Bubble cowboys delivered big in 2022 with the cut-off date of Sept. 30 growing closer and no event has been more fun to watch than the team roping.
But it wasn’t just the bubble boys in the PRCA world standings putting on a show. Cowboys in nearly every one of the 13 geographical circuits pulled off last-minute heroics to earn their spots at the circuit finals rodeos.
Fast Back Ropes brings you this recap from the final weekend of the 2022 ProRodeo regular season, Sept. 20–25, along with a preview of the races for circuit championships, which will happen as the circuit finals rodeos kick off in October.
Last Race Running
All but one circuit has reached its conclusion with no more rodeos to go. That final battle is happening in the First Frontier Circuit, which will end with a pair of rodeos in Cumberland, Maine, on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 28–29.
Eric Fabian and Derek Carey are still holding down the regular season lead. Fabian is $354 ahead of Waylon Cameron, while Carey is $309 in front of Scot Brown. Cameron and Brown are entered at Cumberland; Fabian and Carey are not.
“We know the steers; they’re slow, so pretty much just go knock ‘em down,” Brown said of the plan as he and Cameron made the 8.5-hour drive north to Maine. “Hopefully, that will allow us to move ahead, maybe give a little cushion going into the circuit finals.”
Brown is a native Texan who moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to his oldest children, Spencer and Jackson, when the second one entered the Naval Academy. His wife was originally from the area and the couple also have two young children, Brooks and Makayla.
“I’m a little culture shock to them,” Brown joked of being a Texan in the Northeast. A Fast Back endorsee, Brown has qualified to the First Frontier Circuit Finals for six years, including this year. In addition to team roping, he competes in the tie-down and is seventh in those standings, and fourth in the all-around.
Brown and Cameron live about 45 minutes apart in Mount Joy and Oxford, respectively.
“I was raised in Western Pennsylvania,” noted Cameron, who was recently added to the Fast Back team, as well. “My wife is from Eastern Pennsylvania, so we moved out that way in 2013 and I’ve had nine years now going to the rodeos.”
The duo began roping together at the end of the COVID season in 2020 and are now completing their second full season as a team.
“It was nice to find someone at the same level, with the same mentality as me toward winning,” Brown said.
Though the team never wrote it out on a vision board, winning a circuit title was definitely on the list.
“I always wanted to,” Brown said. “It was in the back of the mind for me.”
After solidifying their horsepower, the circuit title seems more in reach.
“We both had newer horses and we spent last year getting with them,” Brown explained. “It’s more of a goal now. We know we can do it if we put our minds to it.”
Brown and Cameron are in a good position thanks to a consistent season.
“It’s been really good. We won the series at Cowtown for the year,” Brown said of the weekly summer rodeo in Woodstown, New Jersey. “We placed at [Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountain Championship Rodeo in] Kelletville, [and Elkton, Maryland’s Cecil County Fair ProRodeo.] Gerry, New York, is the biggest one in our circuit and we placed there.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Brown concluded.
On the other end of the standings, Rob Toth parlayed a silver finish at the final Cowtown Rodeo with Shawn Quinn into a jump inside the top 12. Toth moved from 14th to 11th, leaving many-times First Frontier All-Around Champion Carmine Nastri on the hot seat at 12th.
The money is tight from 12th position down several places in both heading and heeling standings so there’s still a chance for changes as the curtain closes on 2022.
Here’s the differences between 12th and 13th going into the final two rodeos:
Headers: Carmine Nastri is $24.40 ahead of Chuck Smith
Heelers: Cole Sherwood is $626.75 ahead of Shawn Quinn
The Leaders and the Championship Races
Clay Ullery, $20,462
Matt Zancanella, $21,084
Ullery and Zancanella have had a solid season and carry a slim lead over Jade Schmidt and Jade Nelson into Minot, North Dakota, site of the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo. The Jades are roughly $3,000 behind the leaders.
Cody Snow, $17,871
Wesley Thorp, $17,871
Snow and Thorp will rope at the Wrangler NFR just two weeks before the California Circuit Finals kicks off in Red Bluff on New Year’s weekend. Snow’s lead was cut down on the final weekend as Marcus Battaglia took third in Poway, leaping from sixth to second and leaving him $5,857 behind Snow. Thorp’s lead over second-ranked Dalton Pearce is $4,641.
Columbia River Circuit
Kaleb Driggers, $43,171
Brady Minor, $23,732
While Driggers won $20,000 more than Riley Minor, his closest competitor, he won’t take home the circuit championship as he did not compete in the required number of rodeos to qualify to compete at the Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo. Meanwhile, Minor is just $3,383 ahead of Clay Tryan.
The heeling side could prove incredibly interesting at the CFR in Redmond, Oregon, as well. Jake Long is just $1,600 behind Brady Minor, and the field is stacked: 17 of the 30 ropers to compete there have a Wrangler NFR appearance on their resume. Two—Tryan and Levi Simpson—have gold buckles.
Great Lakes Circuit
Mason Appleton, $23,103
Clay Clayman, $25,398
The permit holders, Appleton and Clayman, will hit Louisville, Kentucky, with leads of $6,287 and $8,502, respectively over Clint Wallace and Levi Pettigrew.
Brady Tryan, $11,930
Justin Viles, $16,559
Brady Tryan, the defending champion, has been in a tough battle with Shawn Bird all year, and they close out the regular season with a difference of just $1,277 between them. As one of the most lucrative finals in the country, the Montana CFR in Great Falls will certainly witness a tough battle to the end.
On the heeling side, Viles’ lead is a more comfortable $5,530 over Zachary Schweigert, but not out of reach come January. Like Tryan, Viles is looking to repeat his 2021 championship.
