Inspired by the Wildfire Open to the World Roping, Matt Tyler and Kory Koontz are smiling and tapping their toes to a new theme song. You might not recognize it by name-"For the Love of Money" by the OJays-but you know the tune. It's been around forever, and the chorus includes the catchy "money, money, money, money-money."
As more of the lyrics go, "Some people do good, do good, do good things with it." One of those special few in this business is Wildfire Arena owner Billy Pipes, who along with a few sponsor-partner friends puts up $50,000 cash to the winners of the Wildfire Open to the World Roping, held each year at the Wildfire Ranch in Salado, Texas.
Tyler and Koontz have been the roping's primary beneficiaries the last three years running. They stormed this year's sixth annual Wildfire Open to the World, held February 7, for $25,000 apiece in crisp $100 bills and $7,500 Montana Silversmiths buckles.
The buckles were handcrafted start to finish of yellow, green and rose gold by the same hands who make the world champions' gold buckles each year. (For more on the one-of-a-kind buckles, see Behind the Chutes on page 28).
Koontz also won the Wildfire Open in 2000 with Daniel Green. All told, he's bagged about $80,000 out of this one. It's no wonder they're calling the state-of-the-art Wildfire facility "The House That Kory Built."
"I love this roping," said Koontz, who lives in Sudan, Texas, with his wife, Katherine, and kids, Jae Rube, 12, and twins, Ashlee Beth and Harlee Jo, 9. "It's a good setup, and we always rope good steers. Billy Pipes and his great crew do everything in their power to give the open ropers an opportunity to rope for a lot of money. And it just so happens that I've had a lot of success here over the years."
It's true. The $50,000 cash first prize is truly added money. Not a penny of it comes out of the ropers' pockets. Tyler and Koontz won the go-twice, six-steer roping, that was $500 a man to enter and progressive after one, by nearly two seconds over reserve titlists Turtle Powell and Monty Joe Petska, 43.08 to 44.98.
"I just think that I've been blessed each year to have a chance to win the roping, and to finish strong," said Koontz, 32, who endorses Wrangler, Classic Ropes and Equine, Martin Saddlery and Bloomer Trailers. "I really don't know why I've roped so good in this arena, but it just seems like this setup fits our team's roping.
"Matt made my job real simple today. He got good starts, roped every steer right out in the middle of the arena, and set every run up. I felt like we made the same run six times in a row."
Koontz rode the 9-year-old bay horse he calls Switchblade, which is the one he rode at the 2003 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December. Tyler rode his old faithful, Big Daddy, who's 19 now, for the second straight year.
"He's an awesome horse," said Tyler, 39, who recently bought a new place in Lipan, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Staci, and daughters, Mattye, 3, and Torrye, 1. "He's big and strong, scores good and can really run. You can't really fault him anywhere. I've had him nine years, and he gets better the older he gets. I've laid my other horse, Eddie, off since last fall. So I've been riding Big Daddy at the rodeos, too."
Tyler and Koontz are also reunited rodeo partners this year.
"I have a great partner, and he has great horses," said Tyler, whose sponsor partners include Wrangler, Whataburger, Conoco Phillips, Alltel, Union Pacific Railroad and Rattler Ropes. "We do this for a living, and this is all for God's glory. That's the bottom line. God is using us as a team in a lot of different ways.
"I want to thank my wife and family for giving me so much support and the desire to work as hard as I can. She supports me 100 percent, and that's a tremendous help."
In Tyler's eyes, there are a couple keys to winning big at the big ropings.
"First of all, you've got to be mounted," he said. "Second of all, you have to be very disciplined and stay within what you practice. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. Just do what you can do.
"I want to thank Billy Pipes and all the people behind this roping for everything. This is a world-class facility. There isn't one better to rope in than this place. This roping's professionally run, and they put out all that money. This is a great one."
Let's Hear it for the Girls
The Smith girls, Barrie and Tibba, captured the 175-team Wildfire Ladies Open Team Roping Championship by roping four steers in 36.06 seconds. They hauled $5,000 and Wildfire buckles right back down the road to Stephenville, where Barrie lives with her husband, 1978 World Champion Team Roper Brad Smith, and their two kids.
Tibba graduated from Tarleton State University in Stephenville last December, with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Barrie and Tibba aren't related, though Tibba does date Barrie's 20-year-old son, Sterling. Barrie and her 16-year-old daughter, Shelby, finished fourth in the ladies average.
"This is definitely the biggest win in my team roping career, because I usually just head," explained Tibba, who rode her 10-year-old chestnut breakaway horse Diablo. Lari Dee Guy finished second in the ladies average aboard Diablo, so he was definitely the MVP heel horse of that roping. "They do a good job with this roping. The steers are really even, and it pays so good."
