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VOLUME 2, AUGUST 2017 \\\ NFREXPERIENCE.COM

YOUR MID-SEASON GUIDE TO THE WRANGLER NFR


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Behind the Chutes Rodeo stars each have a way of getting ready and what happens behind the chutes on a nightly basis is exciting, intriguing and sometimes secretive. Go inside and behind the scenes.

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The Future of Rodeo 10 Awesomest Days of the Year The top young rodeo talent is on display during the Junior NFR at Cowboy Christmas from December 7-16.

The beyond the dirt action at WNFR is better than best in 2017 and here’s a quick guide to the hundreds of after parties, viewing parties, award presentations, concerts and more.

32 Guide to Cowboy Christmas/RMEF Overload your Western lifestyle senses by spending some time at the amazing Cowboy Christmas and RMEF Hunter and Outdoor Expo.

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More

Vold Family Affair

10 – Return of the Legends 36 – You Spoke, We Listened 38 – Vold, Barrett Tribute 46 – Stay Connected 48 – Rodeo Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes 50 – PRCA Hall of Fame Induction 52 – Meet Miss Rodeo America 54 – WNFR Superstitions? 56 – Conversation with LV/WNFR Legend Bill Boyd 58 – Boyd Chute-Out 60 – World Series of Team Roping 62 – Hanging at Thomas & Mack 64 – Karl in Charge

It’s a family tradition for the Vold family to take in the 10 days of the Wrangler NFR.

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PROJECT MANAGER/EDITOR

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Las Vegas Events Brian Hurlburt DESIGNER

Christopher A. Jones

Eric Berner

Matt Jacob

CONTRIBUTORS

LAS VEGAS EVENTS

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Copyright 2017 Las Vegas Events. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any items within this publication without express written consent of Las Vegas Events.

Photos: Thomas & Mack and Charlie Daniels by Tom Donoghue; Junior NFR, Steve Spatafore; Cover Photo: Tom Donoghue.

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Photo: Tom Donoghue.


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Beehive of Activity

Wrangler NFR contestants stay busy behind the scenes at Thomas & Mack By REID THOMPSON

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he Wrangler National Finals Rodeo can be a whirlwind of an experience for rodeo fans. The same holds true for the event’s 120 contestants. From the moment they arrive at the Thomas & Mack Center each night until they head out on the town after the final performance, Wrangler NFR contestants are constantly on the go. What exactly does the daily schedule entail? We asked reigning world champion bareback rider Tim O’Connell to walk us through his routine from last year. O’Connell said he and fellow bareback riders Tanner Aus and Ty Breuer would depart the Monte

Carlo Hotel & Casino at about 4:30 p.m. for the 6:45 p.m. performance. Once they arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center, they went right to work. “They have all 15 horses in separate pens, and I always take a picture of the horse I’ve [drawn] and keep a scrapbook,” said O’Connell, a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier from Zwingle, Iowa. “We all go in the locker room, and I check all my equipment and make sure everything is OK, and that my binds are working and spurs are rolling good. “From that point, normally I go down to the bucking chutes to stretch. It’s nice, because there’s nobody in the arena and

it’s kind of like the calm before the storm. You can quietly go through your ride in your head, decide how aggressive you want to be or how smart you want to ride that night. You think about anything and everything.” After a stop at the stock contractors’ room for a cup of coffee and a visit to the Justin SportsMedicine room to grab tape and elastic he needed for that night’s ride, O’Connell would join the other bareback riders in the locker room. “By that time, everybody’s in there, and there’s a bunch of stock contractors who like hanging out in our locker room,” O’Connell said. “Normal-


// 11 from 2006-2015. His streak ended when he sat out last year’s Wrangler NFR, but it’s not like he was completely absent from Las Vegas. For the first time, he attended the competition as a spectator, an experience that provided a new perspective.

After a one-year hiatus, several all-time great cowboys are trying to return to Wrangler NFR By PATRICK EVERSON

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he 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was full of its typical excitement and emotions, but you could forgive the fans a little bit for wondering where some of the usual suspects were. You know, those name brands such as Tuf Cooper and Luke Branquinho. And of course, the biggest name brand of all (though he’d never say that himself): Trevor Brazile.

Those three, along with many other well-known cowboys, missed out on last year’s 10-day rodeo bonanza because of a dispute between the Elite Rodeo Association—which several high-profile competitors were involved with—and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Fortunately, the two sides resolved their differences, and a big beneficiary figures to be the 2017 Wrangler

NFR—not to mention all the fans filling the Thomas & Mack Center to the brim for 10 action-packed nights. “That’s the main thing. The fans are a special part of that event,” Brazile says. If anyone can speak with authority on that topic, it’s Brazile. He is a 23-time world champion, with 10 of those all-around titles coming consecutively

“As crazy as it sounds, I’d never been out there in that capacity [as a fan],” Brazile says. “It’s a great time whether you’re in it or not. I attended maybe four nights, and I certainly enjoyed it. It’s never a bad week staying at the MGM Grand and going to the rodeo. You can’t beat it.” Brazile is gaining in the PRCA World Standings and continues to work hard to regain his spot among the top 15 in the world. However, nothing is guaranteed in the world’s toughest sport. Tuf Cooper is a threetime world champion in tie-down roping, most recently taking the crown in 2014, and he qualified for the Wrangler NFR every year from 2008 to 2015. So he’s certainly eager to get back to the Thomas & Mack, and it appears he’s well on his way: As of mid-spring, he was sitting sixth in the world standings.


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Branquinho has battled an injury-plagued year in an attempt to return to Las Vegas.

Branquinho certainly knows what it’s like to win those buckles, as he’s claimed five world championships in 14 trips to the Wrangler NFR. As of mid-May, Branquinho stood seventh in the steer wrestling standings, and he says he knows what he needs to keep doing to earn a 15th trip to Las Vegas.

Indeed, that’s the last day of the 2017 Wrangler NFR, when all the gold buckles are doled out. Steer wrestler Luke

“Win!” Branquinho says. “The winter was good. I won Fort Worth for a pretty good chunk there, and placed at a few other rodeos.”

Branquinho noted that, as in pretty much every event, the summer will tell the tale for who gets to Vegas and who doesn’t. “With everything but the kitchen sink counting in the standings, it’s gonna take $70,000-$75,000 to get to the Finals,” says Branquinho, who was halfway to that total in May. “I need at least another $35,000, and probably a lot more so that I’m not sweating it out.” Hopefully, none of these

rodeo stars are sweating it out, and come December, they will all be back in the saddle at the WNFR. And nobody is looking forward to galloping into the arena on December 7 more than Brazile. “That first night, the Grand Entry, is so special,” he says. “It’s just the pageantry of it all, the cowboys all riding in and representing their respective states. That’s one of those moments that never gets duplicated throughout the year.”

Photo: Mike Copeman, PRCA.

“I love getting to wake up and do what I love to do,” says Cooper, who had wins at three rodeos by early May. “Most of the rodeo season is crammed into the summer months, and I’m right on track with where I’ve been every year. But it’s not about where you are today. It’s about December 16. That’s what really matters.”


14 // Gaining valuable experience at the Junior NFR will lead to future success for young competitors.


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Rodeo Future Is Now Quality ropin’, rasslin’ and ridin’ is being done by future stars at the annual Junior NFR at Cowboy Christmas By PATRICK EVERSON

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Photo: All All Junior Junior NFR NFR by Steve Spatafore. Photo:

oday’s youngsters have never had more options when it comes to playing sports. Football, basketball, softball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse— among other athletic pursuits—have all extended their reach to the youngest possible participants, even as young as 5 or 6 years old. And this being the age of sports specialization, many kids often focus on just one activity, and they tend to cling to that activity for life. One sport that didn’t have such a deep reach, and therefore wasn’t attracting many kids at the beginning of their athletic endeavors, was rodeo. Until now. Thanks to a speedy progression over the past two years, the Junior National Finals Rodeo is now luring kids into the sport at an

early age, with a goal of making them rodeo contestants for years and, hopefully, rodeo fans for life. “It means the world,” says Kirby Cannon, who chairs the Junior NFR’s mini bareback and mini saddle bronc riding competitions. “It’s especially important in the rough-stock events— bulls, barebacks and saddle broncs. Our numbers [in those events] are plummeting, and that was the whole reason I got involved. “These days, kids go into one sport, and that’s all they do. Rodeo was losing kids, because parents said their kids can’t do more than one sport and that they don’t have time for rodeo. But now we have an option for them, even at that age of 5-6 or 7-8. Rodeo can compete against football and Little League baseball. We have a Super Bowl, a world championship. That gives parents and kids a reason to go into rodeo.”

