LAS VEGAS – It took D.V. Fennell 15 years for his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
His second trip to Sin City took just 12 months.
The Neosho, Mo., bareback returns to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which features the top 15 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association contestants in each event, based on their finish from the regular season. In Fennell’s case, he’ll get the chance to ride the nastiest bucking horses in the business during the NFR, set for Dec. 2-11 in Las Vegas. The broadcasts will air on the ESPN networks.
“The best part is knowing that you’re going to the NFR,” said Fennell, 37, who turned pro in 1994. “That’s what you work for all year long. It’s nice to see a return on your investment. There are a lot of guys and girls that rodeo all year long, and they don’t get that in the end.
“To get to nod your head with the best players and the best stock is just great. You eat cake all year, and you get the icing at the end.”
This season, Fennell has earned $64,485, finishing the regular season No. 15 in the world standings – in rodeo, dollars not only pay bills, but they are also championship points; the contestant in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the full season is crowned world champion. A season ago, Fennell won about $61,000 at the NFR alone, earning nearly $131,000 in 2009, good enough for ninth place in the final world standings.
“For me, I couldn’t have done this without all the support I have, like from my wife, Julie, and my friends and Eric Norris,” he said, referring to the Neosho State Farm Insurance agent who has sponsored Fennell this season. “When you got people like that watching your back, you can do a lot of good things.”
Fennell travels more than 100,000 miles a year on the rodeo trail, hauling from one rodeo to another with Steven Peebles, Jared Smith and Justin McDaniel. All four cowboys made the NFR in 2009, and all but Smith are part of this year’s finale – Smith finished No. 16 in the world standings, one spot out of playing for the biggest pay in ProRodeo.
“D.V. has been there the whole way with me,” said McDaniel, the 2008 world champion. “We lift each other up. When he wins, it feels like I’m winning. I wouldn’t travel with someone who is not a winner.
“D.V. has helped me so much in being dirty tough. He’s the one that took me to the next level.”
Fennell feels the same way about McDaniel, who is 13 years younger. But he is rejuvenated Smith and Peebles, too, both of whom are in their early 20s.
“Steel sharpens steel,” Fennell said. “You take four guys that rodeo all year long, and we make each other bring their best game. With that caliber of guys, even though it’s about being a winner, it’s something you feed off all year.”
And for Fennell, those years of dreaming about winning a world champion’s gold buckle are still alive. He knows he will have to conquer many challenges, from tangling with the top bucking beasts for 10 days to handling his business in and out of the arena. But they are the challenges he craves.
“Shoot, this is what I love to do,” he said. “I’ll just go at ’em and see what happens.”