Remember that Daryle Singletary song from the ’90s, “Too Much Fun?” If the annual Wildfire roping in Hamilton, Texas, needs a theme song, that should be it. And, if you’re not already planning on going to the Circle T Arena from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, change your plans, ’cause this event—in the words of its producer, Dru Stewart—is “off the chain.”
Stewart knows ropers, particularly those in Texas, can go to any roping they want and have a fair shot at winning some money. What’s not guaranteed at each of those jackpots is the kind of event that delivers good times, good food and stiff drinks in spades.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he said, “there’s a team roping at the Circle T in Hamilton literally every weekend and I’m right between two of Troy [Shelley’s] ropings. We try really hard to make this roping more than just a team roping. We just try to make it more of an experience.”
“Experience” is a bit of an understatement, though, particularly for the roping’s VIPs—the Pro-Am sponsors. For each company that supports the Wildfire’s signature event, which awards championship saddles to an amateur header and heeler both, they are provided entries into the Pro-Am and the Businessman’s #11.5 or the Wild #9.5, stalls, daily lunches, RV spots, wristbands for the 21-and-over crowd, as well as a knockout complimentary steak dinner to kick off the whole shindig. It’s a veritable, all-inclusive, throw-down with live music playing into the wee hours of the night.
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“The other thing it does,” Stewart explained, “is it gets these business guys together and lets them sit down and get to know each other and creates a social event. That’s what team roping is all about at its essence. None of those guys are making a living roping. They’re just having fun because it’s their hobby. So, we’re just bringing those guys and gals together who want to have a good time and want to be catered to a little bit.”
Hosting such a high-caliber event isn’t for the weary, but Stewart has faith in his investments.
“It costs a lot of freaking money, but it’s worth it. If they leave here saying, ‘Dang, I didn’t win a dollar, but I had a good time,’ they’ll come back. If they say, ‘Man, I won third in the roping but, it sucked,’ they’re going to go somewhere else.”
As is well-known, the Wildfire in its original iteration was the passion project of Billy Pipes back in 1999. For 20 years, Pipes endeavored to produce an Open roping that squared up to the other giants of the day—George Strait’s Team Roping Classic and the BFI. But, as he’s told The Team Roping Journal before, it wasn’t just about the roping.
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“I built that arena,” Pipes said of the original Wildfire Arena, which was the host site of the roping through 2018, “and that arena was built to make friends. Not to make money.”
While Stewart is admittedly hoping to make friends and money, he is committed to the Wildfire’s history of being a well-produced event that caters to its people, from the Pro-Am sponsors to the everyday ropers.
“When it comes to the actual roping, we’re kind of a loaded-up prize line. We award saddles, buckles, knives, bits, spurs and prizes down to 5 or 6 [place,] and none of the ropings take out more than 20%.”
Even for the ropers who aren’t able to swing through, Stewart will be live broadcasting the event so everyone can get in on the fun.
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Something for Everyone, according to Dru
“The ProAm saddles are like $5,000 a piece and they have tapaderos. We’re changing them up a little but, they are really nice.”
• Open to the World:
“We rope for 90% of our money. That’s the Big Daddy.”
• Open Breakaway:
“Walkin’ fresh, 600-pounders. Like cutting cattle.”
• Open Gunslinger:
“We let them enter up four times at this one. It’s a five-steer, so come and bring your backup horses or whatever you want to do, but the fees are still high enough that it doesn’t take long for that pot to get big.”
“The #15 is a six-header. We do that because we want to let those 7s and 8s come and play, but maybe not for the Open. And, we see the guys start switching ends. So, you know, you see Clay heeling. You see Junior heading. You see Caleb heeling. It’s fun.”
“As a 7+ and an 8 heeler my whole life, this five-header team roping, I want to do that because all I’ve got to do is knock them down; stop the clock, basically. So that’s a fun roping for those mid-level guys. Your 6’s and 7’s. You do not have to go blitz them. You’ve just got to be 7 and 8 [seconds] on all of them.”
“This year, we’re having an #11.5 warm-up roping. Basically, what I’m going to do there is cull the cattle to make sure that the Businessman’s roping on Saturday is the best cattle possible.”
• Ladies Open:
“It’s the biggest Ladies Roping in Texas. It’s an Open all-girl roping with a #8 incentive. It’s pick one, draw one, so we get to see the teams that rope together all the time, and then you get to see those mix-and-match teams, which makes it really fun. It’s not always Hope and LD and Jackie that win those ropings, especially in the incentives. It’s fun for everybody, from the top to the bottom.”
• Businessman’s #11.5:
“That’s the roping Billy Pipes kind of centered this whole weekend around. It’s a pick-one, draw-one World Series Super Qualifier, and it’s just like Vegas. It’s a fun roping, where all the pick teams get three. Your draw partners, it’s progressive after one, and there’s like 47 ways to win your money back. For a $750 entry fee (for two runs), you can walk out of there winning $18,000 for first. It’s not a bad li’l gig.”
• Wild #9:
“Last year was the first time we did something called the Wild #9. It’s open to anybody. There’s no age limits.”