Last year, the inaugural Junior NFR was staged in the Cowboy Christmas Wrangler Rodeo Arena at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with competitions spread over six days in conjunction with the 10day run of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, just down the road at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Junior NFR was the culmination of what started in 2014, when the Roy Cooper Junior Roping Invitational and the Chris Shivers Mini Bull Riding Invitational were held in that same arena. Even as Cooper watched his young sons, Tuf and Clint, grow into the family business of tie-down roping, the legendary cowboy had the idea of creating a premier junior roping event in Las Vegas. “I’d been thinking about it for at least 10 years,” says Cooper, the man nicknamed “Super Looper” who won six tie-down roping world titles and the 1983 allaround championship on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour. “I wish Tuf and Clint would’ve been able to do it.”

Clint Cooper was already beyond the junior circuit at that point, well into his 20s, while Tuf Cooper was a teenager. Thanks to their bloodlines and work ethic, both clearly didn’t need a boost from a junior event— Clint became a five-time qualifier for the Wrangler NFR and Tuf an eight-time qualifier and three-time world champion. Still, even as his kids flourished on the professional circuit, the elder Cooper remained confident his idea was very much worth pursuing. Thanks to his efforts—as well as assistance from former standout bull rider Shivers, Las Vegas Events and many others looking to enhance junior rodeo— things quickly blossomed, and by 2016 the Junior NFR featured six events: tie-down roping, bull riding, bareback riding, barrel racing, team roping and girls breakaway. This year, the Junior NFR is adding steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding, with multiple age groups in all events. Not only that, but the Junior NFR is expanding from six to 10 days, all running concurrently with the Wrangler NFR.


16 // Ostensibly, there will be two five-day rodeos—rough stock events will take place December 7-11, and timed events are scheduled for December 12-16—with competitors in each category going through two qualifying rounds. The top qualifiers in each event/ each age group will move on to the championship short-go on the final day of each five-day rodeo. Cooper will oversee tiedown roping in three age brackets—19-under boys, 13-under boys and 10-under boys/girls—along with 14-under girls breakaway roping. About 90 total contestants will compete over the first four days, with top qualifiers in each event moving on to the Junior NFR short-go. In fact,

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Cooper said the 19-under tie-down category will probably feature just two contestants in the short-go, making it a match-roping event for the title. Those spectators who take in the Junior NFR at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena can expect to see the best of the best, including several young ropers who very likely will become future professional standouts.

“I promise you, there’ll be two and probably three in this year’s NFR who’ve roped in my contest the last three years,” Cooper says, noting he picks the contestants from those he’s seen and worked with, or who have worked with contemporaries such as former world champion Joe Beaver.

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The buckle is just as coveted at the Junior NFR.

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Hard work and dedication leads to success for young riders.

“I see dreams, I see kids who are hungry—kids who will work hard for it. And I appreciate Las Vegas Events giving me the opportunity to bring these kids out to Las Vegas.” Kelly Kaminski is just as appreciative for how the Junior NFR has bolstered barrel racing, the event she oversees. Last year, there were six qualifying events in barrel racing for the Junior NFR; this year, there will be 11, including one in Mexico and one in Australia. “Last year was the first year, so a lot of folks didn’t really know about it,” says Kaminski, a two-time world champion. “This year, it’s really grown, and it will continue to grow. But we’re growing it responsibly so it

doesn’t get too big, too fast.” In 2016, 60 barrel racers qualified for a trip to Las Vegas, split between two age groups: 12-16 and 11-under. This year, the number of contestants will more than double to 128. As with competitors in all the other events, barrel racers get the full-on Vegas rodeo treatment. “They were like shocked,” Kaminski says of last year’s Junior NFR qualifiers. “We treated them the same as the big girls at the NFR, with autograph sessions, back-number presentations. It was fun to be able to do that. They even met some of their heroes— their faces lit up, and they were so excited.”


// 17 Ote Berry, a four-time world champion steer wrestler, will see his event make its Junior NFR debut this year. The ProRodeo Hall of Famer says he’s excited for the young steer wrestlers to share the Vegas stage, and he’s not alone. “The response I received on the very first day I announced the inaugural Ote Berry’s Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship was amazing,” Berry says. “Kids, parents, producers, fans, sponsors—everyone in the rodeo world wanted to know how they could help and partner with me to give the kids an event that’s truly world-championship caliber. An event like the Junior NFR, which already has 10 [steer wrestling] qualifying events in seven states, will

do nothing but elevate the level of commitment and competition.” Berry says the competition itself will surely benefit all contestants, but just as important, it will create more opportunities for the youngsters. College rodeo coaches will add the Junior NFR to their recruiting schedule, and of course, some of these bulldoggers are likely to one day end up in the Wrangler NFR. “I’ve always enjoyed mentoring young people in my event, so the Junior NFR makes perfect sense,” says Berry, who pointed to his work with Tom Carney at the Steer Wrestling 101 School in Louisiana. “Just a few short years ago, there was a skinny kid with a

work ethic that wouldn’t quit. That kid was Tyler Waguespack, and he’s now the reigning champ of the world, and he won more money than any other contestant at the 2016 NFR.” Saddle bronc riding also makes its Junior NFR debut this year, which thrilled event organizer Lacie Demers, who is also overseeing bareback riding. In both events, riders will be on appropriately sized horses based on their age groups: 6-8, 9-11 and 12-14. In the past, junior cowboys often rode steers up until high school, which Demers says contributed to a decline in saddle bronc and bareback riders once they hit high school.

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BRINGING ROUGH-STOCK EVENTS BACK INTO JUNIOR RODEO IS GOING TO HELP THE CONTESTANTS, THE FANS AND THE RODEO INDUSTRY A LOT. -Organizer Lacie Demers

“This is pretty much paving the way to a new sport in junior rodeo,” Demers says. “We’re hoping it really brings it to the next level, by getting these kids prepared and being on size-appropriate stock. There’s been a great turnout in people who want to participate, so there’s a good chance we’ll expand to high school next year. “Bringing rough-stock events back into junior rodeo is going to help the contestants, the fans and the rodeo industry a lot.” Bret Beach, a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier, manages team roping for the Junior NFR. He believes letting the young cowboys compete in the same city and at the same time as the Wrangler NFR is a huge plus.


18 // “When you’re in junior rodeo, all you do is dream about going to Vegas. Now, with the Junior NFR, we’re giving these kids the opportunity to be in Vegas before their time,” Beach says. “It’s a big lift, to give them something else to try to achieve.” Not only will the Junior NFR be expanding this year, but there will be more qualifying events staged across the United States. Beach says more qualifying leads to better competition when the kids get to Las Vegas—so much so that he predicts future PRCA team roping stars will have their roots in the Junior NFR. “They’re going to come from this event. I promise you there will be kids at this year’s Junior NFR who could be roping in Vegas at the NFR now, or in two to three years,” Beach says, alluding to the top talent in his 16-19 age group. “They’re really good. There are some kids who can really rope.” Cirildo and Lillie Leal, in tandem with Shivers, are overseeing the Junior NFR’s bull riding event, which also will feature a range of young contestants riding age-appropriate stock. The Leals

Junior bull riding is as exciting as the big boys.

came away from the 2016 Junior NFR more than impressed, and they’re highly optimistic about the event’s long-term impact. “This is gonna be huge,” Cirildo Leal says. “I’m really excited about going back to Vegas this year. Everybody loves kids, and they’re gonna love this. These kids can go from this to the NFR one day.” Adds Lillie Leal: “When you meet these little cowboys, they aren’t afraid of bulls, they’re not afraid of anything. I really see this on TV one day, just like the big boys at the NFR.” It’s actually not that farfetched of an idea. Bo

Gardner, who helped get the Junior NFR off the ground as vice president of corporate marketing for Las Vegas Events, says there was a great deal of corporate interest even before last year’s inaugural competition. “The Junior NFR sponsorships have strong potential, but we need to make sure we all manage them properly,” Gardner said. “We’ve got all these companies that want to be involved with these kids.” Such corporate backing can have a massive impact on the future of rodeo by not only drawing more kids into the sport at an early age, but making it their sport of choice for life—whether

it’s as competitors or fans. Cannon, who oversees the Junior NFR’s mini bareback and mini saddle bronc riding competitions, insists the importance of the latter cannot understated. “When Bud Selig was commissioner of baseball, he once said 90 percent of [young] players never sniff the pro or even college level, but that they were trying to create fans for life,” Cannon says. “Now, we’re getting more kids involved [in rodeo] and making them fans for life. “A few years ago, we had nothing with this kind of prestige. Now, we’re riding in Las Vegas during the NFR.”


