Last Labor Day weekend, the reigning world champs backed in the box in Ellensburg, Washington, in the final round tied at the top spot in the average. But crazy things happen in short rounds, and a miss took them out of contention. Fast forward to 2023, Driggers and Nogueira made sure it played out differently. And with a solid 6.7-second run in the short round, they accomplished that goal, winning it with a 17.0 on three head.
“To have my family out here for this is way special,” Nogueira, 33, said. “Ellensburg is one of the rodeos I really wanted to win, and I had never done it. I have like four or five I really want to win but have never done, so, to get that one done was special. We’ve been close—last year we were high call, but it never really worked out.”
Not only was the win a taste of redemption, it was a centennial win. Ellensburg celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and that made all the difference in the win for Driggers.
“This year, it just worked in our favor that my game plan going into it would be good enough for the title,” Driggers, 33, said. “Ellensburg is one of those rodeos that is on everyone’s bucket list, but to get the win on its centennial year is even more special. Seems like all the greats have won one of the centennial years at some of the biggest rodeos, and to etch our name beside them is really cool.”
Driggers and Nogueira also proved why they lead the world standings, both raking in $16,769 over the week of Aug. 28–Sept. 4. They were 4.7 in Parowan, Utah, to win second; fourth in the second round in Walla Walla, Washington, with a 4.3; and they split the win in Lakeview, Oregon, with a 4.2. Both sit in No. 1 position with $153,352.79 won on the year, yet this big hit was definitely needed for the team.
“We had a pretty good week last week as a whole,” Driggers said. “It was huge because we had been needing a big week and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Driggers and Nogueira started it off with a bang in Ellensburg, winning the first round with a 4.6, good for $3,506 a man.
“To make it back, we had to pretty much just knock the steer down and make a clean run,” Nogueira said of how they planned to stay in the average. “We let him go a long ways, and we caught him good, too. Not really going at him, but we still made a pretty good run. I took one swing over him, too, so we went 5.7.”
With a 10.3 on two head, Driggers and Nogueira were tied with NFR qualifiers Coy Rahlmann and Jonathan Torres going into Monday’s championship round. As things began to fall apart that afternoon in the round, the reigning world champions stayed focused on the job, also not letting last year get to them but rather learning from the mishap.
“I went into the short round thinking that a good clean run should give us a top three or four finish, and that was all that I was looking for,” Driggers, who was riding Riley Minor’s Frosty, explained. “We came back high call last year and I went for the win and missed, so going into this year, I wasn’t looking at only position but to finish the course and get a good paycheck.”
Driggers and Nogueira had the same steer as Rahlmann and Torres in a previous round, and they planned accordingly.
“I knew that we were in the situation where we just needed to catch,” Nogueira, riding Lucky Bucky, explained. “We were going for the catch, so I didn’t want to really push him or anything, so I kind of left him alone. He kind of went a little bit more right than I would have liked to, but I know Kaleb’s going all the way to him and going at a jackpot run and handling him good. I took my time, heeled him and pulled my slack good to make sure I didn’t lose a leg. I had a chance and it just worked out perfect.”
Their 6.7-second run finished third in the round for $713 a piece and put them at 17.0 on three head. Their $5,259-check in the average brought their grand total in Ellensburg to $9,478.
Comfort in the season of stress
Driggers and Nogueira, along with his family, will lay over in Ellensburg at Scott and Jo Repp’s WestStar Arena the next few days before hitting the road again.
“We get to stay in a very nice spot, and it’s cooler, got grass and the horses love the weather,” Nogueira said. “We get to hang out for like 10 or 15 days, and that’s what I think makes it really special: to hang out more and find a place we can just stay and camp for a little bit and having my family.”
And while September is crunch time as the season comes to a close, there’s some peace in the chaos for the world champs having that opportunity to set up camp in the Northwest.
“Everybody’s so stressed out, far from home and horses are tired,” Nogueira said. “That’s also why it’s so special to stay here in Ellensburg a few days and have a good spot to stay. It’s a big difference I think to relax a little bit. But it is still very stressful because you rodeo the whole year, and now getting close to the last rodeos of the season, you don’t have many more days or that many good opportunities to capitalize to have the NFR made.”
As the current season leaders, Driggers and Nogueira may not have to worry as much about locking in another NFR appearance. They aren’t comfortable yet, though, as the hunt for another gold buckle doesn’t end until December.
“It’s good, but we all know if you’re fighting for the gold buckle, it doesn’t matter until the NFR,” Nogueira said. “But as much as you can win everywhere else, it does add up because it makes a big difference every time. Last year, I didn’t have an amazing NFR, but we had an outstanding year. We got over there and just kind of stayed hooked in the average, and then you give yourself a little more room to play. So, winning as much as you can ahead of the Finals is good, but it’s not finalized until to the last day of the Finals.”
PRCA World Standings
As of Sept. 7, 2023