BIG SPRING, Texas – Skipper Driver wouldn’t like this.
In his 67 years, the stories were never about Driver, a cowboy from the day he was born on Nov. 23, 1943, to the day he died, April 20, 2011. No, the stories were to be about everyone else. But that’s what’s great about Driver.
That’s what’s great about rodeo.
Driver represented the third generation of his family to serve on the board for the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo, set this year for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16-Saturday, June 18. He was its heart and soul.
“Skipper had done something the rest of us would like to do, to be known for, and that’s being a good man,” said Mike Mathis, a ProRodeo announcer who has been the voice of the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo for many years. “He did what he loved. He loved rodeo.
“I do 40-plus events a year, so you meet all kinds of people all over the country. Skipper was that guy that made you truly look forward to getting to Big Spring.”
Many in the rodeo world felt that way, from rodeo cowboys to sponsors to folks around the community.
“This rodeo was a family deal for them,” said Ace Berry, president of the rodeo committee that produces the annual event. “It started with is granddad, then his dad, then him. Now his son is on the board.
“Skipper has helped many kids rodeoing through the years. His father ran the board for years and years, then he took over and ran it until last year.”
What made Driver special?
“He was a great rodeo man who put his heart and soul into the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo,” said Pete Carr, owner of Carr Pro Rodeo, the primary stock contractor. “What he said was his word, and that’s a great trait to have.”
In fact, the committee will open this year’s rodeo with a Dollar Night on Thursday, where fans can get in the gates for $1. All proceeds will be donated to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, an endowment established to help cowboys and cowgirls make ends meet when injuries are keeping them away from the arena and unable to earn money through the competitive nature of rodeo.
The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund was important to Driver, who worked hard to promote and produce his local rodeo.
“He took his responsibilities to heart,” Mathis said. “He didn’t want anything to happen to that event. He wanted to make it the best rodeo.”
And, it seems, he handled many duties single-handedly.
“I don’t feel pressure, but I feel uncertainty,” Berry said about taking the reins from Driver in overseeing the volunteer committee. “There are so many things that he did that nobody else knew about. I got a phone call from a pastor about the invocation. I didn’t even think anything about that, because that was something he took care of every year.
“Skipper was a really good man that you could talk to about anything. I’m kind of a transplant here since 1980, and he’s been around here all his life. If you had a question about someone, he knew it.”
That’s something Mathis leaned on over the years. From the time they met decades ago to the day Driver died, there were plenty of terrific stories involving rodeo.
“If there was anything going on at the rodeo level, Skipper would call,” Mathis said. “We visited a lot about Big Spring and things we could do here or things we could do there. He lived and breathed about making that rodeo successful.”
Oftentimes, success is in the eyes of the beholder, and those close to the Big Spring rodeo know the work involved to make it an extravaganza every June. It’s one reason the rodeo committee hired Carr and his crew four years ago to help produce the event.
“The one thing Skipper really liked in Pete Carr was that what Pete told him, he could take to the bank, that he was honest,” Mathis said. “Skipper was appreciative of that. He had a great deal of faith and confidence in Pete.”
That conviction was reciprocated by those who knew Driver best.
“Skipper Driver was the first man that I spoke with about putting on the rodeo in Big Spring,” Carr said. “He didn’t know me from Adam, but he took a chance on me and our new company, and I will never forget that. You see, Big Spring was the first ProRodeo the Carr Pro Rodeo ever produced. Although it didn’t start out so well; our very first performance was rained out until 10 o’clock the next morning. Fortunately, we finished strong that year and have been working with them ever since.
“I always looked forward to coming to Big Spring each year. It’s the only place that the head committee man actually let’s me play on his golf team. But what I will really miss are the times we met at the finals every year for lunches at the Orleans Hotel to discuss a number of topics, like rodeo, business in general and particularly life. Whether, I needed a father, an older brother or just a friend to visit with, Skipper was always available. He will be truly missed by me and everyone in our rodeo family.”