Tibba commended her partner, who's a living legend among cowgirls.
"Barrie heads great, and handles steers good, too," said the four-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier.
Barrie Beach Smith was a three-time national goat tying champ in high school, and a two-time national goat tying titlist in college (only because she only went to college two years). She and Tibba's biggest decision of the day was figuring out who was going to heel. It was basically a coin toss, and they didn't decide until right before they rode in the box to rope their first one.
"This is a great roping," said Barrie, who rode Shelby's 9-year-old bay horse Chester. "It's run good and it pays good. Billy goes way out of his way to make this the best all-girl roping all year."
Roping's Rendition of 'Thank You
'The Wildfire Sponsor Roping also was held February 7. Pipes and Wildfire Marketing Director Bill Hall (who was the reserve champ in the Wildfire Invitational #7 Roping bonus average and placed second in the third round of that roping heeling for Kent Lynch) had a whopping 59 sponsor partners who helped make the record-breaking 2004 Open to the World Weekend possible, including Bloomer Trailers, Cactus Ropes, Heel-O-Matic, Classic Ropes, Wrangler, Montana Silversmiths and Justin Boots. The two-day slot machine paid a pile, including $61,000 in added sponsor money ($50,000 in the open and $11,000 in the ladies).
Forty-one teams representing those sponsors roped in the entry-fee-free Wildfire Sponsor Roping. The sponsor roping prize line included Wildfire leather vests to the go-round winners, Wildfire buckles to the top three teams in the four-steer average and a $5,000 Wildfire Saddlery saddle made by Dale Martin to the winning sponsor. Duster Conversions, which builds the living quarters in Bloomer Trailers, won the saddle, thanks to their sponsor roping reps, Sam Early and Judd Wall. Early and Wall dominated the event, winning the first two rounds and the four-steer average in 37.65 seconds.
The people behind some of the weekend's major sponsors, including Wrangler's Director of Western Special Events Marketing Karl Stressman, rope in the event every year.
"This is just a cool event," Stressman stated. "We'd be silly not to be involved. The Wildfire people are great people, and they recognize their sponsors with our own roping, which makes for a really fun weekend. We get to get out of the office, play a little, have some fun and do some good business at the same time. It's a great event for everyone involved. I put this event on my calendar a year in advance."
No Stock Charge
The Wildfire Invitational #7 Roping, which featured no stock charge, a 100-percent payback and 21 ways to win, was held February 8. John Debord and Dee Halderman won the four-steer average in 41.61 seconds after taking the 8.11-second victory lap in the opening round. The team left Salado $14,600 richer, and packing Wildfire buckles and USTRC national shootouts.
The Wildfire Arena lines ropers' pockets with more than $1,000,000 every year, and that uniquely generous competitive opportunity definitely does not go unnoticed.
"This is one of the unique ropings of the year," said defending and seven-time World Champion Header Speed Williams. "Billy has one of the nicest facilities we rope in all year. I've been here for every (Open to the World) roping, and it's amazing how much this facility and roping have grown and improved every year."
"Billy Pipes, Randy Bloomer and the whole crew put on one of the best open ropings there is here," added the heeling half of the reigning Dream Team, Rich Skelton. "You have to rank it up there with the BFI, George Strait and USTRC Finals. They go out of their way to put on a good open roping for us when we're all down here this time of year anyway, and you can't beat winning $25,000 a man at an open roping, especially when none of that comes out of the ropers' pockets."
Every superstar in the sport agrees on this one.
"To have a chance to win this kind of money is unbelievable," said fellow seven-time World Team Roping Titlist Jake Barnes. "This is the first of the major ropings for the year. This roping, the George Strait, BFI and USTRC Finals are our chances to win over $20,000 for the whole year.
"Guys like Billy don't get a lot of recognition for all the work they do for us open ropers. The lower-numbered ropers can compete for big money and prizes every week. So the open ropers really appreciate guys like Billy, George (Strait), Bob (Feist) and the USTRC for these ropings. Most producers put on ropings to make money. There aren't enough open ropers to make it pay for them, so the producers and sponsors take up the slack."
Barnes' partner in those seven gold buckles couldn't agree more.
"This is a great roping," noted Clay O'Brien Cooper. "It has quickly moved up into a top-four roping, with the George Strait, BFI and USTRC Finals. This is a beautiful facility, and for me it's extra great because my daughter (Bailey) ropes in the ladies roping. It's 'to live for'-I like that better than 'to die for.' Another thing that's totally awesome is it's only a two-hour drive from home. Bingo, I'm here, and bango, I'm back home. And with a chance to win megabucks."
They all make time for this mustn't-miss event.