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O

K, we get it. All the wordsmith sheriffs are going to call, insta, tweet or email to scold us about how “awesomest” isn’t a word. They’ll probably even send us a link to Merriam-Webster’s website to drive home the point. Well, here’s our response: At some point in history, each word in the English language wasn’t official until someone uttered it, and then it eventually became part of the everyday lexicon. (How do you think “D’oh” ended up in Merriam-Webster?)

So, when thinking about how to best describe all things Wrangler NFR 2017, we had to dig deep into our bag of adjectives. In the end, we decided the only appropriate thing to do was create our own word:

Read this article and it will totally cure your Fear of Missing Out (F.O.M.O) because you’ll know exactly how to enjoy the Awesomest rodeo of them all By BRIAN HURLBURT

Rodeo Vegas at the Mirage is an awesome after party where fans and competitors jam to live music.

What happens in Las Vegas during the annual Wrangler NFR is nothing short of a phenomenon. There are literally hundreds of concerts, viewing parties, expos, rodeos and other Western lifestyle events held in the city that glitters. For that one 10-day stretch each winter, Las Vegas turns “legit cowboy” up and down The

Photo: Courtesy of Mirage.

Welcome to the Awesomest rodeo of them all—yes, that’s Awesomest with a capital “A.”


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“Las Vegas transforms for 10 days each December,” says Craig Cavileer, president of the Silverton Casino. “On and off the dirt, you find real cowboys and cowgirls who are authentic, genuine and spirited. That overall genuine feeling you get is the first thing I think about when I think of the NFR in Las Vegas.” The Silverton is one of more than 20 Las Vegas resorts that are official Wrangler NFR partners.

If you want to see the champs up close and personal, the South Point Go-Round Buckle presentation is the place to be.

Each property rolls out the red (dirt?) carpet each year for competitors and fans, and there is something for everyone—and that’s not a cliché. Sure, hotel executives and their staffs embrace the 10 days because it makes solid economic sense. But more than that, they love hosting the Super Bowl of Rodeo because the Western lifestyle is ingrained in their souls. That infectious passion has helped Las Vegas put on a show

that true cowboys and cowgirls appreciate. “I grew up hunting, fishing and ranching, and I am still a rancher to this day, so I have a deep appreciation for the Western lifestyle and rodeo people,” says Bill McBeath, president and CEO of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, who also operates the Cave Valley Ranch near Ely, Nevada, a cowboy town about 240 miles northeast of Las Vegas. “It’s something that has always been a part of my

life, and it’s been very important to be a part of it.” McBeath, whose ranch in Ely is home to 500 head of Black Angus cows, says the Wrangler NFR offers Las Vegas yet another opportunity to shine as a resort destination. “Las Vegas is a very interesting city because it’s always filled to max capacity, but with each week the town’s dynamics change due to who is visiting the city,” Mc-

Photo: John Plummer.

Strip and beyond.

AWESOMEST DAYS OF THE YEAR


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“Vegas has this incredible allure, and that’s why so many world championship events are held here.” In addition to the Silverton and Cosmopolitan, hotel sponsors for the 2017 Wrangler NFR include Treasure Island, Excalibur, Gold Coast, Harrah’s, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Caesars Palace, The Orleans, The Plaza, Sam’s Town, SLS, Tropicana, Westgate Las Vegas, Wynn Las Vegas, The D, Golden Nugget, MGM Grand, South Point, and the Hard Rock. Together, these properties—as well as other venues—will host more than 150 events during Rodeo Week. “How far the rodeo has come since it first started is the first thing that comes to my mind,” says Scott Sibella, MGM vice president and chief operating officer. “It’s a such a great event for Las Vegas, during a period that was extremely slow

many years ago. It’s been an honor being part of the planning team. Making the rodeo what it is today. It’s much more than a rodeo, it’s become an event throughout the city. What I tell people is to enjoy all the events that are planned over the ten days, from shopping, entertainment, viewing parties and the other great events that take place during the rodeo.”

The D Las Vegas downtown is the perfect place for viewing and after parties.

All in the Family

No Las Vegas entity has embraced the NFR’s lifestyle and brand since it debuted at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in 1985 more than the Boyd family, which operates The Orleans. In fact, the late Sam Boyd is considered one of the forefathers of the Las Vegas NFR, and his son, Bill, remains a steadfast supporter and fan. Although Bill Boyd is quick to point out that the Wrangler NFR wasn’t always the mega-event it is today. “During that first year, I remember my dad and I walking through our casinos, handing out rodeo tickets,” Boyd recalls. “We wanted to make sure NFR got off to a great start, so we did everything we could to get

Photo: Courtesy The D.

Beath says. “For those 10 days of the Wrangler NFR, the city is immersed in the cowboy lifestyle with everything that goes with it. The Wrangler NFR just happens to be the center of that Western universe.

AWESOMEST DAYS OF THE YEAR


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“I also remember the nights when I would ride into the arena on a stagecoach. The NFR has always been a lot of fun.” The power and passion of the on-the-dirt competition at the Thomas & Mack has certainly powered the NFR engine more than anything. But the razzle and dazzle of Las Vegas— and the efforts of many like the Boyd family in the early days—took the spectacle to an entirely different level.

“I am not sure there’s another sport where you can watch the world’s top 15 participants compete in seven event categories, and get it all done in two hours,” says Ryan Growney, general manager of the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa. “The level of competition and the excitement don’t get any better, and nowhere else will you find more energized fans. “Las Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the World, and it still amazes me how much the town has gotten behind the

NFR. It’s the only time of year that one category— Western lifestyle—takes over the whole town. If you own a pair of boots or a cowboy hat, or have country music playing in your car, there’s only one place to be those first two weeks in December.” Many in the resort industry with an eye for such things liken the Wrangler NFR Vegas experience to that of mega worldwide sporting events. If the horseshoe fits, Vegas will wear it. “We think of the Na-

tional Finals Rodeo as similar to the World Cup in terms of knowing rodeo fans from across the globe come together to not only witness the sport’s premier athletes in a world-class entertainment destination, but also to honor their accomplishments throughout the year,” says Don Voss, vice president of sales and marketing for Treasure Island. “Wrangler NFR events at TI represent authenticity, from the genuine country-western Gilley’s Saloon Dance, Hall & BBQ to the wild antics at Señor Frog’s, along with the scheduled live entertainment like blue-collar comedian Bill Engvall, autograph signings by the NFR bull riders, appearances by the Crown Royal Riders, as well as some of the hottest country bands performing in our cozy venues.” Going Downtown Not to be outdone by the resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, Downtown Las Vegas has gotten in on the Wrangler NFR action in a big way in recent years and have be-

Live viewing takes place at each sponsor resort like at the Mirage, and brings the rodeo to life when fans can’t get to the Mack.

Photo: John Plummer.

people in the seats. That isn’t much of a problem these days, of course.

AWESOMEST DAYS OF THE YEAR


Cowboy up. Party down. Join us for live entertainment every night during WNFR. SALOON • DANCE HALL • BAR-B-QUE gilleyslasvegas.com

treasureisland.com


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AWESOMEST DAYS OF THE YEAR

come important neighbors and partners. For instance, the Downtown Hoedown is an epic party and the official kickoff event of Wrangler NFR Week in Las Vegas. The Hoedown is followed by 10 days and nights of viewing parties, concerts, autograph sessions and more at Downtown resorts, including The D Las Vegas. “Downtown Las Vegas has become a premier hotspot to catch all the NFR action,” says Mike Dini, The D Las 01.

Treasure Island is one of several resorts to offer live viewing parties, which is the next best thing to being at The Mack.

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The Downtown Hoedown is the official kick-off to rodeo week in Vegas and is just one of many Western lifestyle events held in Downtown Las Vegas.

Vegas’ director of marketing. “As the rodeo has become a historic celebration for Las Vegas as a whole, it also has contributed to Downtown Las Vegas’ own continuous growth and revitalization. Every year we transform the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center into a massive indoor country hoedown with nightly live-feed

viewing parties, inviting visitors and locals alike for an interactive NFR viewing experience.

Also contributing greatly to Downtown’s Wrangler NFR vibe Downtown is the Golden Nugget.

“Additionally, we are proud sponsors of Utah’s own Wright Family Bronc Riders, so providing a space for fans to personally interact with the all-star family team has been a key component in our annual parties.”

“We’re all about cowboys and cowgirls at Golden Nugget in December,” says Chris Latil, Golden Nugget’s senior vice president and general manager. “Plus, we take entertainment seriously around here, offering

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Photo: Tom Donoghue (bottom); John Plummer (top).

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AWESOMEST DAYS OF THE YEAR

nightly parties to watch the live feed of the Wrangler NFR direct from the Thomas & Mack Center, along with concerts starting at 10 p.m. each night.

