what a hoot

Average Joes NFR Open 2023: Just a Little Pre-NFR Cowboy Fun on the Central Coast of California
The Average Joes NFR Open is a West Coast tradition to kick off the NFR each December.
Cutter Machado heading a steer at Lake Havasu, Arizona, in 2023.
Dalton Pearce heeling at Lake Havasu. Pearce and his family convert their home arena to mimic the NFR setup. | Avid Visual Imagery photo

The timing of this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo allowed me two pre-NFR firsts before driving across the Mojave Desert to work my 37th straight NFR. The first was this year’s eighth annual Average Joe Productions NFR Open, which was held November 26 at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. The second was the Creston Christmas Tree Lighting, which in years past always fell while I was away in Las Vegas and thankfully this time was held on the eve of my NFR departure. 

The Average Joes NFR Open is exactly what it sounds like, and the hoot I’ve always heard it to be is not hype. The Pearce family, as in 2016 Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year Dalton Pearce, converts their home arena up the hill from the world-famous Madonna Inn (think pink) and a bunch of guys with jobs, families and home lives away from the full-time rodeo road go at it. This year’s Average Joes contestant contingent included California cowboys from NFRs past the likes of Dugan Kelly and Spencer Mitchell.

These runs will give you a feel for the flavor of the Average Joes NFR Open roping, which is fun and fast. In order, that’s Lane Karney and Dalton Pearce with the 3.74-second fast run of the roping; Average Joe Productions NFR Open Producer Danny Leslie heeling one down for Lane; and Jason Johe closing the deal on his and Lane’s win in the three-steer average with the 4.25-second Round 3 win. 

A good time was had by all, including a rodeo mom like me who so loved a day of watching her son rope with old friends and neighbors, like we did in those good old junior rodeo days I’ll treasure forever. All these Average Joes will now join the rest of us in taking in the 10 days of Top-15 magic that kicks off at the Thomas & Mack Center here in Vegas and on the Cowboy Channel for everyone at home. 

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