It’s opening night of the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and there’s no place any roper or roping fan would rather be than Las Vegas. Before it starts, and we see how the world championship race plays out this year, let’s all stop and salute the best headers and heelers in all the land. The road to the NFR is a long, grueling one, and it’s packed with plenty of potholes along the way that’ll test a guy’s try, patience and persistence. Rodeoing for a living is not for the faint of heart. Congratulations to the top 15 headers and heelers at this year’s NFR, who persevered in the year-long battle!!
A few fun facts for all you team roping fans who’ll be pulling up a seat at the Thomas & Mack Center tonight, watching it on a big screen around Cowboy Town or tuning into Round 1 on the TV in your living room…
Kaleb Driggers and reigning World Champion All-Around Cowboy Junior Nogueira are the leaders of the team roping pack with $133,977 and $134,707 a man, respectively. But Erich Rogers and Cory Petska are riding in hot in their rearview mirrors with $133,712 a man. With $26,231 rounds and the $67,269 average, that’s chump change. And all four are hungry for their first world team roping title after coming oh so close so many times.
Texan Kory Koontz is the ultimate warrior in this year’s field with 21 NFR back numbers. There are four Finals first-timers here this year, including KK’s header, Florida’s Dustin Equsquiza, South Dakota’s Junior Dees, who’ll spin for fellow Finals freshman Tyler McKnight from Texas, and Oklahoma’s Joseph Harrison, who’ll heel for Charly Crawford.
Oregon’s Garrett Rogers and Washington’s Jake Minor will be the first team to ride in the box tonight, and the 15 teams’ strategies are all over the map. Some are planning to go-for-broke 10 times, and others can’t stop thinking about the pot of gold that comes with the average and annually upends the final world standings.
“Making the Finals is something we never take for granted,” Koontz said. “Making the Finals can be a game changer, and if you rodeo hard all year long and don’t make the cut, it can be a real deal breaker. If you rope for a living, you’ve got to get to Vegas, bottom line. It’s a great feeling to ride back into the Thomas & Mack, and to get to compete against the best. I’m feeling humbled, blessed and fired up!”