Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira fell less than $5,000 short of ProRodeo’s all-time Fourth-of-July earnings record—a record set at $39,993 by Trevor Brazile in 2011 in both team roping and tie-down roping.
In team roping alone, reigning World Champs Driggers and Nogueira continued their 2022 regular-season domination, winning $35,152 each over the Fourth. From June 25 to July 4, winning the two-head average at Prescott and St. Paul and out-dueling the pack at the tough one header in Oakley, Utah. They entered eight rodeos and placed in the top four at a remarkable six of the eight. They placed seventh at another.
Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves set the previous earnings record at $30,464 each in 2021.
“We had a fairytale Fourth for sure,” Driggers, 32, of Hoboken, Georgia, said. “We appreciate all of the rodeos who have stepped up and pushed through adversity to continue to grow and enrich our Western industry. Take Red Lodge, for example: they said we are having a rodeo ‘Come Hell or High Water.’ As contestants, we have the same mentality so for them to push forward and give us that opportunity, my hats off to them.”
Notably, Driggers and Nogueira did all this winning in an era of changing payout structures at the tough one-headers in ProRodeo. The deepest any PRCA event has ever paid was 10 places. In 2022, a rodeo with a total purse of $12,500 to $20,000 will pay 10 holes. One with a purse of $20,000 to $30,000 will pay 12 places. And any one-header with a purse over $30,000 will pay 15 places.
Over the Fourth, that affected rodeos like Cody, Red Lodge, Livingston and Oakley. In 2021, Cody paid Egusquiza and Graves $6,813 a man for second. It only paid Driggers and Nogueira $5,081 each in 2022. To win Oakley paid Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves $5,202 each to Driggers and Nogueira’s $3,257 each this year. A three-way split at Livingston paid each team $4,845 per man. Winning second outright there paid Driggers and Nogueira just $3,962 a man this year. Seventh place at Red Lodge paid $1,810 to Jason Stewart and Jason Duby in 2021. It paid $1,683 a man to Driggers and Nogueira this year. If you’re counting, the same placings at these four rodeos in 2021 amounted $18,661 to $13,983 in 2022. That’s a $4,678 per man difference with the new payout structure. And that amount would have put Driggers and Nogueira within $153 of Brazile’s two-event record.
The new pay structure might have cost Driggers and Nogueira some money, but there’s not telling if, without it, they’d have entered this rodeo run with the same mindset.
“With the new payout at the bigger one-headers paying more places, it spreads the money out a little bit more,” Driggers explained. “It gives a guy more chances to win money without a huge drop in the money. So I just tried to make our run on the steer that we drew and not get to caught up in what was winning first place per say. We ended up placing towards the top of most of them. So we won a less then we would have in years past, but it also allowed us not to over run ourselves trying to make remarkable runs on our steers. We just roped them for what they were. That’s a little different outlook on the one-headers then in years past. Usually when you show up at Cody there are 100-plus teams paying 10 moneys. This year it paid 15, so no matter what, with in reason, whatever steer you had if you made a good run on him you got money.”
For Nogueira, this Fourth of July marked the first time he’d brought his family—wife Jacqueline, daughter, Isabella, 2, and son, Jake, almost 7 months—on the road with him for such an aggressive rodeo run.
“It’s way more stressful with a family, but it makes you more mature and gives you more experience,” Nogueira, 31, of Presidente Prudente, Sao Paolo, Brazil, said. “My wife is awesome—she did everything to help to keep everybody comfortable. She wants everybody to be comfortable in the trailer, in the truck, and to keep everyone happy. It’s been a blessing for sure having them with me. It was stressful, but it was better than I’d thought.”
Driggers and Nogueira are coming off a winter in which they kicked off the season with a win in Fort Worth and amassed over $80,000 before the turn to the summer season. It was their best winter to date, adding to their best year so far. And both men credit the horsepower they have in their trailers as the difference-maker.
“We had some good steers, but then we made some really good runs on some stronger steers as well,” Driggers said. “That is when the horsepower really comes into play in my opinion. If you have a horse that can really run on both ends and doesn’t try to cheat you then he plays a huge roll on the stronger steers. Junior was lights out all week. He roped every steer by two feet. We are so blessed to have the horses that we have, and we don’t take them for granted. We give them time off and alternate them out and try not to over haul them even when we are going to a lot of rodeos. It makes a huge difference and we both know how valuable they are to our team.