Mountain States Circuit
Clayton Van Aken, $19,279
Jayden Johnson, $17,939
Van Aken and Johnson won five rodeos, including two weeks at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to land No. 1. Van Aken’s lead over Kellan Johnson is $7,604 after the regular season. Johnson’s lead is slimmer—just $4,010 over Trey Yates, who will rope at his third Wrangler NFR in December. The Mountain States CFR is held in Loveland, Colorado, in October.
Andrew Ward, $26,518
Buddy Hawkins, $26,518
Ward and Hawkins have had a banner season, finishing the regular season ranked third in the PRCA world standings, as well as leading their circuit. They will start the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in Duncan, Oklahoma, with a lead of just more than $7,000 over Paul David Tierney and Tanner Braden.
Braxton Culpepper, $25,899
Brad Culpepper, $24,899
The father-son duo of Braxton and Brad Culpepper lead the regular season on the strength of five circuit rodeo wins. On the heading side, Braxton’s lead over second-ranked Clint Keller is $8,520, while Brad has $9,249 over Clay Green for the heeling title. The Southeastern Circuit Finals will happen in November in Davie, Florida.
Casey Tew, $27,587
Tyler Worley, $21,949
Tew won a pair of rodeos on the final weekend in New Braunfels and Seminole to extend his lead over Nelson Wyatt. He is now $$5,638 ahead. Wyatt and Worley picked up a fourth place in New Braunfels, allowing Worley to close the season $3,119 in front of Coleby Payne.
Josh Siggins, $16,051
Junior Zambrano, $12,467
On the heading side, the race tightened up considerably thanks to the fireworks from Derrick Begay and partner Colter Todd over the weekend. While Begay looks to land just short of the Wrangler NFR at 16th, he moved to within $3,544 of leader Josh Siggins in the circuit after winning first in Poway (California) and fifth in Amarillo (Texas), the two co-approved rodeos.
The heeling race in the Turquoise Circuit has been tight all along and Zambrano closes out the regular season with a lead of $702. Zambrano has also been in a tight race for the Resistol Rookie of the Year title and will have to wait a few more days to see if his $1,176 edge will hold there.
Hagen Peterson, $27,027
Dylin Ahlstrom, $25,318
Peterson’s lead on the heading side of things is nearly $10,000 over Pace Freed going into Heber City, Utah, site of the Wilderness CFR. He roped much of the year with Ahlstrom but finished the season with Caleb Hendrix, who is ranked third on the heeling side. Meanwhile, Ahlstrom’s lead over Cole Wilson is $5,134.
Maple Leaf Circuit (Canada)
Dawson Graham, $35,923
Dillon Graham, $35,923
Brothers Dawson and Dillon Graham are leading second-ranked cowboys Logan Bonnett and Riley Wilson by nearly $20,000, all but ensuring them the year-end title. Due to the Maple Leaf CFR happening during the Wrangler NFR, in 2022 only, the top two from the regular season standings will advance to the NFR Open in 2023.
Ice Water in the Veins—Clutch Performances on the Final Weekend
Two cowboys broke through on the final weekend to move from outside the top 12 into a circuit finals position. Header Kaston Peavy won a third and first at the trio of rodeos in Bunnell, Florida, earning $1,071 with Shane Edmonson to land 11th in the standings.
On the heeling side, permit holder Chase Graves faced down the wolves in Springhill, Louisiana, finishing second behind World Champs Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira and ahead of several NFR bubble ropers. Roping behind Trace Porter, Graves won $2,200—enough to bump him to ninth.
Lane Karney and Todd Hampton scored a seventh-place finish in Poway, worth $1,025. The money allowed Hampton to leap to 12th in the circuit and punch his ticket to Red Bluff. However, he’ll be searching for another partner as Karney finished the season 13th by an agonizing $19.
Howie Hutchings had the comeback story, roping an eighth-place check in the knife-fight known as Mona, Utah, to leapfrog Jade Anderson for the 12th and final qualifying spot into the CFR. Hutchings’ check with Ty Russel was for $630; the margin between him and Anderson for the final spot was just $583.
The trio of Navajo Wrangler NFR headers—Begay, Erich Rogers and Aaron Tsinigine—lit up leaderboards across the country over the final weekend of the 2022 season, and all three have ended up between 16th and 21st in the world standings. But, thanks to the big weekend, all three cowboys will be making the trip to the Turquoise Circuit Finals in Camp Verde, Arizona, come November.
Begay was already inside the top 12, but Rogers moved from 13th to sixth after winning both Poway and Amarillo, good for $5,537. The earnings also help ensure his partner, Paden Bray, will be there, too. Bray came from nowhere in the standings to finish seventh.
Tsinigine slid into 12th after his fifth-place finish in Poway.
The Turquoise Circuit saw a lot of shuffling over the weekend: Header Jared Gonzales also moved from outside the top 12 with a good showing in Poway. Gonzales is now ranked 10th and helped his partner, Robert Murphy, move off the hot seat at 12th and up to 10th.
Miles Kobold made the miles to the co-approved rodeo in Dickinson, North Dakota, count on the final weekend. Roping for Chase Gauger, Kobold won third, jumping from 13th to eighth. Gauger finished 14th by just under $300.
While Junior Nogueira has led the PRCA world standings for much of the season, setting a new regular season earnings mark with months to go, he needed the final weekend to punch his ticket to the Texas CFR. Nogueira won the co-approved rodeo in Springhill (Louisiana) and placed fifth in Amarillo to jump all the way to sixth.