“Where else can you see country greats like Jamey Johnson, The Charlie Daniels Band, Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker, Lonestar and many others all under one roof? Not to mention you can

meet all the barrel racers at our house, as we host their official autograph signing. If you haven’t been to the Golden Nugget during the Wrangler NFR yet, you won’t regret stopping in this year.”

Indeed, on and off the dirt, the Wrangler NFR is one of awesomest experiences on the Las Vegas calendar. Wordsmith sheriffs, be damned.

WRANGLER NFR PARTIES, EVENTS, MORE Looking to catch some of the off-the-dirt action during Wrangler NFR Week in Las Vegas? Here’s your guide to some of the best entertainment offerings for 2017. Although not all information was available at press time, this is a good head start. As always, visit NFRExperience.com and keep apprised of social media for more information. OFFICIAL 2017 WRANGLER NFR RESORT PARTNERS Caesars Palace Cosmopolitan The D Excalibur Gold Coast Golden Nugget Hard Rock Harrah’s Las Vegas Mandalay Bay MGM Grand Mirage Orleans The Plaza Sam’s Town Silverton SLS South Point Treasure Island Tropicana Westgate Las Vegas Wynn Las Vegas

ENTERTAINMENT SNEAK PEAK December 6, 12 Sierra Black South Point

December 8, 9 Reba, Brooks & Dunn The Colosseum – Caesars Palace

December 8, 9 December 7 George Strait John Michael Montgomery T-Mobile Arena Golden Nugget December 8, 9, 15, 16 Ron White December 7-11 Aaron Watson Terry Fator Theatre at The Mirage South Point December 8 Cole Swindell The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

December 9 Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan Golden Nugget

December 8 Brenda Lee Golden Nugget

December 10 Charlie Daniels Golden Nugget

December 8 ,9 Gary Allan The Joint at Hard Rock

December 11 Ronnie Milsap Golden Nugget

December 12 Tanya Tucker Golden Nugget December 13 Lonestar Golden Nugget December 13-16 Cody Johnson South Point December 14 Clint Black Golden Nugget December 15, 16 Dierks Bentley The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas December 16 Lady Gaga T-Mobile Arena


32 //

The gift that keeps giving For many retailers, the opportunity to set up shop at Cowboy Christmas and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Hunter & Outdoor Christmas Expo is an annual tradition By MATT JACOB

The second-most cov eted tickets? Those that are doled out to exhibitors at Cowboy Christmas, the official gift show of the Wrangler NFR that has operated concurrently with the rodeo since 1986. Just as fans feel like lottery winners upon learning they’ve scored NFR tickets, the same is true of those businesses that are granted the op-

portunity to exhibit their wares during Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not only do vendors rarely turn down the offer to participate in Cowboy Christmas, but many hold onto their exhibit spaces with a bull rider-like grip. What that means for attendees is the very best in Western merchandise is available for 10 special days. “It’s so hard to get into Cowboy Christmas, so once you’re in there, you don’t leave,” says Mark Dunlap, president and general manager of M.L. Leddy’s, a 95-year-old, Fort Worth, Texas-based retailer that’s been selling its handmade boots and saddles (among

Photo: All by Steve Spatafore. Photo: All by Steve Spatafore.

F

or more than three decades, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has produced sellout after sellout each December at the Thomas & Mack Center, making tickets to the annual 10-day event the most coveted in all of Las Vegas.


// 33 Up close and personal autograph sessions where cowboys and cowgirls give a tip of the Resistol is just one benefit to attending Cowboy Christmas.

other items) at Cowboy Christmas since its inception. “There are a lot of good retail shows in Las Vegas during the NFR, but Cowboy Christmas in our eyes is certainly the place to be.” The numbers support Dunlap’s contention: Last year, a record 231,517 people passed through the turnstiles during the 10-day Cowboy Christmas and RMEF Expo, traversing more than 900,000 square feet of exhibit space to peruse

goods from 400+ vendors. To put those figures in perspective, the inaugural Cowboy Christmas in 1986 was staged at the Tropicana Hotel and attracted 31,433 patrons and 52 vendors. One of those vendors was Carlos Silver, which like M.L. Leddy’s has had a presence at Cowboy Christmas since the beginning. Launched by Carlos Duarte in 1974, the California-based business produces custom sterling silver jewelry and buck-

les, as well as handmade leather-braided bracelets and signature watches. Duarte’s son, Carlos Jr., calls Cowboy Christmas “The Super Bowl of Western shopping,” but is quick to add that the 10-day show has meant much more to his family than just dollars and cents. “What has made our years successful is meeting new customers and seeing old friends,” Carlos Duarte Jr. says. “Over the years, many of our clients have grown in their lives and ca-


34 // reers and shared their success and stories with us at Cowboy Christmas. Many have gone to college, become Western professionals such as veterinarians, agriculture business men and women, and become cowboy and cowgirl legends. “Some, like three-time NFR all-around world champion Joe Beaver, stop by every year to visit.” Monique’s Leather, which specializes in authentic, custom-made

1

cowhides, has been exhibiting at Cowboy Christmas for more than two decades. Maria Sindoni, whose mother started the company in Houston in the early 1980s, agrees with Duarte that Cowboy Christmas is about more than processing as many transactions as possible. “We look forward to Cowboy Christmas each year, because we get to be with people who like and appreciate what we do, and we get to see old faces,” Sindoni says.

“Whether they buy or not is irrelevant. Obviously, we’re there to do business, but that’s not what it’s all about.” Another reason Sindoni says she enjoys her trip to Las Vegas each December is that only top-of-the-line vendors are selected to be part of Cowboy Christmas and the RMEF Expo. “The merchandise at that show, in terms of the quality and variety, is some of the best there is—and I’ve done shows all over the

country over the years,” she says. “It’s a nice mix of good merchandise.” Philip Smith of Steel Strike, which manufactures custom hand-crafted leather and wood furnishings, is another longtime Cowboy Christmas exhibitor. Launched 28 years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Steel Strike is now based in Buena Vista, Colorado, where Smith does most of his business throughout the year. However, that business

01.

A stunning amount of product is always found at the mega Cowboy Christmas and RMEF Hunter and Outdoor Christmas Expo.

02

Wrangler NFR fans love to “saddle up” at the Cowboy Christmas and RMEF expos each December.

Photo: All All by by Steve Steve Spatafore. Spatafore. Photo:

2


// 35 is usually conducted alongside architects and designers hired by homeowners who want Steel Strike to furnish their custom residences. When he takes over 14 booth spaces at the Las Vegas Convention Center in December, though, Smith gets rare direct contact with potential customers. “What I love about Cowboy Christmas is I actually get to meet the people, sit down with them, they get to know me, I get to know them,”

Smith says. “Then they come [to Colorado] and see us actually produce their pieces and see there’s nobody else who does what we do. “It’s just made it a lot more casual and personal. Plus, it’s not a high-pressure atmosphere like it tends to be at a World Market Center, where it’s always about business.” As enjoyable—and financially beneficial—as it is for retailers to be part of Cowboy Christ-

mas, there are logistical challenges to overcome. For instance, not only must many of the vendors uproot their businesses and make the trek to Las Vegas, but they have to do so during their busiest time of year. “We’re setting up at Cowboy Christmas over the Thanksgiving weekend. Well, that’s Black Friday—you’re supposed to be rocking and rolling in your stores,” says Dunlap of M.L. Leddy’s. “But during that time, we send a lot of

our product and a good number of our staff to Las Vegas. “The positive is we get to go to Las Vegas and find a whole new customer during that same time. So really, we’re getting two Christmases in one, because for 10 days in early December, we’re in Las Vegas at one of the most exciting events of the year seeing a new group of customers that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen during that time. It’s like an extra month of business.”


36 // Action: We are adding short descriptions of each exhibitor on the NFR App in addition to their location and general category listing. Fan request: We are tired of lugging around shopping bags the entire day.

We asked. You spoke. We listened.

W

e take a lot of pride in preparing a unique and exciting experience…the NFR Experience. To do that, we annually ask our fans: How are we doing? In December of 2016, immediately following the ten days of the Wrangler NFR and Cowboy Christmas, Las Vegas Events sent a survey to our fans. More than 4,000 fans and attendees responded. The responses quickly flowed in and our team met and immediately created a plan of action to take the Cowboy Christmas experience to another level. Fan request: Better food choices and shorter lines. Action: We are working to increase the number of food options during peak hours (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) which will reduce the lines for attendees. Many of the bar and food outlets within the lower level of the South Halls will be repositioned to allow for incremental seating.

