Cowboy Christmas huge for cowboys with Wrangler NFR dreams

Heading into this year’s Cowboy Christmas, Nick Guy was, well…just another guy.

The bulldogger from Sparta, Wis., had won some checks, but was nowhere near the coveted Top 15 in the PRCA World Standings. That all changed in a hurry the week leading up to the Fourth of July.

Guy, who qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010, got tapped off and finished Cowboy Christmas as the bulldogger with the biggest haul. The 6-3, 245-pounder pocketed $9,345 for winning the average in St. Paul, Ore., and added big checks in Molalla, Ore., Cody, Wyo., and Red Lodge, Mont., for a $22,209 total.

Nick Guy

Nick Guy

That catapulted the 29-year-old from 44th to fifth in the standings with $35,338 heading into mid-July and put a big smile on the affable bulldogger’s face.

“I’ve always wanted to have a week like that, and a guy dreams of having a $20,000 week over the Fourth of July,” said Guy, who finished 17th in the world last year to narrowly miss a trip to Las Vegas. “For a lot of guys, that doesn’t happen, and there are just very few guys who can get on a roll like that. This year, it happened for me.

“I was just due for a big week like that. I knew I had the ability and I knew the horse had the ability, and I’m just glad it all came together.”

Guy, who finished 21st in the world in 2012, said the key to his success was a talented four-legged athlete named Roany. Owned by his traveling partner and hazer Cody Kroul, Roany has given Guy a consistent and quality mount he feels supremely confident aboard when he backs in the box.

“He just gives me the same trip every time,” Guy said of the horse. “He doesn’t run wide, he doesn’t run too tight and just gives me the same trip every time. In the bulldogging, that’s important.

“Over the Fourth, I got a great start wherever I went and he caught up (to the steers) quick, and when that happens, I’ve just got to do my job. I’m definitely feeling pretty good about it.”

Near-misses from the past two seasons have left Guy hungry for a return trip to the Thomas & Mack Center.

“After you’re there once competing, it’s really hard to watch from home, because I bulldog with those guys all year long and feel like I can bulldog with the best of them,” Guy said. “To have a big week like this is huge. My ultimate goal this year was not having to be sitting on the couch in December.”

The monster Cowboy Christmas pay day took a heap of pressure off Guy’s shoulders, and now he can focus on the task at hand without having to obsess about the standings.

“The last few years, it’s felt like all summer long all I’ve been doing is chasing the Top 15, where you’re almost having to win twice as much as everyone else just to catch up,” he said. “Now, I’m in the Top 15, I’ve got quite a bit of money won and I’ve got a lot of rodeos left to go to. I feel like I can just keep plugging away, and I feel like I’m in a good spot.

“I don’t feel like I’ve got the Finals made by any means, but I’m in the position now where, if I just keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down and keep bulldogging good and the horse keeps working good, I feel like I can make it back to the Finals.”

Nick Guy qualified for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ultimately finishing 12th in the world.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Nick Guy qualified for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ultimately finishing 12th in the world.               –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Guy heads into the final 12 weeks of the season confident, focused and excited.

“Once you start winning, it’s almost like a snowball effect and you’ve got that confidence,” he said. “Every time I back in the box, I feel like I’m going to go win something or make a good run. I’m never second-guessing myself anymore. I’m just going, letting it happen and am not trying to make it happen anymore.

“Over the Fourth, I didn’t try too hard, and it just happened. Sometimes, when you’re trying too hard is when things don’t work out. I just let it come as it did, and I was awfully excited to have it happen.”

Second-year tie-down roper Marty Yates can relate. The Stephenville, Texas, cowboy put together a stellar Cowboy Christmas of his own, raking in $20,978 to move to fourth in the world standings.

Before then, he’d been on the outside looking in, itching for a big check that would give him a chance at his first Wrangler NFR qualification. Yates won multiple substantial checks over the Fourth of July run, including $8,926 from St. Paul, Ore., and $4,253 from Livingston, Mont.

Marty Yates

Marty Yates

It was a huge week for the 20-year-old.

“Oh man, it was awesome,” said Yates, who celebrated his birthday on July 6. “It got me right where I needed to be, and I’m on the cruising track to my first NFR. I’d like to get things finished off and see how far (up) I can be in (the standings) when Vegas comes around.”

Yates now has $51,128 in season earnings thanks to his Cowboy Christmas haul, and he gave credit to his 7-year-old gelding, Chicken, for the big week.

