WCRA Rodeo Showdown at the Thomas & Mack
The newly formed World Champions Rodeo Alliance held its first rodeo, the WCRA Rodeo Showdown, May 5-6 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Clay Smith and Paul Eaves won the team roping title and $31,000 a man. I asked the happy champs a few questions aimed at bringing the rest of the rodeo world up to speed on how event one went.
Kendra Santos: Which teams got to rope at this first WCRA event, and how were they chosen?
Clay Smith: The teams at this one included Riley and Brady Minor, Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, Luke Brown and Jake Long, Chad Masters and Cory Petska, Charly Crawford and Travis Graves, Dustin Egusquiza and Kory Koontz, Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens, Trevor Brazile and Rich Skelton, and us.
Paul Eaves: They basically used a combination of the 2017 and 2018 world standings, plus the 2017 world champs and NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) winners, and dropped down to fill the field. (Reigning World Champion Header Erich Rogers is still sidelined after knee surgery.)
KS: Tell us about the format.
CS: Everybody ran one steer on Saturday, then they took the top four fastest times to Sunday and we ran another one. The top two teams ran a third steer for the championship. It was all clean slate and sudden death—there was no average.
KS: Walk us through your road to Round 3.
PE: We roped fourth in the first round, and there weren’t many clean runs when we went. But we weren’t guaranteed to advance when we roped, no matter what we did, because there were still five teams behind us. We were 5.4, which ended up being second behind the Minors, who were 5.2. Trevor and Rich advanced with an 8-second run, and Coleman and Billie Jack were 4 plus 5 for fourth in that first round.
KS: And the final-four round?
PE: On Sunday, they ran it slow back. Coleman and Billie Jack were going to be 4, but Billie Jack almost lost his rope and they were 6.7. Trevor and Rich had a barrier and a leg. We were 5 flat, and Riley and Brady were 4.6.
KS: And then there were two…
PE: In all the events in the shootout round, the high callback got to choose either which position they competed or their draw. They brought Riley and Brady into the arena and asked them which they wanted. They decided to rope last. So we got to pick our steer.
CS: We stuck with the same steer we’d just run in the four-man round. We’d already caught him once. Both steers were good, so that’s why Riley and Brady picked position.
KS: Tell me about that last, winning, 4.04-second run.
PE: We had nothing to lose. There were no times on the board, and roping against a team like Riley and Brady we knew we had to make our best run. We knew we had to go as fast as we could on that steer. Clay threw fast, and so did I.
CS: We knew Minors were going to go fast (they were right, Riley and Brady’s 8.79 included a leg). We needed to go as fast as we could while at the same time making sure we got a time on the board. In that situation—that last round only paid one place—you need to be as fast as you can knowing you can catch.
KS: How did the payoff go?
CS: The first round paid four places—$3,500 for first, $2,500 for second, $2,000 for third, and $1,500 for fourth. The second/four-man round paid $4,500 for first, $3,500 for second, and $2,500 a man for both third and fourth.
PE: Everybody was guaranteed $1,000 for showing up, so basically the teams that ended up fifth through ninth got $1,000. There were no entry fees. The math on our $31,000 was $2,500 for second in the first round, $3,500 for second in the second round, and $25,000 for winning the shootout round.
KS: As contestants, how did you like the format?
CS: People like to see clean-slate, head-to-head, fast times. It makes it good watching.
PE: There seem to be more and more of those set-ups, like The American and Houston. Kissimmee (the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo) and the All American Finals in Waco are tournament-style also.
KS: What did you guys ride?
CS: I rode my dun horse, Jazz.
PE: I rode a sorrel horse I’ve had three or four years now, Spade.
KS: Were the conditions the same as they are at the NFR?
CS: The barrier, score and set-up were basically the same. You just had to make sure the steer took a good step and you were out. The steers were smaller and fresher than what we’ve ever roped at the Finals. They hadn’t been roped a whole lot before they got there, which made it a little tricky until they started leaving good toward the end.
PE: The measurements were the same on the start. It was four under. But the arena was wider, because they didn’t have the Gold Buckle box seats down there low. There was a lot more room over there on the left for the team ropers. The steers were really good, but they were a little bit softer than at the Finals. The steers at the Finals were bigger, stronger and ran harder, and they really left there hard. These were just medium steers.
KS: When’s the next WCRA event?
CS: Salt Lake City this summer (the Komatsu Equipment Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo will be held July 19-21 and 23-24), and we’re in from winning this event.
KS: Does this first WCRA rodeo give you hope for what’s to come?
CS: Yes. It gives everybody hope. How nice would it be to go to 25 events like this a year? It would be amazing. We could have a life. A guy would get to be home with his family more, and we wouldn’t have to be such gypsies. Come Reno time (in June), we’re going to be gone for four months—every year. That’s basically a carny’s life. Taylor and I have a new baby (Jade O’Brien Smith was born April 23), and Paul and Amanda’s little girl just turned 1 (LoElla’s birthday was May 8).
PE: It was a well-run event, and everything was done first class. I don’t know if it’s possible to have 20-25 events of this caliber a year, but that would be awesome. We wouldn’t have to wear ourselves out to try and rodeo for a living. I think all the cowboys left there with a good taste in their mouth over the deal. It was a good event.