Additional food and beverage outlets will be placed throughout the footprint of Cowboy Christmas, including a coffee and Danish outlet in the east lobby, a new bar and sandwich shop in Cowboy Christmas Too and portable stops for pizza and hot dogs conveniently placed on the main level. The restaurant in the west lobby will be re-

Fan request: More places to relax. Action: LVE will add more tables and seating in the east end near the Rodeo Live Stage presented by RODEOHOUSTON™ and Coors Rodeo Saloon. Bench seating will available for attendees off the main aisle of Cowboy Christmas. On the second floor, Cowboy Christmas Too will also have incremental areas to relax, including a Junior NFR live feed viewing area near the Wrangler Rodeo Arena, within the footprint of RMEF’s Hunter and Outdoor Christmas Expo. Fan request: Improved show information on Wrangler NFR related technology.

Fan request: We want more Junior NFR action. Action: The Junior NFR will now run for all ten days, December 7-16. Competitions will include Leal’s Junior Bull Riding, mini bareback riding, mini saddle bronc riding, junior steer wrestling, girl breakaway, total team roping, boys tie-down and girls barrel racing. In addition, we are creating an overflow viewing area for the Junior NFR on the second floor. Fan request: We want more Cowboy Christmas Too. Action: We are expanding the Cowboy Christmas Too footprint on the second floor adjacent to the RMEF’s Hunter & Outdoor Christmas Expo.

Photos: Steve Spatafore.

Fan Feedback

designed and ready for business at the start of Cowboy Christmas.

Action: A new bag check area will be a new feature and allow attendees the freedom to shop without carrying large items for the entire day.


38 //

Rodeo Reflections Hall of Famers Vold, Barrett will be missed dearly in Las Vegas By REID THOMPSON

M

moment he woke up until he went to sleep.

Within a span of 11 days in March, the rodeo world lost renowned stock contractor Harry Vold and revered announcer Hadley Barrett. Both left a void that will be tough to fill.

Barrett, a 1999 Hall of Fame inductee, worked the Wrangler NFR as an announcer four times, in 1968, 1976, 1979 and 1983. The Nebraskan died March 2 in Denver at the age of 87 after suffering heart failure.

Harry Vold

Hadley Barrett

Vold, one of only two contractors to provide stock to every Wrangler NFR, was one of the most respected men in rodeo. The 1994 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee, who was known affectionately as “The Duke of the Chutes,” died March 13 at the age of 93 at his home in Avondale, Colorado. The Canadian-born

cowboy was named PRCA Contractor of the Year 11 times and had seven different animals selected as PRCA Stock of the Year. Vold, who received the 2009 Legend of ProRodeo award in Las Vegas, was remembered by a group of 600 people at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on March 20. One of Vold’s favorite things was attending the Wrangler NFR, mainly because it gave him the chance to chatter constantly with those he respected about the sport he adored. “He loved going to Las Vegas,” said his daughter, Kirsten, who runs the family business. “He loved being at the South Point [Hotel & Casino], because everybody was there and he could visit with them. It was right up his alley to talk about bucking horses and all things rodeo from the

“You can’t ask for much more than that.”

The four-time PRCA Announcer of the Year (1983, 1985, 1989, 2002) also called the 1967 National Finals Steer Roping competition and seven Canadian Finals Rodeos during his illustrious career. A PRCA member since 1965, Barrett worked as a Wrangler NFR television announcer beginning in 1980 and was a valued mentor to numerous fellow announcers. Indeed, two great men will be missing from this year’s Wrangler NFR, and for those who admired them, the rodeo will never be the same. While gone, though, neither Vold nor Barrett will ever be forgotten.

Photo: Harry Vold courtesy of Vold Family; Hadley Barrett by Lyle Barwick.

emorial Night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is always a solemn occasion, one for reflection and reverence for those who have passed on to the arena in the sky. This year will be no different, especially since the tribute will include a salute to a pair of ProRodeo Hall of Famers with deep Wrangler NFR ties.


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40 // Harry Vold tagging his Bucking horse Red Pepper at the first NFR in Dallas in 1959.

As is customary, the Vold family will once again reunite at the 2017 Wrangler NFR— only this time, with heavy hearts. By REID THOMPSON

F

or many fans, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is more than just a rodeo. It’s an event that brings together loved ones every December to be part of one of the grandest spectacles in sports, a highlight on the calendar when they know where they’ll be and that they’ll be surrounded by family and friends.

The family patriarch, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Harry Vold, has provided stock at every Wrangler NFR since the event began in 1959. That will continue in 2017, when Harry Vold Rodeo Company’s legacy lives on

despite Harry’s passing on March 13 at the age of 93. Whether the Wrangler NFR was staged in Oklahoma City or Las Vegas, it has always been a gathering place if your last name is Vold. “It’s our family reunion, because that’s when everybody comes together,” says Dona Vold Larsen, the second-oldest of the five Vold children. “We’ve always had somebody’s little child on our laps

Photo: Courtesy of Vold Family.

Family Affair

This is particularly true for members of the Vold family, who travel from Canada, Colorado and Wyoming to work, play, reunite and celebrate the Western way of life they love so much.


42 // 1

01.

Harry Vold and son Wayne at NFR.

02

(L to R) Kirsten Vold with Marley and Christie McClary in the Vold family seats at the Thomas & Mack.

2

One of the “First Families of Rodeo,” the Volds have done more than just provide stock at the famous rodeo. They’ve worked as timers and pickup men, and been as much a part of its fabric as any other family. During the 10 nightly performances at the Thomas & Mack Center, it’s not difficult to locate

the Volds, as their 11 tickets in Section 105 have been the same since the event moved to Las Vegas in 1985. Each of the Vold children— Wayne, Dona, Doug, Darce and Kirsten—has two tickets apiece, and the family matriarch, Karen, has the 11th. That number coincidentally matches the number of PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year awards that Harry Vold—affectionately known as the “Duke of the Chutes”—won during his illustrious career. The tickets have long been Christmas gifts

from Harry and Karen to their kids, and virtually everyone in the family, young and old, has had the pleasure of seeing the rodeo from the “Vold section.” “It’s the same number of tickets and close to the same section as we had in Oklahoma City,” says Kirsten Vold, the youngest child who runs Harry Vold Rodeo Company from the family ranch in Avondale, Colorado. “In Oklahoma City, we were always on the righthand delivery behind the bucking chutes in the first two rows. So when [the NFR moved]

to Vegas, they tried to get everybody’s season tickets as close to what they had as possible.” As far as the Vold family is concerned, they’ve got the best seats in the house. “I love Las Vegas, but my very favorite thing is to just sit in my seat and watch every moment of that rodeo,” Darce Vold says. “It’s the best rodeo with the best competitors and stock. If I did nothing more than that, it would be worth the trip.” That’s not to say the Volds don’t get out and

Photos: Courtesy of Vold Family.

[at the rodeo], and it’s a tremendous family time and has been since we were children. We have experienced about every angle of it, and it’s always a thrill. There’s nothing like it.”


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44 // The whole Vold clan plus friends love every minute of the Wrangler NFR.

dad was there.” One specific night at this year’s rodeo is certain to produce some tears. “Memorial Night is going to be particularly tough,” Wayne Vold says. “Most every rodeo I go to now has a tribute for him. It’s nice, but it’s tough.

You can find the family at the PRCA Convention, the annual Benny Binion’s World Famous Bucking Horse & Bull Sale (which the Volds have helped grow), or the South Point’s Big Sur Oyster Bar during the day or one of the main casino-floor bars at night. “Dad liked to go to the Oyster Bar and have lunch with any of the Volds who were there,” says Wayne Vold, the eldest sibling who sings the Canadian national anthem on

Canada Night at the NFR. “He’d be downstairs having breakfast from about 6 a.m. until 11 a.m., just visiting with people, and I’d go down and have breakfast with him just about every morning.” Says Dona Vold Larsen: “We’re of Norwegian descent, and we meet yearly at the Oyster Bar and nearly run them out of oysters. It’s a family tradition.” Another tradition: arriving in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day, when they gather for a family dinner at the South Point’s Silverado Steak House. Other regular stops include Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center and P.F. Chang’s restaurant.

Of course, it’s not the locations that matter so much as the company they keep. “We try and spend as much time as we can together, because we might not see each other for six months or a year,” Darce Vold says. Harry Vold, who was born in Canada, was always the center of the family’s activities in Las Vegas. Needless to say, in the wake of his passing, there will be a much different feel to this year’s family reunion. “We have a huge hole in our hearts because we’ve lost our father,” Dona Vold Larsen says. “But we’re going to do our best to carry on and do the same things we did when

As tough as it will be to experience the NFR without their father, the Vold children are determined to carry the torch he lit nearly 60 years ago. In fact, Harry made certain that would be the case. “It’s certainly going to be different this year without my father,” Darce Vold says. “But in 2014, dad put in [his will] that this would continue on in a trust fund for hundreds of years to come. So we’ll all be sitting there together again, and we’ll continue on with the tradition for many, many more years—and many generations—to come. “As long as the rodeo is in Las Vegas, there will be some Volds sitting in those seats.”