“I can’t say enough about my horse this year,” he said. “I had zero confidence in the horse I had last year, so it was 100 percent different. This year, this little horse, we’ve come a long way together, and it’s been amazing.”

Yates finished third in the Resistol Rookie of the Year standings last year and viewed the season as a disappointment.

“Last year, my rookie year, I didn’t have a very good year,” he said. “It was pretty rough on me, but I think it was a good stepping stone and learning year for me. It taught me a lot.”

The windfall over the Fourth will allow Yates to fine-tune his traveling schedule for the remainder of the season, which ends Sept. 30.

“I won’t go to as many (rodeos) and will just concentrate on going to the big ones,” Yates said. “I won’t enter up too much and will take care of my horse to try and make him last longer.”

If a Wrangler NFR qualification is in the cards for the young talent, Yates will be realizing a dream by punching his ticket to Las Vegas.

“My whole life, it’s all been about making it to the NFR,” he said. “It’d mean the world, and it’s what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. That’s what it’s all about!”

A stock contracting success story

The job of a PRCA stock contractor is a difficult one, with 1,000 moving pieces to a business that is often thankless and downright hard.

From buying, breeding and raising stock to producing rodeos and managing a large staff of workers, the duties of a contractor are numerous and varied. It can be a tough way to make a living, but the business is a labor of love they wouldn’t trade for anything.

That’s what I found while going behind the scenes at Pete Carr’s operation in Athens, Texas, just outside Dallas. Carr owns and operates Pete Carr Pro Rodeo and Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo – which he bought from good friend Scotty Lovelace in 2013 – providing stock to more than 40 rodeos each year.

Pete Carr runs his stock contracting operation from his 900-acre ranch in Athens, Texas, outside Dallas.

Pete Carr runs his stock contracting operation from his 900-acre ranch in Athens, Texas, outside Dallas.

All told, Carr has nearly 50 bulls and 300 horses in his rotation, rearing and cultivating them on a cozy 900-acre ranch. From there, the talented buckers and roughly 60 steers are hauled to rodeos throughout Texas and across the country, where they routinely perform at high levels and help contestants frequent the pay window.

More than 300 horses are part of Pete Carr's pen, and new generations of buckers are being born every year.

More than 300 horses are part of Pete Carr’s pen, and new generations of buckers are being born every year.

It is a highly successful business Carr has built through the years from meager beginnings, when he and Lovelace were just trying to make it in the competitive world of stock contracting and working to buy their PRCA cards.

“I wanted to stay involved (in rodeo), so I started buying animals,” Carr said at the Parker County Frontier Days Pro Rodeo in Weatherford, Texas, in mid-June. “We were hardworking, blue-collar dudes. It was fun for me to stay involved, help him and help his company.”

Pete Carr's staff takes good care of his animals, who always know when it's feeding time.

Pete Carr’s staff takes good care of his animals, who always know when it’s feeding time.

Carr is no stranger to success, having built his general contracting construction company, Resource Commercial, into a healthy and profitable business the last 20 years. It was a slow and methodical process to do the same with his stock contracting exploits.

Carr rode barebacks in high school and competed at amateur rodeos in the early 1990s. That’s where he and Lovelace forged a friendship that blossomed and served as the foundation for the stock contracting successes they’ve enjoyed.

One can certainly enjoy the beauty of a Texas ranch while visiting Pete Carr's property.

One can certainly enjoy the beauty of a Texas ranch while visiting Pete Carr’s property.

After he quit riding in 1993, Carr partnered with Lovelace to produce pro rodeos, and they were off and running. In 2004, Carr bought James Harper’s operation, and it was called Harper, Morgan & Carr, with Lovelace working as the general manager and 10-time PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year Stace Smith helping out as a pickup man and filling other duties.

They hired Rory Lemmel to take over as GM, and Carr bought the Walls’ rodeo company, further expanding his reach in the industry. One of the group’s horses, Real Deal, won PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year in 2005, and Carr and Lovelace had become regulars at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Pete Carr has nearly 50 bulls in his talented pen.

Pete Carr has nearly 50 bulls in his talented pen.

Fast-forward to 2013, when Lovelace sold the business to Carr, and he has worked diligently to make sure the momentum they created together continues for years to come. In 2013, no contractor had more animals bucking at the Wrangler NFR than Carr’s outfits.