"My hat's off to Billy for putting a roping like this together," said reigning World Champion All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile, who won back-to-back all-around crowns in 2002-2003. "This is one of the biggest ropings anywhere. It's a six-header, so it's a marathon event. But if you're lacking motivation all you have to do is walk past that glass case and take a look at that briefcase.
"This one's on the calendar. There's not an event going on anywhere else right now where you can win this much money, so you make it work."
"Billy's done a great job with this roping," agreed three-time World Champion Team Roper Allen Bach, who a year ago bet Koontz $100 he wouldn't go a year without cutting his hair-and lost. "It's neat that he would sacrifice to build this roping. No one guarantees a $50,000 payoff for first, but Billy does. He stepped up, and is putting back into the industry. That's the kind of progressive person Billy is. Only three other ropings are in this roping's league, and Billy wants this one to be the very best. He's also built the all-girl to where almost every girl who swings a rope comes to it. Peggy (Bach's wife) had girlfriends coming one after the other to practice for this last week."
"Billy Pipes puts on a first-class roping," said 21-year NFR veteran Mike Beers. "He's just a great friend and asset to the game, and he doesn't want anything in return. Us open ropers usually put up $500 for the chance to win $2,500, not $25,000.
"Plus, there's not a better playing field in the country than this arena. He built this facility to have great ropings, and the facility, the steers and the red-carpet treatment are all as good as it gets. You can't go to a better place anywhere, and Billy bends over backwards for no personal gain whatsoever. He does all this out of the goodness of his heart. This roping will never even pay the light bill around here."
For the Love of the Game
Pipes spares no expense, from the $25,000 party he throws Saturday night up in the Turnout Tavern, at which he feeds all the ropers and their families a free barbecue dinner and drinks, to the added money, cash payoffs and top-of-the-line prizes. So, why does he do it?
"Our goal from day one was to have the best open roping in the country, and that's a tall order with guys like Bob Feist and George Strait around," Pipes said. "Their ropings are the great ones. This is our sixth roping, and we're in the same league now. But we still aspire to go further.
"We added $10,000 the first year we had this, in 1999, and we keep growing. I've set a goal to go from where we are now, with $50,000 in added money in the open the last two years, to $75,000 added in the next couple years. I also have a goal of adding $100,000 by our 10th anniversary. We want to put $100,000 in those briefcases instead of $50,000."
Pipes had humble beginnings. He moved from Phoenix to Las Vegas in 1971, when he was 18. He hired on as a laborer for Las Vegas Paving, and Mel Clark was the foreman he worked under. It felt like a small, wonderful world to Pipes, when Clark, who now owns Mel Clark Construction Company, traveled from Vegas to this year's roping-33 years later-to rope in the Wildfire Sponsor Roping. Mel's wife, Lori, made the short round in the ladies roping.
Pipes rode bulls in his youth, from 15-28, and didn't start roping until he was 37. National Finalist, BFI champ and childhood friend Bret Beach (ladies champ Barrie's brother) taught him to rope back when they both lived in Las Vegas. With the help of secretary Vicky Kiphart, the threesome put on the 2,500-team Nevada Classic #7
roping at the Rocking K Ranch in Vegas during the NFR from 1990-97.
That roping's reign ended when all three moved to Texas, but by then Pipes had a bad case of the roping bug. And when seven of his son Bear's 10 high school rodeos were rained out that first year in Texas (1998), the Wildfire Arena was born.
"We built the arena to help the kids," Pipes said. "This (Open to the World) weekend is one big thank you to the people who come here and enjoy roping. I've made a herd of friends in this business. This is for them.
"As for the Open to the World Roping, I'm a fan of great team roping. When you start roping or compete at anything you want to be the best, and the open ropers are the best. Everybody aspires to be a Jake and Clay, or Matt and Kory."
Pipes is a self-made man who admires the guys who've roped their way to the top of his favorite sport.
"I still own a construction company in Vegas, and because of that I get to pretend I'm a cowboy in Texas," he laughed.
The Wildfire Arena is also home to six USTRC affiliate ropings, including the Wildfire Shoot-Outs, a pair of two-day Wildfire Truck Explosion Ropings, the Lariat Bowl, Texas Rodeo Association events, the Team Roping Association (TRA) Finals, high school and youth rodeos, and various barrel races.