Photo: Courtesy of Vold Family.

partake in all that Las Vegas offers during Rodeo Week. In fact, the family is often easy to bump into around town, especially at the unofficial family headquarters at Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa.

“He was a great guy and a great dad. He touched a lot of people.”


46 //

Staying in Touch In this day and age, there are many ways to stay connected to the world’s largest rodeo and the 10 best days of the year. Via several online portals, media partnerships and social media, here is a guide to where to find the latest and greatest about all things Wrangler NFR:

CLICK AND GO NFRExperience.com – The place for everything you need to know. Be sure to sign up for NFR e-lerts. NFRexperience.com/CowboyChristmas – A microsite dedicated to the world’s largest western lifestyle show. The NFR App – Launching on October 1 and is the perfect way to go mobile and stay in the know.

Wrangler Network – Visit WranglerNetwork.com for all details as the NFR will be featured throughout the content provided by the Wrangler Network. Fans will be able to see NFR-branded content online and through the streaming broadcasts of major rodeos, including the Calgary Stampede, Cheyenne Frontier Days, Sheridan Rodeo, Pendleton Stampede, Dodge City Roundup, WPRA World Finals and more. There will also be a tribute to the Wrangler NFR’s greatest moments with special video segments counting down to December.


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Rodeo Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes The 2016 Wrangler NFR through the words of the cowboys, cowgirls and fans By PATRICK EVERSON and BRIAN HURLBURT

R

yder Wright, a rookie saddle bronc rider in 2016, won five go-rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, including the first four in a row. The ringtone on his cellphone? Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero.” “I think the song really relates to what you do here,” Wright said. “All the lights, everybody yelling. I got a standing ovation one night when I got a noscore. That was weird, but awesome at the same time. It’s awesome to have fans like that.” Gizmo McCracken is one of rodeo’s funniest funnymen, and his crazy outfits will certainly catch your eye. But for comedic value, he said it’s hard for him to compete with what the youngsters wear these days in real life. “Have you been to the mall lately?” Gizmo asked. “You can almost wear anything anymore. People are wearing britches dragging on the ground, or they’re in a night coat

or their pajamas. Everybody’s wearing something funny, so it’s hard to be unusual anymore.” Flint Rasmussen talking about the humble beginnings and now must-see TV that is his “Outside the Barrel” show, which airs live each day from Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “Through the years, we’ve gone from something set up in the back corner here, just hoping people happen upon us, to now having people when they schedule their trip to Las Vegas, they make us part of the day,” Rasmussen said. “When people are coming here on purpose, that means we’re making their day better. That’s the goal.” Rodeo fan Richard Staloch, who with wife Kathy was at the Wrangler NFR for the 16th straight year in 2016, had perhaps the most unique answer to the question: What brings you back to the NFR every year?

“It’s a love story,” Staloch said. “Families love to be here, cowboys and cowgirls love to compete, everybody knows each other. You meet people you’ve never seen in your life, and then you’re friends with them right away.” Ted Kimzey, a renowned bullfighter/rodeo clown/ barrelman in his heyday, is now watching his bull-riding son take center stage, with Sage Kimzey, the three-time reigning world champion. “Everybody used to ask if he was my son,” Ted said. “Now, they ask if I’m his father. I don’t have a problem with it. I think that’s awesome as hell.” Barrel racer Mary Burger, to a roaring crowd at the 2016 Wrangler NFR after becoming the oldest world champion in history, at 68 years old. “God has his plan, and I liked his plan,” Burger said. There were numerous historic performances

in Las Vegas over the 10 nights, but no cowboy left town with a bigger smile than Junior Nogueira, a 26-year-old team roping header from Presidente Prudente, Brazil. He combined with his heeler, Kaleb Driggers, to place sixth in Round 10, which was enough to earn Nogueira the all-around gold buckle. Nogueira is the first Brazilian in PRCA history to win a gold buckle. Since 2002, there have now only been three different all-around champs - Nogueira joined Trevor Brazile and Ryan Jarrett. Jarrett’s title came in 2005. Bull rider Shane Proctor electrified the crowd for seven nights in a row when he successfully stayed on for the full eight seconds for each of the performances in true “Vegas Lucky 7” fashion. The 31-year-old rode for 85 points on Bar T Rodeo’s Broken Arrow in the seventh round to earn his second go-round win of the WNFR. “Man, I’ve just been lucky, I guess, and drew lucky,” Proctor said, whose streak ended the next night. “I had seen this bull a bunch, and felt pressured. Joe Frost won on him earlier this week, and it’s been a great week and I want to keep that going.”


A

celebration of history and equality is coming August 5 to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Randy Corley

Charmayne James

Legendary Ladies (and Men) 2017 ProRodeo Hall of Fame class is first to include WPRA members By REID THOMPSON

For the first time, members of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) will be among the inductees into the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based shrine. Joining the 12-member class of 2017 will be 11-time world champion barrel racer Charmayne James, 32-time world champion and seven-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Wanda Harper Bush and joint PRCA/WPRA equine inductee Star Plaudit “Red.” The decision to finally open the hall’s doors to WPRA members was embraced throughout the rodeo world, as the sport’s best female athletes will now be given their due alongside the other legends of the sport. It’s a cause for which Bush, who died in December 2015, long fought. “I am thrilled to be going in as part of the inaugural class [of WPRA legends] and what this represents for all barrel racers,” said James, who now lives in Boerne, Texas. “To be

going in with Wanda is exciting, because she was such a pioneer for our sport. Throughout my entire career, her presence and commitment to issues with [respect to] barrel racing were evident. She’s why we’re here today.” For James, the honor is particularly meaningful, as she’ll now be able to join her late horse, Scamper, who was inducted in 1996. “Scamper has just been waiting for me, and I was fine with that, because he really deserved the honor. This news made my entire day.” The trio of WPRA inductees will be enshrined along with 11-time PRCA Announcer of the Year Randy Corley, as well as world champions Buck Rutherford, Enoch Walker, Mike Beers and Cody Custer. Additional honorees will include 22-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Bob Ragsdale, four-time PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year Smith & Velvet of Christensen Brothers and the Ogden (Utah) Pioneer Days rodeo committee. Induction day will no doubt be a thrill for the inductees, their families and the sport in general, as deserving men and women are immortalized in the annals of history.

Photos: Charmayne James, courtesy of PRCA; Randy Corley by James Phifer.

50 //


52 //

“That was sensory overload,” said Lageschaar, Miss Rodeo Texas 2016. “It was over before I knew it, but it was so cool. It was just a wonderful experience. “I barrel race, and it inspired me to, once this year is over, work hard and hopefully come back and run down that tunnel on a barrel horse.”

It’s good to be the queen Lageschaar relishing time as Miss Rodeo America By REID THOMPSON

L

isa Lageschaar will never forget her first trip around the Thomas & Mack Center arena.

The newly minted Miss Rodeo America 2017 was introduced to the rodeo world with a flourish last December

The blonde Texan has thoroughly enjoyed her time as Miss Rodeo America 2017, an experience that has included trips to the sport’s top rodeos – the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, RodeoHouston and Rodeo Austin, to name a few – and an appearance at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. Each trip has had its hearttwarming moments for Lageschaar, and one-of-a-kind experiences she will remember for a lifetime await her at every turn. “There have been a lot of special moments,” said Lageschaar, who has a Master of Education in

Secondary Education from Stephen F. Austin State University and a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education from Tarleton State University. “One was being able to come back to Rodeo Austin in March, because I was Miss Rodeo Austin in 2014. It was special being there and being welcomed with open arms by that whole committee and people I’ve known there.” This year’s Wrangler NFR will be a whirlwind for the Pickton, Texas, native, who can’t wait to soak in every moment and be an integral part of it all. Whether it’s attending banquets, rodeo performances, buckle presentations or MRA pageant events, Lageschaar is ready for it all when the rodeo is in town December 7-16. “I love December in Las Vegas, because Las Vegas literally becomes a cowboy town,” she said. “It’s my favorite place to be that time of year, and this time it’s 10 times as exciting because I’m going to be a part of everything as Miss Rodeo America. Once the pageant starts, I’ll be consumed by that, the NFR and all of the banquets and things like the go-round buckle presentations, so I’m excited.”

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Rodeo America.

during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, following MRA 2016 Katherine Merck in a Grand Entry lap around the most famous rodeo arena on the planet. It all went by in a flash.


54 // Sage Kimzey

glove before each ride. I have to do that right before each performance.”

Secrets of Success Wrangler NFR world champs reveal their behind-the-scenes routines—or are they superstitions? By BRIAN HURLBURT

I

f your livelihood—and your life—came down to a few seconds on the dirt of a rodeo arena, you’d certainly do anything in your power to ensure your success and safety.