“It took a long time to get this deal done,” Carr said. “Whenever you make that kind of acquisition, there’s always some hills and valleys, but for the most part, it’s been good.”

Line Man is one of Pete Carr's top bulls, of which he has many.

Line Man is one of Pete Carr’s top bulls, of which he has many.

The process to get Carr where he is today has been a long, protracted one, but has allowed him to learn everything he needed to know about the rodeo contracting and production business.

“I had such an education coming up, and I went to Scotty’s rodeos before I even quit riding,” Carr said. “Then, when we did the Harper deal, I got a PhD in promotions, putting on a rodeo, production, how to make money and what sells – from cotton candy, to weezers to t-shirts.

“When I bought the Walls’ deal, it was pretty easy, and when I bought Scotty’s deal, I had enough understanding of everything that there wasn’t any question I knew what I was getting into.”

He is grateful to have had the chance to gain invaluable experience that way.

“It’s been good for me to kind of build things,” he said. “I didn’t just jump out there and get thrown in the grease, got my butt kicked and went limping back home. I’ve been fortunate enough to bite off as much as I want that worked for me, and when I was able I could do this. I’m really having a good time.”

Working in the rodeo business and dealing with genuine, dedicated people, Carr says, is the most rewarding aspect of what he does.

“I’m a people person, so it’s definitely the people,” Carr said. “I like interacting with the committees, the contestants, the local media or whoever. Everybody who’s here wants to be here, and they’ve all made a conscious decision to be here. Nobody’s stuck in a position, and everybody’s excited about being here.

“I like being around positive people, so that’s good.”

Pete Carr provides stock to more than 40 rodeos a year, and he's set his sights on continuing to grow his business.

Pete Carr provides stock to more than 40 rodeos a year, and he’s set his sights on continuing to grow his business.

The business has also enabled Carr to become involved in a number of charity initiatives, and being able to give back is something that also gives him joy.

“We had a big exceptional rodeo here last night, and there was 91 kids out there,” Carr said in Weatherford. “It was just phenomenal. It’s good to be able to interact with those kids.

“That makes you feel good about what you’re doing. You have a purpose and a direction, and there’s a reason why you’re here.”

He also loves watching his animals buck, especially at the Wrangler NFR.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “You watch them grow up, and they’re kind of like your kids. It’s kind of like being at a football or soccer game watching your kids, and when they do well, your chest gets pretty square.”

And when they win a round in Las Vegas, it’s an exhilarating thrill. Carr is grounded enough to realize that luck also plays a role in success at that level.

“That’s luck, because there are so many great animals there,” he said. “The right guy has to have the right stock, and they’ve got to click. Some years, we’ve done real well, and some years, it makes you appreciate getting (the round buckles).”

Pete Carr enjoys interacting with contestants, committees and everyone involved in the business most of all.

Pete Carr enjoys interacting with contestants, committees and everyone involved in the business most of all.

Carr knows success can be fleeting, so he enjoys it as much as possible.

“You’ve got to work at it, and I don’t take anything for granted, because it can be gone just like that and things can go South in a hurry,” he said. “So, I just appreciate what I have and what I’ve been given and try to make the most of it.”

Carr’s dedication to excellence is what drives him, and he has big goals for growing his business in the future. It all comes from his mother, Jimmie, who lost a battle with cancer in 2010.

“It’s just a work ethic that my mother instilled in me from watching her get up and work two or three jobs,” he said. “She’s always up there pushing me.”

Halfway through year, Kimzey staying focused and fresh

Leading the world standings can be a daunting and tiresome task, but teenage bull rider Sage Kimzey seems poised and at ease with the challenge.

Kimzey was relaxed and content while talking about his season on a rare day off on Tuesday. He was with traveling partners enjoying the beauty of Yellowstone National Park after riding in the Cody-Yellowstone (Wyo.) Xtreme Bulls stop on Monday night.

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

He didn’t have any luck there, but feels good about how his season has progressed.

“It’s still been good coming into the summer run,” said Kimzey, who led the world standings with $86,881 through June.

Kimzey took a week off from pro rodeos to compete in the College National Finals Rodeo, June 15-21, where he finished second to Joe Frost of Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Sometimes it’s easy to forget Kimzey is a 19-year-old college kid who’s still taking classes at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

His stellar season has continued in the past month-and-a-half, and Kimzey has picked up some solid checks along the way. A 91-pointer on Four L & Diamond S Rodeo’s bull Highway at the Southwestern International PRCA Rodeo in El Paso, Texas, in early June netted him a winner’s check for $2,623, and he pocketed another $2,589 for tying for second at the Redding (Calif.) Rodeo in mid-May.

