Before the dirt is moved into the Thomas and Mack Center, and Las Vegas turns into cowboy town, there is a race going on in rodeo that leads to triumph or heartbreak.
That race is for a Wrangler National Finals rodeo (NFR) qualification. It starts in October of the previous year, takes contestants from coast to coast and takes a toll on their minds and bodies. It turns family time into hours spent on the phone, texting, video conferencing and anything but being at home.
For 120 rodeo contestants in 2017, it’s all been worth it. Another eight of them found themselves in rodeo’s crying hole – 16th place in the world standings. Those eight contestants, along with several behind them worked as hard, traveled as much and put in the effort. One check could have made the difference.
One check made the difference in the steer wrestling. It only took $87 for Chason Floyd from Buffalo, South Dakota, to secure his first trip to the NFR. It only cost seven-time NFR qualifier, Josh Peek his eighth trip to Vegas to compete on rodeo’s biggest stage. He also finished in 23rd place in the tie-down roping and for him there is very little difference.
“When you look at the world standings, 16th isn’t any different than 33rd,” he said. “Either you make it or you don’t. It’s been a real blessing to make the NFR. It’s the nature of rodeo and competition. This sport has so many variables and each one can come into play at any time. It’s a roll of the dice for sure.”
Peek isn’t one to look back and for now, he is definitely looking forward to spending December in Colorado with his family. He will be spending his evenings Dec. 7 – 16th in front of the television watching his friends.
“Chason is married to my cousin and I have so many friends out there, I’m excited to watch it (the NFR),” he added. “I’m a fan of rodeo regardless of whether I’m actually competing or not. Win or lose, rodeo has been a real blessing for me and my family.”
Josh and his wife Kori have three children, twins, Emry and Keagan who are eight. He has been taking them to school each morning and has also enjoyed time with their one-year-old son, Jagger.
“I’ve never been one to look back. I’m always looking forward and thinking about the future,” he said. “There are always things you can improve on and I am constantly working towards being better. That’s not just rodeo, that’s life.”
The 15th spot in the bareback riding was earned by Mason Clements from Santaquin, Utah, who finished outside of the qualifiers last year at 18th. Justin Miller from Billings, Montana, had the best year of his seven years of membership in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The highest he had finished previously was 2014 where he was 29th in the world standings. This year he finished in 16th with $83,495, just $2,620 short.
The team roping saw NFR veteran Charly Crawford, from Prineville, Oregon, as the final qualifier. That put the reigning world champion header Levi Simpson. From Ponoka, Alberta, out of an opportunity to defend his world title.
As the final week of rodeo was in progress, Simpson knew that mathematically, he couldn’t win enough to move into the top 15. He finished $6,140 behind Crawford. He could have packed up and headed north. Instead he stayed hooked to the rodeo trail to give his partner Jeremy Buhler a chance to go back to Las Vegas. It worked.
Buhler, from Arrowwood, Alberta, will be back in the Thomas and Mack Center roping for his second world title but has a lot of ground to make up. He is 15th with $68,006. Buddy Hawkins II, from Columbus, Kansas, was $2,870 short.
Saddle bronc riders Audy Reed, from Spearman, Texas, and Cort Scheer, from Elsmere, Nebraska, finished 15th and 16th respectively. Like most rodeo contestants, their similarities far outweigh their differences. Both are ranch-raised and are as comfortable on a saddle horse as a bucking horse. Both furthered their education in and out of the rodeo arena at Oklahoma’s Panhandle State University.
When October first rolled around, Reed started making plans for his trip to Las Vegas for his first NFR. Scheer was about $4,000 short of his sixth.
There probably isn’t anyone who is more familiar with that 16th spot than tie-down roper Cory Solomon who finished 15th this year for his fifth NFR qualification. His first two qualifications came in 2011 – 12, then he missed two years and has now had three consecutive. Both years he came up short, he was in 16th. This year, Blane Cox from Cameron, Texas finished in 16th with a $6,893 gap between him and Solomon.
Two NFR rookies fought for the final spot in bull riding. Guthrie Murray from Miami, Oklahoma won. Caldwell, Idaho’s Brady Portenier, is 16th, by a narrow margin of $274.
For rodeo and barrel racing fans it’s nearly unimaginable to have an NFR without Sherry Cervi. That’s a reality this year. She has made 190 runs around the Thomas and Mack Center and in four of her 19 qualifications has left Las Vegas as the world champion barrel racer.
This year, the Marana, Arizona, resident finished in 16th place behind Utah’s Kimmie Wall. It came down to the wire and with all-night drives and planning and calculating for the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association members, it amounted to a difference of $1,931 in earnings.
“I would only be disappointed in myself if I hadn’t given it all I’ve got,” Cervi said. “We drove 6,000 miles in six days. We went 12 hours to a rodeo that had to be postponed and I couldn’t compete. It was the closest and most dramatic race to the finish that I’ve ever seen.”
So what will Sherry be doing Dec. 7 – 16th this year? She’s going to sit in the stands and be a spectator. Her husband, Cory Petska, is second in the world standings in the team roping and chasing his first gold buckle.
“This will be the first time that I’ve ever been able to watch Cory rope,” she said. “I’ve always been in the back warming up my horse and just listened for his time or watched on the monitor. He’s had such a good year and I’m excited to actually watch him rope.”
That’s going to be different for her, but her schedule throughout the days will be similar as in year’s past. She still has sponsor obligations, appearances and fans to meet. The biggest change will come at night when instead of heading to the arena and getting her horse ready, riding in the grand entry and waiting to compete, she now has the challenge of deciding what to wear as a team roper’s wife in the stands.
Cervi along with most of the other contestants who finished in 16th will also be competing in the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out at the Orleans Arena December 7 – 9 with performances starting at 2 p.m.