HONEYVILLE, Utah – When Tim Bingham first started riding bucking animals, he knew he wanted to wear the gold buckle given to world champions.
He was about 9 years old at the time, and he’s been dreaming about it ever since. Bingham will have another chance this December when he competes for the third time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.
“When you win the gold buckle, that’s the best you could do in the lifestyle I chose to live,” said Bingham, 26, of Honeyville. “To get the very top dog award that I could possibly ever achieve would be amazing. It’s something I’m going to continue to try to do.”
He’ll have his chance to reach for his dream over 10 nights in the Nevada desert. Bingham finished the 2017 regular season with a little more than $106,000 and sits seventh in the world standings as he prepares for the NFR.
That’s because it’s the world’s biggest rodeo with a purse of $8 million, with go-round winners pocketing $26,000 a night. A year ago, Bingham placed in just two-rounds, but both were runners-up. He earned more than $50,000. What makes the money more important is that dollars equal points, and the contestants in each event who finish with the most money earned will earn that coveted gold buckle.
“Vegas is the coolest time of year for us,” he said. “You need to enjoy being there and being one of the top guys. In bull riding, more than any other event in rodeo, things change for the good and the bad there on a daily basis.
“Consistency is what figures out your world champion. That’s what ultimately decides how much money you can make in a year.”
That’s actually been the driving force in his return to Las Vegas. That’s important in any event, but it’s vital in bull riding. Failure happens more often than success for most cowboys, even those that’ll play for the biggest pay in the game. The bulls weigh anywhere from 1,400 to 1,800 pounds; Bingham is 5-foot-6, 140 pounds.
So, the animals are at a distinct advantage. Throw in that the bulls are quite athletic, so it takes an equally athletic cowboy to stay atop for a qualifying eight seconds.
“I think the key to this year was that I had the confidence, even when I got to the rodeos, that I was going to stay on,” said Bingham, who credits part of his success to his sponsors, Nocona Boots and Redd Roofing. “I rode a little more consistent. I was also winning money all through the year, instead of having hot streaks and cold streaks.
“I was more even keel, whereas a lot of times before I would have really big ups and really big downs.”
That proved beneficial. He earned at least a share of the title at 10 rodeos, including in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Tremonton, Utah, which is just 10 miles from his house. It marked the second straight year he claimed the championships there.
“The ride in Tremonton was probably my favorite ride of the year,” he said of the late August rodeo, where he scored 91.5 to take the title. “That was awesome, because I was 92 points there last year. To win both those rodeos in back-to-back years was awesome, because it was almost identical to what I did the year before.
“Plus, the big scores in Tremonton were huge for me. Mentally, if you break 90 (points), that’s a boost to your confidence. It’s an achievement that all bull riders shoot for every time, but it’s rare. It’s hard to be 90.”
Shooting for the best is something he’s always done. He was an all-around athlete growing up in West Haven, Utah, competing in soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball and track. But he took to rodeo, which is a little strange considering his upbringing. While his dad, Sherm, has always been around horses, he wasn’t into rodeo. Neither was his mom, Gaile.
But Tim and younger brother Tyler were. They had friends that competed in rodeo, so they started tagging along. The next thing they knew, their father was buying steers and heifers for the boys to ride. Before long, the family had a string of 20 mini bucking bulls, and things took off for both the Bingham boys.
While Tim is a three-time NFR qualifier, Tyler, 24, finished the 2017 campaign 18th in the world standings – just three spots away from joining his older brother among the top 15 and qualifying for the NFR.
“Neither my mom or dad was into it, but when Tyler and I were learning about it, Mom and Dad were there learning with us,” Bingham said. “We started with no clue at all, and Mom and Dad made it all possible. They went full bore. They tried to provide us with every chance we could get.”
It worked, and now they get to enjoy seeing their son on the biggest stage in the game. They join the boys’ big sister, Tiffanie, in being some of their biggest supporters.
Family is big to Bingham. He travels the rodeo trail with Tyler, and he understands how important their support is in his career. He knows they’ll be there through every ride in Las Vegas.
“I think the key to winning in Vegas is putting in the work before you get there, being committed and staying focused through this little bit of time off so that you know what your goal is,” he said. “Once you get there, you have to put in the effort to be successful.
“You’ve also got to have a little bit of luck.”
There are no guarantees in rodeo, and Bingham knows that as well as anyone. But come December, he’ll have 10 nights to make everything work.
“I’d rather buck off 10 in Vegas than not make Vegas,” he said with a laugh. “With 10 nights, they keep giving you chances. As long as you stay positive, it’ll work out for you.”
Though he suffered a bone contusion in one of his legs late in the season, he has been working out and preparing every day for the opportunities that lie before him. This is an opportunity to cash in. More importantly, it’s his shot at that coveted world championship.
“I’m going into this finals more in shape than I did the first two years I made it,” Bingham said. “The NFR brings a level of excitement that you don’t see anywhere else. Your heart is pumping and the excitement is there. The NFR vs. other rodeos is tremendous difference, but in a good way.”
Bingham plans to take the same approach to each bull at the NFR as he has all season. He realizes the stakes are higher, but this is his job.
And he’s good at it.