FAIRVIEW, Mo. – There’s a gleam that shines across Dale McCracken’s face.
It’s not about his first major ProRodeo award, the 2017 Comedy Act of the Year, but it could be. It’s not about his being in the hunt to be the barrelman for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but it could be.
No, McCracken’s twinkle arrives as he talks about the loves of his life, his wife, Janice, and their brood, and his faith in God. Nothing “Gizmo” McCracken has ever done in the rodeo arena will bring a bigger smile to his face than discussing Cassie and Mandy, their husbands and their children.
They’ve enriched his life in so many ways, and they’ve been a big part of the family business.
“They’ve always been a part of what we do,” he said of his daughters. “Now they’ve got two kids apiece.”
Those kids – Cassie and Jeremy Crouch have Brimley and Raeley, while Mandy and Jimmy Evans have Bronc and Jaylen – are now the next phase of what the McCracken family hopes to do with his rodeo comedy. He travels the country – and even the world – as a rodeo funnyman and entertainer, and this year, he was recognized as the best in the business.
“I’m honored to be in that crowd,” he said of the other four entertainers that were nominated with him: Bert Davis, David Whitmoyer, Johnny Dudley and Mark Swingler. “There are some great acts out there.”
He knows. McCracken first began his funny business 41 years ago as a 15-year-old high-schooler, building acts while studying agriculture. He’s been part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1992. This is just the first time in his distinguished career he has received a PRCA award.
“You always hope you’re going to win,” McCracken said. “Everybody wants to win something like that. The first couple of years I was nominated, I was hopeful. I was a little jittery. Then we had a dry spell for a few years that we weren’t even nominated.
“Last year (in 2016) I was nominated for Clown of the Year and comedy act. I had gotten a little numb to not winning. I felt like I was past my shot at winning it.”
He wasn’t, and the moment he was called to the stage to be presented with his award, he had Janice, Mandy and Cassie by his side.
“We used them in our act when we first started,” he said of his girls. “As soon as they could walk in the arena, they would doddle in there with a guitar or something, and we’d do some little music act.”
He even got to unveil a long-time trophy he’d been keeping as another gag or gizmo that helps make his comedy what it is.
“That little roll of adding-machine tape had become a joke in our family,” McCracken said. “The first couple of years we were nominated, I thought I’d take that up there if I won, because I’m a comedy act and I’m supposed to do something funny. I figured I’d take it up on stage and reel it out to thank all these people.
“Then I’d take it back home and set it up on the desk like a trophy.”
Now he’ll be able to wrap it around his Montana Silversmiths trophy buckle as a reminder of what resilience and faith can do. It wasn’t but a few years ago that McCracken watched so much around him crumble. Gizmo’s Event Center, a complex he had dreamed about creating, was unable to sustain.
“That’s amazing how God works,” he said. “I’ve worked all my life to make things happen, and I went in way over my head. We lost a lot of things and had to start over. When you’re down to nothing, and the only thing you’ve got is God, it comes down to you and God.
“I said, ‘OK, you’ve got my attention.’ And that’s when it started over.”
He was first nominated for Comedy Act of the Year in 2002, then returned in 2005. He wasn’t part of the landscape until 2014 and hasn’t left the scene since.
God definitely got his attention.
“We put everything we’ve got into this,” McCracken said. “For a handful of folks to acknowledge that, it’s just amazing. It was awesome to have the kids and Janice there with me.”
But there’s no place else for Janice McCracken to be. They’ve been married for 38 years, and they’ve made every step in this rodeo career together.
“In this business, it’s tough, but we always go together,” he said. “She is my rock. Between her, the kids and God, we can do anything.”
That’s exactly what faith and love can do, and that’s reason enough for McCracken’s gleam.