2004 Wildfire Open to the World Weekend Results:
Wildfire Open to the World:
Fast Time in Round One: 1. Bret Boatright and Richard Durham, 5.44, $3,040 per team plus Wildfire leather vests; 2. Justin Lovell and Colby Lovell, 6.09, $1,800; 3. Wade Wheatley and Dugan Kelly, 6.42, $1,220 Short Round: 1. Speed Williams and Cory Petska, 5.45, $3,040; 2. Morris McWhorter and Twister Cain, 6.72, $1,800; 3/split. Matt Tyler and Kory Koontz, and Colby Schneeman and Jed Middleton, 7.11, $1,220 Average: 1. Matt Tyler and Kory Koontz, 43.08 on six steers, $50,000 plus buckles and hand-tooled leather briefcases; 2. Turtle Powell and Monty Joe Petska, 44.98, $19,440; 3. Charly Crawford and Mike Beers, 45.31, $14,580; 4. Justin Davis and Twister Cain, 46.32, $9,720; 5. Wade Wheatley and Martin Lucero, 46.63, $4,860 (Deserving of an honorable mention here are the sixth- and seventh-place teams in the average, Shain Sproul and B.J. Campbell, and Ryon Dunlap and Billy Dean Adamson, whose six-steer times were 46.64 and 46.65, respectively. They missed the money by one- and two-hundredths of a second, respectively.)
Wildfire Ladies Open Team Roping Championship:175 teams Fast Time in First Rotation: 1. Taya Ellerman and Tammy Lewis, 7.79, $1,300 and Wildfire vests; 2. Cory Lovell and April Nicoria, 7.85, $780; 3. Barrie Smith and Tibba Smith, 7.89, $520
Fast Time in Second Rotation: 1. Barrie Smith and Annette Hinkle, 8.11, $1,300 and Wildfire vests; 2. Fallon Avery and Tammy Lewis, 8.44, $780; 3. Jayme Marcrum and Jessica Bowen, 8.45, $520 Short Round: 1. Sissy Rieken and Margaret Stephenson, 7.57, $1,000 (sponsored by Cactus Ropes, Heel-O-Matic and Fast Back Ropes) plus Wildfire vests Average: 1. Barrie Smith and Tibba Smith, 36.06 on four, $10,000 cash for the team plus buckles, hand-tooled leather briefcases and USTRC national shootouts; 2. Londa Pogue and Lari Dee Guy, 44.78, $5,840; 3. Jacque Woolman and Jessica Cullen, 53.95, $5,000; 4. Shelby Smith and Barrie Smith, 54.09, $4,180; 5. Jean Poythress and Tammy West, 55.94, $3,340; 6. Chris Darger and Sha Dee Langston, 56.68, $2,500
Wildfire Sponsor Roping:
41 teams Fast Time in Round One: 1. Sam Early and Judd Wall, Duster Conversions, 7.28, Wildfire vests Fast Time in Round Two: 1. Sam Early and Judd Wall, 7.68, Wildfire vests Average: 1. Sam Early and Judd Wall, Duster Conversions, 37.65 on four, buckles to the ropers and a saddle to Duster; 2. Rebecca Gonzales and Robert Richard, Red Line Conversions, 43.05, buckles; 3. Al Benson and Raul Hernandez, Fast Back Ropes, 54.49, buckles
Wildfire Invitational #7 Roping:
Fast Time in Round One: 1. John Debord and Dee Halderman, 8.11, $1,700 per team plus Wildfire vests; 2. Wayne Smith and Butch Jacobs, 8.72, $1,000; 3. Ronny Williams and Allen Riney Jr., 9.22, $700 Fast Time in Round Two: 1. Ralph Carter and Clif Rieken, 7.38, $1,700, Wildfire vests; 2. Jerry Stutts and Don Kimble, 7.40, $1,000; 3. Sissy Rieken and Mike Reilly, 7.88, $700 Fast Time in Round Three: 1. Peggy Bach and Shawn Wharton, 7.63, $1,700; 2. Kent Lynch and Bill Hall, 7.70, $1,000; 3. Russ Cook and Manuel Gonzales, 8.20, $700 Short Round: 1. Cliff Wheeler and Shawn Shiller, 7.59, $1,000, Wildfire vests Average: 1. John Debord and Dee Halderman, 41.61 on four, $14,600, buckles and USTRC national shootouts; 2. Shannon Biddy and Jim Bynum, 42.29, $12,200 and USTRC regional shootouts; 3. Buddy Reed and Troy Tubbs, 45.50, $11,000 and USTRC regional shootouts; 4. Todd Smith and Travis Sargent, 48.31, $9,200 and USTRC regional shootouts; 5. Wayne Churchill and Jerry Almond, 48.85, $7,300 and USTRC regional shootouts; 6. Wayne Smith and Butch Jacobs, 49.33, $6,700 and USTRC regional shootouts
Bonus Average: 1. Peggy Bach and Shawn Wharton, 27.35 on three, $1,300; 2. Kent Lynch and Bill Hall, 31.08, $1,000; 3. Sam Early and Judd Wall, 31.96, $600; 4. Jean Poythress and Wayne Lynn, 33.47, $400 Fast Time in Bonus Average Short Round: 1. Jerry Stutts and Don Kimble, 7.38, $500