“That bull is really good, and I’ve seen him a couple times,” Kimzey said of Highway. “He’s just one of those good bulls (you want).”

Sage Kimzey won El Paso with this 91-point ride on Four L & Diamond S Rodeo's Highway in early June to keep his 2014 season rolling along.  --Photo courtesy of dudleydoright.com

Sage Kimzey won El Paso with this 91-point ride on Four L & Diamond S Rodeo’s Highway in early June to keep his 2014 season rolling along. –Photo courtesy of dudleydoright.com

Since then, he took some time off to rest a sore riding arm and then went to nod his head at the collegiate crescendo.

“I’ve only been to three pro rodeos in the last three weeks,” Kimzey said. “You can get a little run down when you’re getting on as many as I am, that’s for sure. I’m just getting healthy for the summer run and making sure everything’s perfect.

“Everything’s back to normal and back to healthy.”

The rest has done him well, and Kimzey is ready for a busy Fourth of July run for Cowboy Christmas.

“It isn’t crazy, but it’s pretty busy,” Kimzey said of his travel schedule. “I’ll go to St. Paul, Livingston, Red Lodge, Cody, Prescott and Belle Fourche. It’s not crazy, but it’s not calm either, that’s for sure.”

Even though he’s atop the world standings, the temptation to take it easy and go to only the big rodeos is one that Kimzey has not let deter him from his overall plan. He still expects to compete hard and often in the coming months as he builds his bank account.

“I’ll try to find a real good middle point of keeping my body healthy, but also getting on a lot of bulls to win as much money as possible,” said Kimzey, who led four-time World Champion J.W. Harris by $17,179 heading into July. “I’ll just try to find some common ground there and balance it out, and we’ll see where it comes.

“One of the reasons I’m successful is that I ride a high percentage of them, and it’s not that I’ve got the flashiest style or anything. I’m going to go to as many (rodeos) as possible. I’m not going to do the Cody Ohl thing and just go to 40 rodeos, that’s pretty special what he does.”

Sage Kimzey has no doubt made his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrel man, a proud papa this year.

Sage Kimzey has no doubt made his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrel man, a proud papa this year.

Considering Kimzey is still a hungry teen riding the crest of a great and powerful wave this season, it should come as no surprise that he’s raring to go hard in July and August. That hunger – not to mention raw talent – is what has gotten him to the top, and he’s bound and determined to stay there for the foreseeable future.

This is the third in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

Patriotism a common theme in ProRodeo

A person would be hard pressed to find a more patriotic group than the world of ProRodeo.

From fans, contestants and personnel, to sponsors, administration and organizers, patriotism runs strong through the Western world and the professional rodeo industry. Whether it’s an impassioned national anthem, a tribute to the military or a remembrance of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country’s freedoms, ProRodeo does it right when it comes to patriotic displays.

I was thinking about that during the Memorial Day weekend, and I didn’t have to rack my memory hard at all to find several examples of patriotism in ProRodeo. There are poignant examples just from the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo alone.

Each year, Wrangler pays tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces on Wrangler Night by announcing donations to the Wrangler National Patriot Program. This program – which raises money year-round for soldiers and their families – was founded in 2009 and began with a $50,000 donation in the name of the late Jim Shoulders.

More than $750,000 has been donated so far, with portions of proceeds from the sale of Wrangler National Patriot shirts going to the program. Wrangler has encouraged PRCA rodeo committees to reach out to their local service men and women with their own charity initiatives, and dozens of them have stepped up to do so.

Stage Coach (13)

Each year on Wrangler Night at the Wrangler NFR, the company presents a check representing the total donations made to the Wrangler National Patriot program from that year. –PRCA photo by Greg Westfall

“We have a high level of pride and respect for the individuals serving in the U.S. military who show heroism every day in an effort to protect our country. This is our chance to give back to those veterans who have suffered injuries fighting for our country’s safety and freedom, and to their families who have lost a loved one while on duty,” Phil McAdams, president, Wrangler Specialty Apparel, said on the program’s website. “It is a cause we believe will resonate with the Western industry and rodeo community in particular, and one they will get behind with sincerity.”

