After Stran Smith finally won his first world title at the age of 38 in 2008, some in the industry might have expected the cowboy to ride off into the sunset—particularly after missing the NFR last year due to injury. But despite his age and a slow start to the 2010 season, the competitive fire is not waning.
“It’s tough when you feel like you’re at the top of your game and you’re not winning,” he said. “It’s like a batter’s slump, just keep swinging. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s an 11-month series that we go at. I had my good friend Shawn McMullan tell me once, ‘If it ain’t happenin’ now, it just ain’t happenin’ yet.’ That’s a good motto of mine ever since then. Just keep going and it will work out.”
And at Houston, it worked out almost to the point of disbelief. Smith missed his very first calf of the rodeo. “The first calf I ran here in my series I missed,” he said. “My reaction was, ‘Oh no, I was going to win Houston.’ Really, this year that was one of my goals: I’m winning Houston. But the good deal about that is you can still come back and have a chance to win first. I came back and won the first round and the second round and kept advancing. I made it in to the Championship round in last position. It’s one of those deals, you just stay alive and you’re going to be there at the end and give yourself a chance.”
The end is where the real disbelief came in. Smith’s competitors in that short round where of the highest order. He was first out, but after he tied his calf in 8.5 seconds, he had to see what Fred Whitfield, Clint Robinson and Trevor Brazile would do.
“I thought I’d win second, I honestly did,” Smith said. “You have Clint, Fred and Trevor, and Trevor’s last and the calf he had drawn…. It’s just one of those deals where you let it all hang out and they’ll tell you what you win in the end. That’s the main thing I wanted to do was to give them something to shoot at. I had already had that calf once this week and I knew he was pretty strong, liked to run, but was great on the ground. I just went and did my job and today was my day.”
Amazingly, Fred bobbled his tie, Clint went too far down the arena and Trevor missed the first flank and was forced to get a better grip to get his calf to the ground.
Meanwhile, Smith rode out of Reliant with $54,175—on his wife Jennifer’s birthday no less. “I’ve had really good winters, but I’ve had really bad winters, too,” Smith said. “This year I think I had two or three thousand won this year before I got here. I’ve always said everything you win before Reno is a bonus, so I just got a $50,000 bonus. It’s always your goal to win as much as you can during the winter, but more than anything is not to get too down on yourself or your roping if you’re not in the top 15 when Reno rolls around. Hopefully, I’ll still be in the top 15 when Reno gets here.”
But Smith is hoping he’s not the only member of his family making the trip to Las Vegas this December. This year, he’s taken his nephew, Stetson Vest, under his wing in an effort to help him qualify for his first NFR. And in return, Vest let Smith ride his horse, Sportscenter, in Houston.
“Stetson’s been on him all year,” Smith said of the horse that came from Joseph Parsons. “I rode my mare (Destiny) for the first calf, she was a little sore and the calves were a little strong, so I said, ‘You know what, I’m getting on Sportscenter.’ He’s 20 years old and he’s a winner. Stetson’s been on a role with him this year and I didn’t want to mess with that, but for $50,000 it’s every man for himself.”
But that statement couldn’t be further from Smith’s actions.
“I’ve got four nephews, so there’s five of us and my goal was to have all of us at the NFR,” he said. “We have a pretty good chance to be in the day money every night. Stetson is roping with me, Clif (Cooper) and Tuf (Cooper) are rodeoing together and Trevor’s (Brazile) deal is pretty complicated so we all meet up at the rodeo. It is a family affair for us and I feel blessed to have us all around. I’ll keep the pedal down. You don’t mess with a hot streak.”