Such is the case for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s world-class competitors. To get a better sense for how cowboys get ready for competitions, we recently caught up with three world champions and asked them to share details of their pre-ride habits. Mostly, they call it their “routine.” You can decide for yourself if it’s more like a superstition. Let’s ride. Junior Nogueira 2016 All-Around World Champion (Team Roper and Tie-Down Roper) “I like to saddle my horse and make sure everything

is ready. Then I try to select the best rope to use that night. I carry a bunch of ropes in my rope bag and I swing ’em all, then I try to pick the best one. After

that, I go check out the chute, then I like to pray. I try to focus and concentrate, asking God to protect us all and look over us. I also tug and swing my

Tyson Durfey 2016 World Champion, Tie-Down Roping “Before competing, I always stretch, and while I’m stretching I get my mind focused, go into this tunnel vision and get ready to go. I don’t have any superstitions per se, but if I don’t get time to stretch, it definitely puts a kink in my plans. I believe that luck is nothing more than preparation meeting opportunity. But for the last decade, I have worn a pink shirt every time I’ve competed. If I didn’t wear it, I don’t think [competing and winning] would mean as much to me.” Note: Durfey wears pink as a remembrance and to raise awareness for those dealing with breast cancer.

Photo: Tom Donoghue.

Sage Kimzey 2014-2016 World Champion, Bull Riding “It’s not so much a superstition, but I have to have the exact same [process] each time, starting with arriving at the [arena] at a similar time every night. In a sport with so many variables, I try to remove as many of those variables as I can. I guess the only thing I am kind of superstitious about is that I need to have a cross around my neck at all times.”


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56 // deo action in the afternoon at Orleans Arena, and rodeo action in the evening at Thomas & Mack.

Bill Boyd shown participating in the official 2017 Wrangler NFR promotional photo shoot.

B

ill Boyd is an icon in Las Vegas and just as iconic in the rodeo world. Here are some of his best Wrangler National Finals Rodeo memories as told by the co-founder of Boyd Gaming. What is the first thing that comes to your mind about the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas? The National Finals Rodeo is one of the biggest and most exciting events we host all year. It is easily the biggest marketing event of the year for Boyd Gaming. I first moved to Las Vegas with my dad, Sam, back in 1941. NFR takes Las Vegas back to those early days, when it was a Western town, and a real cowboy town. In your opinion, how has the Wrangler NFR changed the landscape of Las Vegas during each December since moving to the city?

December used to be the slowest month of the year for Las Vegas, by far. Today, early December is one of the busiest times of year for our city.  We have the NFR to thank for that. Rodeo fans come from all over the country and the world to stay in our hotel rooms, eat at our restaurants, shop in our stores and play in our casinos. NFR is great for our business. And it’s a lot of fun for all of us!  Rodeo fans are just great people, and we love hosting them each year. Like I said earlier, seeing all of those cowboy hats takes me back to the early days of Las Vegas

when we were a real cowboy town. Why is supporting the Wrangler NFR so important to you personally and business wise? NFR is tremendously important to our business, and to our community. Each year, it has an economic impact of more than $110 million, not including what is spent in the casinos. At Boyd Gaming, we host thousands of customers every year at our hotels across Las Vegas during NFR. It’s really a huge event for us. And we keep doing our part to keep making Rodeo Week even bigger. The Boyd Gaming Chute-Out at Orleans Arena is a great example of that. Over the last two years, the ChuteOut has turned into a great complement to NFR – ro-

Who are your favorite competitors of all time? That’s really tough – there have been so many great competitors over the last 30 years. A couple of names that come to mind are Joe Beaver and Donnie Gay. They’re both eight-time champions, and have been real stars of the National Final Rodeo for so many years. We’ve seen a lot of great performances over the years, but competitors like Joe and Donnie really set the standard for excellence at NFR. I also don’t want to forget about the announcers, who are every bit as important in creating the NFR experience. It’s hard to imagine rodeo without announcers like Bob Tallman and Boyd Polhamus -- the voices of rodeo in Las Vegas.

Photo: Mark Damon, Las Vegas News Bureau.

Conversation with a Las Vegas legend: Bill Boyd

Personally, I think of NFR as my dad’s legacy. He played a big role in getting the rodeo to come to Las Vegas back in 1984, and making sure it got off to a great start. By supporting the NFR, I like to think we’re continuing the legacy my dad began more than 30 years ago


58 // we’re thrilled to produce an event like the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out that brings incredible athletes together under one roof and keeps fans on the edge of their seats,” says Tony Taeubel, Senior Vice President and General Manager of The Orleans. “We are still ridin’ for the fans in 2017, and look forward to being a part of rodeo week this December.”

Chutin’ It Out at The Orleans A purse of $200,000 is up for grabs in the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out at The Orleans Arena By BRIAN HURLBURT

L

as Vegas goes all-in with rodeo each December, and the number of events surrounding the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo grows each year. One such event that has exploded in popularity is the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out, which returns for a third consecutive year December 7-9 at The Orleans Arena adjacent to The Orleans Hotel and Casino. Competitors will ride and rope for a purse of $200,000. This is big-time rodeo with big-time stars taking part in a three-day afternoon competition held prior to the Wrangler NFR action down the road at the Thomas & Mack Center. In addition to offering more rodeo, the Boyd Gaming ChuteOut gives fans a chance to get up close and personal with the action that is held in the smaller venue of the Orleans Arena.

For the past two years, the Chute-Out has featured contests, nonstop action and participation from such world champion riders and ropers as Cody Ohl, Fred Whitfield, J.W. Harris, Cody Wright, Luke Branquinho and Wade Sundell. Expect more of the same this year. “As a longtime supporter of rodeo in Las Vegas,

Fans seeking a digitally interactive experience can download the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out mobile app, which was introduced in the event’s inaugural year. The platform provides fans with live scoring results, contestant bios, exclusive videos, information on events and instant access to the latest Chute-Out news. Another unique feature of the Boyd Gaming Chute-Out: Once again this year, it will be the only rodeo event listed in Boyd Gaming’s sportsbooks during Rodeo Week. For tickets and additional information on Chute-Out happenings and other Boyd Gaming events, visit BoydGamingEvents.com.

Photos: Boyd Gaming.

Says legendary rodeo announcer and Chute-Out ambassador Bob Tallman: “This is a hot, powerhouse type of performance. The Orleans Arena is a magical place, and this is a great way to rodeo.”


60 //

Roping Front and Center The lucrative World Series of Team Roping event in Las Vegas features a purse of more than $10 million and weekend rodeo warriors compete for some of it. By BRIAN HURLBURT

The big-money event, which returns to South Point Hotel & Casino and other venues December 11-17, is the culmination of a season in which team ropers of various skill levels compete for $70 million annually. “I have great pride in this event,” says World Series of Team Roping founder Denny Gentry, whose spectacle comes on the heels of the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “Certainly, the

racing industry is the big dog, but this is not a recreational horse event. Over the course of the season, the $70 million distributed to ropers exceeds the combined total of nearly every other horse discipline, and that is huge. “We have created an environment where a weekend, occasional warrior can compete for well over a million dollars in purse money, every day for six to seven days straight.” The 12th annual World Series, which is free to the public, is the culmination of a year in which 100,000 teams battle it out in 140 sanctioned competitions in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic. The top money winners in

multiple categories punch their tickets to Las Vegas. While the South Point Arena & Equestrian Center is home base during the weeklong World Series, it’s not quite big enough to accommodate all the horses and competitors, forcing spillover to other facilities. But even the auxiliary venues have reached their capacity, forcing Gentry to cap the competition. “There are no new changes this year because we have maxed out the ability of the [South Point] and temporary facilities to handle more horses and vehicles,” Gentry says. “Our efforts from this point forward will be to offer better service and do our best to make the experience fun for the contestants.”

Gentry acknowledges that the jam-packed schedule can be overwhelming to fans and competitors, because no matter the time of day, an exciting event is taking place somewhere. “These roping events run 12 hours a day for seven days in a row, and even the most focused enthusiast can quickly overdose,” says Gentry, who crowned 902 different winners in 2016. “However, all the hardcore fans show up at noon each day and watch the money rounds. These one-hour short rounds are exciting, because more than $1.5 million is awarded daily.” For additional information on the 2017 World Series of Team Roping, visit WSTRoping.com.

Photo: World Series of Team Roping.

E

pic just begins to describe the annual World Series of Team Roping event held in Las Vegas each December. With a total purse north of $10 million, it’s the second richest equestrian competition on the planet, trailing only the Breeders’ Cup horse races.


