “It’s just that I can see what the Shriners do for the hospitals, and how much they help the little kids. I was in Salt Lake often at one time, and we went down to the hospital, which had just been renovated, and we got to see all these little kids and how much they get out of it. It means a lot to help these children.”
Lundy says the races are run in the spirit of people helping people.
“The organizers of the cutter races have put in a lot of time, and the racers have put a lot of time into helping us make this thing a success,” he says. “When we have people helping us, and we’re helping people – there’s a lot of gratification.”
“The teams love helping us, and we love to help them. We hold a lot of pride in this track, because it’s the last real snow track the teams get to run on, and they enjoy it,” he adds.
Of the racers who travel to Jackson, Lundy says the club is looking for new teams all the time.
“We like to invite teams that are just willing to come. The race used to be strictly invitation-only, but not since cutter racing has gotten substantially smaller and we’ve lost a lot of clubs,” he says.
Although the race does count toward International Cutter Races Association standings, there is no purse. Racers are paid a nominal amount to help cover fuel costs, but Lundy says many of them say they have had so much fun racing that they donate it back.
“Of all the races in the region, this is the only one without a cash prize – all the races donate their time and energy to come here,” says Evertt.
Although the 2011 racers experienced cool, calm and snowy weather, Lundy says there have been years when the snow came horizontal up the track, and the racers still ran.
“Many racers come back year after year,” he notes. “We have a couple who are now in their 25th year racing here. Many people who were in it at one time or another still come back to help us in whatever way they can.”
“You could say it’s a combination of the real Western hospitality that Wyoming has, and that the racers and Shriners and everybody just likes to help out with this, and they get a lot of good out of it,” says Lundy of the success of the fundraising event for so many years.
“I enjoy the uniqueness of the races,” says Everett. “This year I spoke with a bunch of people from Australia, and they hadn’t seen anything like it. We have people come from all over the state and the region to attend this, and they have a lot of fun.”
“We will run as long as we can,” says Lundy of the event’s future. “Many of our racers now are here for the fun, and they do get qualifying points to go to the world, and that makes everybody a happy camper.”
“For many years the races have helped add to the Jackson economy,” says Everett. “Our economy is solely based on tourism – not minerals or timbering – and the idea the Wort brothers had 60 years ago was in effort to bring some people to Jackson in the wintertime for something different to do, and that’s the fun part, because we’ve still got people coming from all over.”