Wednesday, November 1, 2006
By Kevin Carmody
First, steer roper Marty Jones made a few calls, took a plan to his county commissioners and helped lay the foundation to get the National Finals Steer Roping a new home in Hobbs, N.M.
For an encore, Jones, a lifelong resident of this southeastern New Mexico city of some 40,000, is competing in the event, which is bringing ProRodeo's top 15 steer ropers to the "Land of Enchantment" and will crown a world champion on Nov. 4 following the two-day, 10-round event.
Look at the top of the standings and several familiar names will stick out. There's three-time world champion all-around cowboy Trevor Brazile (Decatur, Texas). Leading by some $17,000, Brazile is shooting for his first single-event world title and, hopefully, to kick off a historic month in which he'll try to not only win his fourth all-around crown, but also to claim world titles in tie-down roping (currently ranked second) and team roping heading (ranked 12th).
There's the incomparable Guy Allen who, for many years, called nearby Lovington home. With a PRCA-record 18 world steer roping titles and an eye-boggling 30 consecutive qualifications, "The Legend" returns to the area as a longshot in seventh place, but nonetheless as a pioneer of the sport, still roping with the best of them at age 48.
Two more previous champs highlight the list in reigning titleholder Scott Snedecor (Uvalde, Texas) and Buster Record Jr. (Buffalo, Okla.), whose 2002 world title stopped Allen's 11-year winning streak and only briefly interrupted his run toward Jim Shoulders' longstanding record of 16 world titles.
Look farther down the standings. There, at No. 15, is Jones.
Having helped pitch the idea gave this 40-year-old cowboy a reason to believe that if the event could take place in the Lea County Event Center, he could be there too, as a competitor instead of pushing steers behind the chutes.
He ended the regular season just $362 ahead of 16th-ranked J. Paul Williams (Burbank, Okla.), giving Jones his 13th and, perhaps, most cherished qualification.
"That was added incentive," Jones said from his family-owned Bootsie's Western Store, started by his late mother in 1973. "I'm not going to lie. Having the Finals here was the only reason I tried to make it. But I admit that I got lucky. I got off to a slow start and didn't think I had the horsepower to make it. I'm in the game now, and I'm really glad to be there. Everything now is a bonus."
Jones said he received a call from fellow roper J.B. Whatley (Gardendale, Texas) earlier this spring, informing him that the NFSR would no longer be held in Amarillo, Texas, its home from 2001-05. Whatley then asked Jones if his hometown could cater to ProRodeo's elite steer ropers and bring a championship event back to New Mexico the NFSR got its start in the northeastern town of Clayton from 1959-60.
That got the ball rolling and things headed in the right direction. The rest, as they say, is history.
The event's $162,500 purse is a 25 percent increase from last year.
"I made a few phone calls and took it to the commissioners," Jones said. "Look at us now. The pulse here is crazy. Our VIP tickets are going so fast that we're nearly sold out a month ahead of time, and our reserve tickets are going fast, too. Hobbs has a race track and casino right across from the Event Center, so we're hoping for a good crowd from that as well."
As the days count down to the event, city officials are making last-minute adjustments to what they hope is a weekend that will be talked about and remembered for some time.
"We want to fill the stands and put on a good show," said Rick Bruce, the Lea County manager. "It's been our goal to put on the best one ever. We're going to have a laser light show, we've rented a stagecoach and have Miss Rodeo America coming in. We want to make this event a non-cowboy might enjoy, too. Lea County is big rodeo country. Cowboys love coming to rope here."