This December, Wrangler NFR fans can look forward to military tributes on Boyd Gaming Night on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and on Wrangler National Patriot Night on the rodeo’s culminating night on Saturday, Dec. 13.

Three-time and reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild is the face of the program in ProRodeo, donating his time to the cause while wearing a Wrangler National Patriot patch on his shirt and taking trips to places like Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops. I talked to Feild on Memorial Day while he was waiting to catch a flight in Alaska, where he was halfway through a two-week trek to meet members of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed throughout the massive state.

Kaycee Field, shown here posing with his RAM Truck Top Gun Award truck in 2011 while wearing a Wrangler National Patriot patch on his shirt, is committed to giving back to the country’s soldiers.

He was excited to have had the chance to meet troops who are dedicated to protecting the American way of life.

“It’s just so humbling to see what our troops go through,” Feild said. “It’s not easy to be away from home and away from your family, and being a rodeo cowboy and having to be away from your family a lot, we can relate to a fraction of that. It’s really humbling to see how well they handle it, their motivation and how they keep doing their jobs the best they can.”

Feild’s Alaskan tour included stops in Dutch Harbor, Homer, Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka. He was thrilled by the experience.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s so beautiful here. It’s really, really unbelievable.”

Feild said the response from the soldiers has been great through the years.

“Everyone of (the soldiers) I’ve run into has been so appreciative of what the Wrangler National Patriot Program is doing,” Feild said. “They thank me for coming over and saying hi, and they’re thankful for seeing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. It’s pretty inspirational.”

Memorial Day also meant the kickoff of the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Ark., as it has for the last 81 years. The longstanding PRCA rodeo has a storied history of paying tribute to the country’s military, and beginning on Memorial Day is a sacred thing for the rodeo.

“It’s a big thing for us to honor our military, both those coming and going,” said Rodeo Chairman Ronald Scamardo. “We’re basically a military industrial town, and we’re proud of our history here in Fort Smith.”

The Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Ark., began on Memorial Day for the 82nd consecutive year, and the rodeo's grand entry always includes a lot of red, white and blue.  --Photo by Mark Stallings

The Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Ark., began on Memorial Day for the 82nd consecutive year, and the rodeo’s grand entry always includes a lot of red, white and blue. –Photo by Mark Stallings

The rodeo honored World War II veteran Bennie Rausch on Monday, its Wrangler National Patriot Night, a tribute that those in attendance won’t soon forget. Fort Smith’s history as a military hub also plays a role in the rodeo’s patriotic theme.

“We have a rich history in Fort Smith with Fort Chaffee being a full-time military base and now being a National Guard base,” Scamardo said. “The original fort during the Civil War days was called Fort Smith, so we have a lot of history and a big contingent of soldiers who have come through here from other states.”

Last year, I had the pleasure of writing about the beautiful and talented Jenna Smeenk, who was simultaneously serving in the United States Air Force and in the role of Miss Rodeo Florida. Smeenk is a great example of ProRodeo’s commitment to the U.S. Armed Forces, and I was honored to tell her story.

Jenna Smeenk simultaneously served as Miss Rodeo Florida last year while also serving in the U.S. Air Force.  --Ron Mandes photo

Jenna Smeenk simultaneously served as Miss Rodeo Florida last year while also serving in the U.S. Air Force. –Ron Mandes photo

Those are just a few examples of how red, white and blue runs deeply through the sport, how it is ingrained in the fabric of the Western way of life. When I think of occasions like Memorial Day, where we pay tribute to our fallen heroes, I think about my grandfathers and the multitude of others who have served in the Armed Forces through the years.

Filled with a sense of pride, two words keep coming to mind: “Thank you.”

Kimzey keeps rolling, widens world standings lead

Sage Kimzey’s hot start has blossomed into a breakout season this year.

The 19-year-old from Strong City, Okla., blazed through April and into May, picking up big checks along the way to widen his world standings lead over four-time and reigning World Champion J.W. Harris. Kimzey split first with Jason Beck at the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo with a 92-pointer on Carr Pro Rodeo’s Line Man, and also won the Chisholm Trail Stampede in Duncan, Okla., with a 91 aboard Rafter H Rodeo’s Seeing Red the same week.

Kimzey enjoyed his ride aboard Line Man.

“I’ve actually seen him around a bunch, so I knew he was a good bull,” said Kimzey, who is looking for his first career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth. “He went to the right and was into my hand, so it worked out pretty good. Whenever I got my draws for that weekend, I knew there were going to be some chances for some big scores and hopefully a couple wins, and that’s what happened.”