“Junior and I both have the best line up we have ever had to plug them in when it is their strong suit,” Driggers continued. “Cuervo has been a game changer for me. He’s like my old horse, Dre, but maybe even a tick easier to rope on if that’s possible. But he’s so honest and forgiving that he’s helped a lot these past two years. We had a really good month of jackpotting before we headed out, so we gained confidence from that. And then our horses being really good at their situations makes it a lot easier on us.”
Driggers has Cuervo—the 15-year-old registered as Remis Gays Onofa Doc—whom he won his world title aboard. He rode him at most of the one-headers (except Mandan) because the horse is honest and scores well, allowing Driggers to throw fast and be aggressive when it counts there. He rode Gangster—a 17-year-old he sold to Jake Cooper two years ago, who Cooper sold to Driggers’ long-time friend and Cheyenne Champ Brandon Webb—to set the 3.6-second arena record at Belle Fourche and win the average at St. Paul. And he got on his 7-year-old up-and-comer Oliver to win the average at Prescott.
“He’s just a little young still, so I’m trying not to ride him a lot at the rodeos right now so he doesn’t get rodeo smart too quick,” Driggers said. “I want to give him a chance to mature and grow into it. I will plug him in off and on through out the year save him for later. He will be my long score horse, and he’s my go-to jackpot horse.”
Nogueira credits those head horses, as well as Driggers’ ability to use his rope, with keeping them legal in fast setups.
“Kaleb gets them legal so fast,” Nogueira explained. “He gets to the steer really fast, and he throws fast. But I know I don’t have to overdo it to be fast. It’s just our run. We’re not trying to beat anybody. We just take our shots when we can.”
Nogueira had his dream-team of Kiehnes Frosty Pepto (Timon), Lucky Bucky and Chupapi in the rig for the Fourth run. He’s ssplitting time between Lucky Bucky and Timon. And he’s saving Chupapi for backup. Lucky Bucky came from Cesar de la Cruz, who sold him as he stepped away from rodeo to head into the rope horse futurity market.
“Timon was my NFR horse, and he is so amazing in faster set ups,” Nogueira said of the horse he was 3.6 on in Belle Fourche. “Lucky is so fast, he’s great on the long scores, so I rode him at Prescott and St. Paul. He’s run so hard in these long setups, so I’m letting him rest and will ride Chupapi for these next few rodeos.”
At home, Nogueira has his AQHA World Champion mare Apache R Hali legged up if needed, too.
“I’ve been so blessed with good horses, and so has my partner,” Nogueira said. “They have made it easier to do the best job I can do every single day.”
Driggers and Nogueira had a crew of helpers to make their Cowboy Christmas come together. Nogueira’s long-time friend and helper Carlos Reynoso helped drive and took care of their horses. And he flew back and forth between rigs to keep everything on the road.
“We had rigs going everywhere this week,” Driggers said. “Gabby Kidd (header Cory Kidd’s wife) took Cuervo for me from Oakley to Cody. That way, he didn’t have to make the long hauls around with us to save some miles on him. Nicole (Driggers’ wife) stayed with our rig in St. Paul and drove them to us in Montana after she ran barrels. We jumped in a rig with Jake Cooper, Sid Sporer and Jeffery Roberts and drove down to Prescott. And we flew out back to Denver and those guys brought our horses back to Cody. It takes a crew to make it all work. We love what we do but with a team like that it makes it quite a bit more enjoyable.”
Plus, they got to layover a few places to get a little practice in between some rodeos.
“We had four families that took us in like it was our place and gave us and our horses a great place to relax from all of the hauling,” Driggers said. “These people do more for us than we could ever dream or possibly explain what they mean to us and our horses. My mama and dad got to come up and check out Wyoming and Montana and see how beautiful it is this time of year, and that was the highlight of my week getting to be with my loved ones after a hectic week of rodeoing. And my sponsors were checking in and supporting me through thick and thin, and they are always there with a helping hand. I appreciate them more than they will ever know.”
Driggers and Nogueira will head from Big Fork, Montana, slack Wednesday morning to Elko, Nevada and Vernal, Utah, wrapping up the week at Estes Park before going to the first-ever team roping at the Calgary Stampede. They always have a goal of winning ProRodeo’s regular season, and now Driggers has a $31,006 lead on second-place header Clay Tryan in the PRCA World Standings. Nogueira has a massive $52,154 lead on Jake Long in second.