LOVINGTON, N.M. – A tour system was established in ProRodeo more than a decade ago to showcase some of the greatest events in the sport.
It continues today and is a major drawing card for cowboys and cowgirls who make their livings traveling the rodeo trail. The Wrangler Million Dollar Tour features 25 rodeos that offer lucrative payouts. More money means more big named contestants, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Enter the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 11 at Jake McClure Arena. It is one of three tour rodeos taking place that week, joining Hermiston, Ore., and Sikeston, Mo.
“For us being so far away from all the other rodeos this time of year, I think it’s a big draw for us to get most of the top 15 contestants in here,” said Greg Massey, chairman of the rodeo committee. “There are a lot of rodeos that weekend, and there aren’t many in our area. With today’s economy, contestants are trying to travel as little a distance as possible and still make as much money as possible.”
With Lovington nestled in southeast New Mexico, the bulk of ProRodeos take place in the Northwest. But the tour is a major drawing card for the contestants.
“We wanted the best cowboys and cowgirls to come to our rodeo, not just consider it,” said Dean Jackson, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “We were having problems with contestants turning out, and we wanted to remedy that.”
A turn-out happens when a contestant enters the competition, then opts out. The tour provides the incentive for the contestants to be in Lovington.
“Since we’ve become a tour rodeo, we’ve seen a significant decrease in turn-outs,” Jackson said. “Part of that has to do with having Carr Pro Rodeo as our stock contractor, and he brings the animals the guys want to get on. The other thing that’s helped is that we’ve got the back-to-back format, where the timed-event contestants can get in and get out in the same day. If they can come in and do both their runs and leave, they’re happy.
“We’ve had good contestants. We’re getting most of the top guys, and you can’t complain about that one bit.”
The top guys don’t complain about making it to Lovington, either. In rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestant in each event who finishes the season with the most money earned is crowned world champion. The tour is built around rodeos with big-money payouts, so it’s all very attractive to the sport’s biggest names as well as its rising stars.
“I won this rodeo two times before, in ’04 and ’07,” said Clint Cooper, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier who graduated from Lovington High School. “It’s real important for me to win this rodeo. Now it’s part of the (Wrangler Million Dollar) tour, so that’s a big deal, too. There’s only one more tour rodeo left, so this rodeo is going to draw all the top guys, that’s for sure.”
A year ago, Cooper finished second at the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, earning almost $3,200 in the process. Those dollars helped him get to Las Vegas, where he won a go-round and placed in four others. In all, he earned $48,269 at the 2011 NFR.
How big was New Mexico’s only tour stop last year? Of the 10 event champions crowned (including ties) in Lovington last August, seven qualified for the NFR – bareback riders Brian Bain and Will Lowe, steer wrestler Dean Gorsuch, team ropers Clay Tryan and Travis Graves, steer roper Trevor Brazile (who won the steer roping and all-around titles last year) and bull rider Chandler Bownds.
“I like to make money, but to win a rodeo is something special,” said Bain, who parlayed his Lea County title into his trip to Vegas as a qualifier.