World Standings leader Sage Kimzey split first place at the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo with this 92-pointer on Carr Pro Rodeo's Line Man.  --Photo courtesy of Robby Freeman

World Standings leader Sage Kimzey split first place at the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo with this 92-pointer on Carr Pro Rodeo’s Line Man. –Photo courtesy of Robby Freeman

The Duncan victory wasn’t Kimzey’s first triumph on Seeing Red.

“I actually won Hill City, Kan., on him last year,” he said. “I knew he was going to be really good too, and if I could ride him for eight seconds, I knew I’d have a chance to win that one, too.”

Those two finishes added $4,185 to his pocket and helped push his season earnings to $79,883 through mid-May, further delighting the talented teen.

“The last month was awesome,” he said. “Everything’s still clicking the way it has been all year, so I couldn’t be more happy with it. I’m healthy, and everything’s going perfectly right now.”

He preceded that week with a tie for third at the Buc Days ProRodeo in Corpus Christi, Texas, with an 89 on Frontier Rodeo’s Jumping Jack, and he also picked up a check at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Okla. The score in Corpus Christi was a nice surprise for Kimzey.

“He actually exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I saw my traveling partner, Garrett Smith, get on him in Montgomery, Ala., so I knew there was a chance for a big score there.”

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

As of May 19, Kimzey led Harris by $17,203 in the world standings. He has a full summer schedule planned and is having the time of his life hitting the rodeo trail hard.

“I couldn’t be looking toward the summer run more or be more happy with how my season’s been so far,” Kimzey said. “June and July are going to be absolutely crazy, and we’re going to try and go to as many as we can and try to qualify for the NFR.

“There’s no better life to live than living the rodeo life on the road. Experiencing everything at such a young age, it’s crazy and is the most fun life I could imagine.”

 

This is the second in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

 

Home sweet home for Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas

I was in Russia covering the Olympic Winter Games when I heard the news: the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was staying in Las Vegas.

That was music to my ears, as I can’t imagine the world’s No. 1 rodeo in any other city in the world. I’ve been to 38 U.S. states and nine foreign countries, and I can say without reservation that there is no other city in the world like Las Vegas.

New York City is a close second, but there is not another city that can match Vegas’ entertainment options. Considering how the city has embraced the rodeo, cowboys and the Western way of life since the event came to Las Vegas in 1985, it would have been a shame to erase all that progress by moving the rodeo elsewhere.

The Thomas & Mack Center has been home to the Wrangler NFR since 1985, and it the rodeo will remain in Las Vegas another 10 years, thanks to a new agreement between the PRCA and Las Vegas Events.

The Thomas & Mack Center has been home to the Wrangler NFR since 1985, and it the rodeo will remain in Las Vegas another 10 years, thanks to a new agreement between the PRCA and Las Vegas Events.

The PRCA reportedly received tempting offers from groups in Florida and Texas, opening the door for the rodeo to leave Las Vegas after 29 years. So, when the news broke on Jan. 24 that the PRCA Board of Directors and the Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees had voted unanimously on a deal that extends the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas through 2024, I was ecstatic and relieved.

I wasn’t the only one.

“It would have been sad to see it leave,” Hall of Fame tie-down roper Fred Whitfield said.

Four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho agrees.

“As a fan of rodeo and having been a fan and a spectator, I think Vegas is the perfect fit for it,” said Branquinho, a 12-time Wrangler NFR qualifier. “You have the accommodations, the night life and everything that goes with the NFR, and that’s what is more appealing to me. I’m getting toward the end of my career, but for those young kids coming up, they’re going to be running at almost twice as much money as I did when I started.”

Contestants will now receive $10,000 in guaranteed money on top of anything they earn at the rodeo itself just for qualifying for the Wrangler NFR, and the total purse of the rodeo will go to $10 million beginning in 2015. Las Vegas Events has guaranteed $16.5 million annually to the PRCA for the Finals through 2019, with $3 million of that going to stock contractors.

Those numbers will grow from 2020-24 based on cost-of-living increases.

Hall of Fame bull rider Don Gay, who won all eight of his world championships in Oklahoma City before the Finals moved to Las Vegas, believes the rodeo is staying where it belongs.

