One of the most emotional nights at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the night that recognizes those who have contributed to the event in any way that have passed in the last year.
That happened on Sunday, Dec. 6 in the Thomas and Mack Center and it had extra special meaning for bull rider Clayton Foltyn who is making his third appearance here. Clayton’s grandfather Dickey Cox, a four-time NFR qualifier is one of the honorees.
Dickey competed at the 1963-64, ’68 and ’70 editions of the NFR. His best finish was in ’63 when he was the reserve world champion. He passed away last March at the age of 75.
Dickey and his wife Judy have two children, Kenneth and Carola. Carola is married to Lane Foltyn and they have two children, Justin and Clayton. Carola grew up spending the summers on rodeo road trips with her family. There was never any question about it, when it was time to drive to a rodeo, it was a family affair.
After the Fourth of July, when Dickey was flying, they all loaded up and hit the road. Those experiences served Carola well when she married another bull rider. Lane came close to qualifying for the NFR several times in his career but never broke through to the top 15.
And, what do rodeo couples do but raise rodeo kids. Both Clayton and Justin rode bareback horses and bulls. Justin injured both knees which cut his rodeo career short. Clayton was an all-around contender in the PRCA nearly qualifying for the NFR in both events in 2005 when he finished 19th in the bareback standings.
A lot of things have happened to the 30-year-old since his last qualification in 2011. He got married and he and wife Kala have a place at Winnie, Texas, 130 miles from his parents who live at El Campo. He started treating his body like an athlete’s and has been training with Rough Stock Athletes. He is more focused and determined and when he gets discouraged, Kala is there to lift him up.
That has shown this year. He had a slow start until winning the Reno Rodeo Xtreme Bulls event last June. He continued to pick up checks and started the competition in 11th place. He made a huge move at the second performance when he won the round on Rafter G Rodeo’s bull named Thunderstruck. Clayton’s score of 76.5 points was the only one of the night, so not only did he get the first place check of $26,231, he got an additional $58,384.
At the fourth performance Clayton got on a bull named Big Cool owned by Corey and Lange Rodeo Company wearing his grandfather’s lucky shirt and riding for him.
The shirt has a history all its own. In the days of sidewalk sales that went with the rodeo coming to town, Judy was shopping and found the shirt on sale for $2.50. The pearl-snap shirt with red and black polka dots was the brunt of many jokes by Dickey’s friends and people like Donny Gay still remember it. The family remembers it for a whole different reason.
“My daddy won more money in the shirt. He’d make her wash it that night in the hotel room and iron it so he could wear it again.” Carola said. “And, everybody knew him by that shirt. We’ve kept it and preserved it all these years. It was in a shadow box at the funeral.”
Clayton is not the first Foltyn to wear the shirt. When Lane hit a dry streak and was bucking off of everything he got on, Dickey got out the shirt and told him he needed to change his luck. Another time, he got it out and had it all ironed for Clayton to wear.
“Clayton said, ‘Oh Poppy, let’s save that for a special occasion.’ This is a special occasion,” Carola said.
Carola never got to see her father ride at the NFR. As children with school obligations and limited resources, she and her brother stayed with family members while Dickey and Judy went to Los Angeles and later Oklahoma.
They did get to go to Cheyenne, Wyo., for the Frontier Days Rodeo on many occasions. Kenneth and Carola had their pictures taken by the same fence from the time she was 2 until she was 12 years old. The rodeo had a pony bareback riding event for kids at that time and when Kenneth was about to be to old to compete, Judy decided they should make it into a family vacation and go. Dickey said if they went, he was entering even though it had been a couple of years since he had been on a bull.
That was a good decision for Dickey as he left with the bull riding championship. Later, Clayton would find success in the same arena and earn the all-around title at the “Daddy of ‘em All.” That is also where Carola and Lane spent their honeymoon.
The Foltyn/Cox rodeo legacy goes far beyond the rodeo arena. Rodeo is truly a way of life for all of them and is a family affair in every sense. Sunday night, the family watched the opening with tears running down their cheeks as they remember the man that inspired them all. Then they were on the edge of their seats as anticipating Clayton’s ride. The shirt once again worked it’s magic as Clayton scored 83 points to tie for third and win $13,327, probably more money in one check than all of the other money combined that has been won wearing it.
Clayton’s decision to wear the shirt on memorial night not only honored his grandfather, it honored his whole family, and the legacy of the lucky shirt lives on.