Those of you who got a charge out of watching National Finals Rodeo heeler Wesley Thorp switch ends at RFD-TV’s The American last spring are in for a repeat treat. Thorp—who will heel for Cody Snow at his third-straight NFR in December—plans to switch ends again at next month’s World Champions Rodeo Alliance Semi-Finals.
Yes, when the $500,000 WCRA Semis rolls into the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the run of the November 15-18 rodeo, Thorp has high hopes to be heading and heeling. He’ll be pulling pipes for his main-man Snow, and heading for seven-time NFR header Kaleb Driggers, who’s on everybody’s must-watch list these days with heeling phenom Junior Nogueira.
“The plan is to head for Driggers at the Semis, if we can both get in,” said Thorp, who’ll turn 23 during next month’s Semis on November 16. “I got some heading points a few days ago at a roping Zane (Big Country) Bruce put on in Texas, and Driggers has been nominating some events, too.”
Wesley’s referring to the WCRA’s Virtual Rodeo Qualifier (VRQ) system, in which contestants can nominate events (nominate now at app.wcrarodeo.com; the cutoff for the Semis is October 29), and the top 150 in each event qualify to compete at the WCRA Semi-Finals. The top finishers at next month’s Semi-Finals will move on to the first of four 2019 WCRA “majors” in January.
“I’m wanting to head also, because you can only qualify once at each end,” Thorp explained. “Driggers heels really good, too, so I called and asked him if he’d consider it. He said yes. We just made a plan a couple weeks ago to try and get qualified, so it’s time to get after it.”
Being handy enough to switch ends basically allows a guy to double dip at the big dough.
“Anytime you have the chance to be entered twice, you have to try it,” said Thorp, who pulled off a first earlier this year when he qualified for The American both heading for Seth Smithson, with which he won the American Semifinals in Fort Worth, and heeling for Snow. “I’m trying to get my name down as many times as I can, because that’s twice as many chances to win. I’ve been working on my heading—mainly for the WCRA, and then I’ll probably try to qualify for The American twice again, too. All it is is additional opportunity, so why not try it?
“It was very cool to be able to head and heel for that much money against the best at The American. It was fun to switch it up a little bit, and have more than one chance in the hat.”
As fate would have it, Snow and Thorp split Round 1 in Bracket III last night at the All American ProRodeo Finals in Waco with—you guessed it—Driggers and Nogueira. Both teams—comprised of four great cowboys and friends—were 5.2.
Before any of you go assuming that Thorp and Driggers will be some sort of wild-card underdogs at the Lazy E, you should know that Driggers’ heeling number is a 10. That’s the same as Thorp and every other NFR heeler and world champ, and is as good as it gets. The heading gold standard is a #9, and Driggers is that, too. Wesley’s a #8 header, so laughingly refers to himself as the weakest link.
“I have a terrible heading number,” Thorp smiled. “I’m not good enough to say I’m an NFR guy, but my number’s too high to just go have fun heading.”
Yes, team roping “no man’s land.” But he’s proven on a big stage that he can compete with the best in both boxes.
“I’ve always liked heading, too,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to get to do both, and to rope with two aggressive guys at both ends. Roping with Cody and Kaleb is as good as it gets, and I like roping with winners.”
Thorp says he appreciates a lot of the basic principles behind the WCRA.
“I think it’s a super cool opportunity,” he said. “They’re definitely not trying to clash with any other organizations. They’re working with everyone to try and bring everybody together, and grow the sport. I like that everybody has an equal chance to qualify for the Semi-Finals, which gives more people the chance at a great rodeo, even if they don’t compete full time. I like that it doesn’t cost very much to nominate events, so it’s not very costly to qualify for the Semis. I’ve told a lot of friends about it. Now they’re nominating events, too.”
As for his third straight NFR, “I set a goal when I was younger that I wanted to make the NFR my first year out of college,” Thorp said. “That I was able to make it all through college is pretty cool.”
Thorp won National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association team roping titles rodeoing for Ranger College in Stephenville, and is now finishing up his college degree in University Studies online at Texas Tech. He’s only taking a few hours each semester since he’s rodeoing, but is slowly and surely advancing toward his academic finish line.
He’s still not sure what he’ll be riding in Vegas come December, but “I want my horse to be free through the corner, and I want to stay really consistent and heel them all when they’re ready to be heeled. I want to ride good position, and set myself up for good shots. If I can get that done, I’ll be happy.”