One of the hottest tailgate topics lately is how tough times are getting at the highest level of team roping out on the rodeo trail.
The San Angelo (Texas) Rodeo is in full swing, and it’s a perfect example of the roping community’s comments on this subject. The current leaders in both the first and second rounds at San Angelo were 3.6—as in three-tenths of a second off of Chad Masters and Jade Corkill’s 3.3-second world record.
Just how low will team roping times go? I couldn’t think of a better brain to pick than that of the only guy ever to win eight gold heading buckles, Speed Williams.
“I think it can get faster,” says Speed, who won 28 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo go-rounds in his reign of team roping terror. “When you have soft steers that have been roped in a little bitty building, things happen in a hurry. I’m surprised the 3-second barrier hasn’t been broken. It will be before it’s over. There have been some steers turned at the National Finals in recent years to be 2.”
We’ve all learned by now to never say never, so he’s probably right. But how on earth is a guy going to keep his head horse working when he has to ask him for his life every time he nods his head to stand a chance?
“That’s the missing piece of the puzzle—how to keep your horse going when everybody’s going so fast,” Speed smiles. “That was a problem when I was rodeoing, and it’s only getting harder to do. You better win enough to be able to buy another one is all I can figure.”
Speed, who’s 50 now and lives with his family—wife, Jennifer, daughter, Halli, and son, Gabe—in Santo, Texas, roped at Rodeo’s Super Bowl 16 times, and won a record eight-straight world team roping titles with Rich Skelton from 1997-2004. A lot of people forget that Florida-born Williams heeled for Georgia’s Casey Cox at his first Finals in 1988.
“My father was a horse trader, and all I knew growing up was roping and making money,” Speed remembers. “When I showed up as a heeler at the 1988 National Finals is when I decided I wanted to be a header. There were a lot more good heelers, and I thought there was a whole lot more room for improvement on the heading side.
“Very few guys were successful at the jackpots and the rodeos. I understood the importance of being able to ride your horse. I understood that over longer scores you have to use your horse, not your ability. And in the short scores, you need to use your ability and let your horse help you.”
None of us lucky enough to see it for ourselves will ever forget the magic of Speed’s sorrel horse herd—the one-two punch of Viper and Bob. Bob was the four-legged “man” over long scores, like Salinas (California), Cheyenne (Wyoming) and the BFI (in Reno). Viper was the nuts over short scores in little buildings, like, say, the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“My original goal was to make a living with a rope and win the world one day,” Speed said. “I never believed we would win it eight straight times. There were so many years the world title came down to one or two steers. And for that horse to stay that good in that building for that long was pretty rare.”
How do you like the odds of another team repeating that feat today, Sir Speedy?
“With all the money guys can win at the National Finals now, it’s hard to imagine a team winning a couple titles in a row, much less that many,” Speed said. “I don’t see a team staying together for a decade with all that goes on in a partnership. To have two guys with the same desire that long is very tough.”
Timing is everything, and the fast track in Vegas fit Williams’s game like a glove.
“We roped in little buildings all the time when I was growing up,” he said. “Go fast is what you do back east.”
Speed blew by all his wildest dreams during his record run. So is there anything left on the bucket list of a guy who’s virtually won and done it all with a rope in his hand? There is one thing, and having been there in that NFR hallway with him while he was anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child while also waiting to rope his last steer for another gold buckle, I can’t say his answer surprises me.
“There is one more thing,” he said with his trademark Speed smirk. “I want to get a girl to the NFR. If she doesn’t become a full-time barrel racer, I’ll be OK. There’s more money in that, and as her number gets raised it’s harder to win. She’s (Halli) kind of getting the itch to run barrels. But we’ve also been working on her reaching and having a little more game.”
When I look at those crazy-fast times, I wonder if a guy like Speed wishes he could go back and live it all again, along with his best advice to all the big-dreaming young bucks out there locking horns on today’s rodeo trail.
“My body wishes I was 25 again, but I might not end up in the same place if I went back and did it all again, so I’m glad to be where I’m at,” he said. “As for the young guys, I’d say you have to prepare yourself in the practice pen for every obstacle you might face. Don’t work on what you do good. Work on what you don’t do good. That’s what’s held a lot of talented guys back—they stick with what they’re good at. Work on your weaknesses. They always come out.”