“I’m just tickled to death that we’re in Las Vegas and that we have a deal moving forward that guys who are still in high school can look forward to,” said Gay, who is a fixture around town during the Finals every year. “I’ve felt that Las Vegas has so much additional firepower, that we would be making a little bit of a mistake if it moved simply for the money. There’s a reason they have all the big (boxing) title fights in Las Vegas.”

No other city in the United States, perhaps even the world, can compete with Las Vegas' entertainment options and nightlife.

No other city in the United States, perhaps even the world, can compete with Las Vegas’ entertainment options and nightlife.

The contract renewal is a win for everyone involved, a point made by PRCA Chairman of the Board Keith Martin in January.

“Perhaps the best aspect of this agreement,” Martin said, “is that it benefits every PRCA member – contestants, stock contractors, committees and contract personnel. There is an investment here to advance the PRCA’s circuit system and help the sport continue to grow.”

The agreement also includes an expansion of involvement between the PRCA and LVE. LVE will have a season-long sponsorship program with the PRCA, presenting sponsorships of the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo and 12 RAM Circuit Final Rodeos, as well as the National Finals Steer Roping, if it is held in Las Vegas.

The Wrangler NFR reportedly generates $100 million annually for Las Vegas, and with 270 consecutive sellouts at the Thomas & Mack Center, that number is not expected to decrease anytime soon.

“For nearly 30 years, Las Vegas has built a strong partnership with the PRCA and its contestants,” said Bill McBeath, chairman of the Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees. “This new agreement clearly demonstrates the commitment that Las Vegas has to the PRCA, to the overall growth of the sport of rodeo and to the contestants. We feel that the new agreement is beneficial to all parties, and we’re very pleased to continue to host this iconic event for an additional 10 years.”

It was a long, and sometimes painful, process for those involved.

“We are relieved that we were able to assemble an agreement that both ensures that the Wrangler NFR will remain in Las Vegas for the long term and that all parties will prosper,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events. “We look forward to working with all of our partners in growing the NFR Experience for rodeo fans in Las Vegas.”

 

Representatives from Las Vegas Events, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association are joined by Las Vegas showgirls to commemorate the agreement to keep the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas through 2024. The group includes (from left to right) Michael Gaughan, LVE Board Member; Pat Christenson, LVE President; Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the LVCVA; Karl Stressman, PRCA Commissioner; Tom Collins, LVCVA Chairman and LVE Board Member; and Bill McBeath, LVE Board Member.

Representatives from Las Vegas Events, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association are joined by Las Vegas showgirls to commemorate the agreement to keep the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas through 2024. The group includes (from left to right) Michael Gaughan, LVE Board Member; Pat Christenson, LVE President; Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the LVCVA; Karl Stressman, PRCA Commissioner; Tom Collins, LVCVA Chairman and LVE Board Member; and Bill McBeath, LVE Board Member.

PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman was pleased to help secure the contract renewal for all of his constituents.

“This is truly an historic day for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the sport of professional rodeo,” Stressman said in the Jan. 24 statement. “The PRCA Board of Directors and this administration has been through a long and, at times, painful process of due diligence and careful consideration in looking out for the very best interest of every member of this association and this great sport. It hasn’t always been easy, but what we’re announcing today makes it all worthwhile.

“We could not be happier, and look forward to working with our partners in Las Vegas on continued growth and prosperity for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.”

Now with the future of the event safe for another decade, contestants breathed a sigh of relief and can now focus on returning to Las Vegas to compete in the world’s greatest rodeo.

Kimzey poised, focused on world title run

Sage Kimzey is not your typical 19-year-old.

The bull rider from Strong City, Okla., is an extremely articulate, determined and poised cowboy who is enjoying a breakout season with the major goal of winning a world title as his primary focus. He also just happens to be leading the PRCA world standings.

With $69,587 through April 13, Kimzey leads four-time World Champion J.W. Harris by $6,907 after a huge winter that included a share of first place at the Rapid City, S.D., Wrangler Champions Challenge event and a win in Tulsa, Okla. Kimzey also posted runner-up finishes in Denver, Odessa, Texas, and Lincoln, Neb.

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

Kimzey and Harris are more than $26,000 clear of third-place Trey Benton III, a statistic that further shows how impressive their 2014 seasons have been thus far. It has been a magical winter for the teen sensation.