62 //

Hangin’ at the Mack Watching the nightly rodeo is just one part of an immersive Wrangler NFR experience at the Thomas & Mack Center By BRIAN HURLBURT

“From the minute fans set foot on the Thomas & Mack Center grounds, they know they’re part of a mega-event similar to the Super Bowl or Final Four, and it’s important for us to make sure that’s the case each night,” says Tim Keener, vice president of event and ticket operations for Las Vegas Events, which sponsors the Wrangler NFR. “I visualize the Thomas & Mack WNFR experience from the fan’s point of view and want it to be memorable. No detail is too large or small. From the huge signage at the Thomas & Mack to how fans exit the resort shuttles or other transportation, it’s our goal that each fan immediately understands they’re walking into an immersive Wrangler NFR experience. We encourage people to come early, stay late and enjoy it all.”

The ProRodeo Zone is where fans will find official Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sponsors—such as RAM Trucks, Coors and Polaris Ranger—with interactive exhibits featuring giveaways, contests and more. It’s also the first touch point for fans who arrive via resort shuttle or other hired transportation. Among the other offerings are a live stage, as well as a country and western dance hall. The NFR Fan Zone is positioned immediately outside of the front entrance of the arena and is the perfect spot to meet friends prior to the rodeo, then grab some good food and drink from vendors that have become fan favorites over the years. Specialties include homemade barbecue, grilled corn and a grated and smothered potato concoction that defies description. Once inside the arena, fans are greeted with more hospitality and entertainment options. Many will favor spending time in the Cowboy Corral, where libations are available at the Cowboy Corral saloon and country music acts handpicked by Las Vegas

Events and Wrangler NFR staff perform. Relatively new to the T&M’s offerings is The ’Shoe, an entertainment venue that overlooks the Las Vegas Strip. Entering its second year, The ’Shoe is the home of CBS Sports Network’s televised pre-rodeo show, as well as championship saddle displays, a Resistol hat cleaning booth, a saloon and a lounge setup with couch and other comfortable seating. For those who appreciate rodeo history, the Hall of Champions, now located at the Bull ’n Barrel Saloon, is the perfect spot to read about some of the top competitors in Wrangler NFR history. Like at The ’Shoe, a custom Western saloon experience is offered in the Bull ‘n Barrel area. “We are always looking for new ideas that will enhance the experience for the rodeo fan while attending that evening’s competition,” Keener says. “We have a staff with more than 100 years of event experience, and we think about the Wrangler NFR— and how to make it special—365 days a year.”

01.

The NFR Fan Zone features down home food and libations.

02.

Dancing and drinking in the Cowboy Corral is a pre and post-rodeo tradition for many fans.

Photo: Courtesy Photos: Steve Spatafore. of Thomas & Mack Center.

I

t’s been detailed throughout this publication how Las Vegas goes cowboy for 10 days each December. That includes the Thomas & Mack Center, where fans are invited to arrive early for the nightly goround action and stay late, all the while enjoying an incredible Western lifestyle experience featuring food, drinks, concerts, interactive vendors and much more.


// 63 1

THE THOMAS & MACK EXPERIENCE Here is a guide to what to expect inside and out of rodeo’s biggest annual event. Aside from the ProRodeo Zone and NFR Fan Zone, a Wrangler NFR ticket for that performance is required for entry. OUTSIDE ProRodeo Zone •

PRCA national interactive sponsors come to life

RAM Trucks

Coors

• •

Polaris Ranger NFR Express (resort shuttle program situated just outside this area)

Various other sponsors

NFR Fan Zone •

Numerous food & beverage vendors

• Official NFR merchandise • Ticket office

2

Las Vegas Events sponsor booths

INSIDE Cowboy Corral •

Live music (nightly before and after each performance)

• •

Custom western saloon experience Viewing party (each performance is broadcast live on a video board)

The ‘Shoe •

CBS Sports pre-show

Championship saddle display

Resistol Hat cleaning booth

VIP parties

Live viewing (on video board)

Lounge setup (seating with couches, etc.)

Custom western saloon experience

Dramatic views of Las Vegas Strip

Bull ‘N Barrel Saloon •

Hall of Champions

Custom western saloon experience


64 //

Karl in Charge PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman, who was key in securing a $175 million agreement to keep the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas through 2024, is riding into retirement By BRIAN HURLBURT

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t was public knowledge that during negotiations for a new contract between Las Vegas and the PRCA that it was a possibility the largest rodeo in the world might leave Las Vegas, much to the disappointment of fans, contractors and most competitors. But that was averted due to the efforts of several key people including PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman, who has announced that he is retiring December 31 after nine years at the helm.

“I sat down in the commissioner’s chair for the first time in September 2008, and I made a promise to myself that I would give my very best efforts each and every day to improve the sport of Professional Rodeo,” Stressman said. “I made myself another promise that I would stay at the PRCA as long as I enjoyed the job. Well, it’s time to say goodbye. I will be retiring at the end of 2017, after completing my 10th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as Commissioner of the PRCA.” Stressman also played a major role in negotiating a television broadcast agreement with CBS Sports Network through 2019 and successfully protected the organization’s rights to provide equal opportunity to all association members and not just a select few athletes. In addition, he accepted fiduciary responsibility for generating substantial cash reserves for the organization while returning nearly 90 percent of all income generated to

benefit members and membership services. As for Las Vegas, Stressman believed the future was as bright as the lights on the Strip upon signing the new agreement. “This is truly a historic day for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the sport of professional rodeo,” Stressman said in 2014. “… 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.” Even as he plans his departure, Stressman has put into place a future path that will allow for the PRCA’s top rodeos to gain even more prominence. The PRCA membership will profit as the organization enters into new digital content opportunities. “It has been an amazing run, but certainly not without a few battle scars,” he said. “It has been my privilege to have had the opportunity to serve the members, our committees, our great sponsors and the best fans in the sporting world. I thank you all for the opportunity! Long Live Cowboys!”

Photo: Brian Q Gauck.

Under his stewardship, the PRCA has enjoyed phenomenal growth, much of it buoyed with the signing of the record $175 million contract that kept the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas through 2024.


66 //

Her plans worked to perfection and a dizzying schedule of 52 rodeos through the end of June paid off in many ways. Now her goal is to keep the #1 back number position. When she and her main horse (JSYK Im Famous) gallop out of the Thomas & Mack tunnel, it will mark Schuster’s first-ever appearance in the Wrangler NFR.

Straight out of Texas

Tiany Schuster is in the Wrangler NFR for the first time and is the earliest qualifier in history By BRIAN HURLBURT

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y March 6, Tiany Schuster had already earned $72,637, an all-time World Championship Barrel Racing record. She had doubled that amount by July 11 to $163,433, and she still had a summer of rodeoing ahead of her. She was $70,000 ahead of the second-place racer, Kathy Grimes.

“With Las Vegas and the NFR a secure stop in the future, the first thing that comes to my mind is the overall accomplishment,” Schuster says. “How many dream and try to get there? The greatest of the great horses have gone down the alley there. JSYK Im Famous is the mount of choice for the NFR and we are anxiously awaiting his moment to go down that alley. So, my thoughts of Vegas and the NFR are that dreams will be made, disappointments will happen, but remember we all were, and are, good enough to get there.”

2017 Highlights • Only racer to earn 5 Champions Challenge checks - 3 wins, 2 seconds • Won Ramona Rodeo (Ramona, California) • Won Red Bluff Champions Challenge (Red Bluff, California) • Won the short go-round Fort Worth Stock and Rodeo (Fort Worth, Texas) • 2nd at National Western Stock Show and Rodeo (Denver, Colorado) • Won the Wrangler Champions Challenge (Rapid City, S.D.) • Won the Guadalupe County Fair & PRCA Rodeo (Seguin, Texas) • 2nd at the WPRA World Finals card holder race (Waco, Texas) • 2nd at Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair PRCA Rodeo

2016 Highlights • Won the year-end title at the Texas Circuit Finals • Won the Laramie (Wyo.) Jubilee Days • Won the Butterfield Stage Days PRCA Rodeo (Bridgeport, Texas) • Won the Bandera (Texas) Pro Rodeo • Won the Panola County Cattlemen’s Rodeo (Carthage, Texas) • Won the Johnson County Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo (Cleburne, Texas) • Won Southeastern Livestock Expo (Montgomery, Ala.) • Won the Goliad (Texas) County Fair & Rodeo • Won the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show & Rodeo (Mercedes, Texas)

Photo: RNCFR.

“Qualifying is life changing, plain and simple,” Schuster says. “I had set out with a goal and a plan. These two things are what helped to set money earning records week after week and month after month. Those earnings have secured the first ever spot in the NFR out of the winter rodeos. No guy or girl has ever accomplished that. They all said it couldn’t be done, but look at the numbers. Welcome to the new standard.”


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