“The winter has been more than I could have ever imagined it could be, and almost having the NFR made – it’s pretty nice having this much money won this quickly. It really is a dream come true,” said Kimzey, who is just $480 shy of the 15th-place qualifier’s regular-season money total from last year. “Being 19 years old and in the lead in the world standings – even though it is early in the year – it’s every kid’s dream come true to have success in the professional ranks.”

There were signs that Kimzey had the potential to break out like he has, as all he did as an 18-year-old permit holder was set the PRCA record for most money won on a permit with $47,726. He can remember the exact moment last year when things began to click.

“I went to a little open bull riding last year on May 3, I think,” said Kimzey, who was a point guard on a state title-winning basketball team at Cheyenne (Okla.) High School as a senior. “It was pretty special, because I got back number 12. The number 12 means a lot to me because it was Cody Custer’s son Aaron’s basketball number, and he passed away in a car wreck.

“I did well at that bull riding, and it really did just carry on into the great summer I had last year. It was pretty special and gave me a breath of fresh air and boosted my confidence at the same time.”

Rodeo is everything to the Kimzey family. Sage’s father, Ted, was a longtime PRCA barrelman and clown who was selected to work the NFR in 1980 and 1987. Sage’s mother, Jennifer, older sister, Dusta, and younger brother, Trey, are a professional trick riding group called Tricked Out. Dusta also competes for Southwestern Oklahoma State University – where Sage is majoring in entrepreneurship – and Trey has qualified for the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo as a bull rider.

“It’s always been my dream to be a cowboy,” Sage said. “Growing up in a rodeo family, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Sage Kimzey learned how to be a rodeo cowboy from his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrel man.

Sage Kimzey learned how to be a rodeo cowboy from his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrelman.

Many 19-year-olds might feel the immense pressure of holding the world’s top ranking bearing down on them as they compete on a weekly basis. Kimzey is not one of them.

“I’m really just enjoying it,” he said. “I don’t really get caught up in the whole pressure deal, because my job never changes. It’s man against beast, and as long as I do my job, the standings will take care of themselves.

“It’s definitely a whole new experience being 19 years old and having all of this recognition for doing so well this winter. It’s a different experience, but it’s a great one.”

Part of what is making the experience great for Kimzey is his friendly “duel” with Harris. Harris has thousands of fans across the country, and Kimzey definitely counts himself among them.

“J.W. is awesome,” Kimzey said. “He was one of my heroes growing up, so getting to ride against J.W. is phenomenal. He is one of the most level-headed guys and one of the most mentally tough guys I’ve met, as far as never getting in a slump, believing in his own ability and going out and proving it week-in and week-out.

“That’s why he’s a four-time world champion and who is going to go down as one of the greatest bull riders of all time.”

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo this past weekend, has been the top bull rider in the PRCA in 2014.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo this past weekend, has been the top bull rider in the PRCA in 2014. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

The mental aspect of the bull riding game is highly important to the cerebral Kimzey. He lists Dr. Charles Garfield’s book Peak Performance as his favorite and uses its principles on a daily basis.

“Oh gosh, that book has helped me so much mentally,” Kimzey said. “It really is about the keys to winning and breaks down winning in every form of the word. It helps me keep a level head, not feel any of the pressure and escape everything and get back to the basics of winning.”

Those principles have served Kimzey well, and his mental approach to his craft is something he concentrates on quite a bit.

“It’s definitely way more mental than it is anything else,” Kimzey said of bull riding. “I’m one of those guys who believes that everything in life is 90 percent psychological and 10 percent everything else. As long as your mind is right, you can conquer anything in this world.

“The fun part of that is doing your homework by reading books to keep your mind right while you’re going down the road, because it is a 365-day grind out here rodeoing. We don’t get an offseason like everybody else does. It’s go, go, go all the time.”

And go, go, go is exactly what Kimzey plans to do the remainder of the season. He is not reducing his travel schedule just because he is No. 1 in the world right now and is a sure lock to qualify for his first Wrangler NFR.

“I’m not going to look back on this year and wish I went to one (more) of the smaller rodeos because I lost the world championship or missed going to the NFR by $5,000,” he said. “I’m just not going to let any of that come into my head. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t live with any regrets, but at the same time, I don’t like giving myself the opportunity to have any regrets about anything.

“We’re going to try and go to 125 rodeos to max out the count. If I end up a little bit short at the end of the year, all I can do is look back and say, ‘Well, this year, I just wasn’t good enough.’”

Numerous cowboys have implemented the same approach in years past, and they have gold buckles to show for it.

This is the first in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.