Nelson Wyatt and Trace Porter rode into the August 25-26 Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo hanging by a thread to their dream of qualifying for their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2018. But their urgency for a paycheck went way beyond that. This wasn’t a case of casual crunch time. It was win or literally go home.
When Wyatt, who calls Clanton, Alabama, home, and his heeler, Leesville, Louisiana’s Trace Porter, were awarded Yeti Coolers and handed $1,000 apiece in cold, hard cash for winning Saturday’s opening performance with a 5.3-second run, they looked more like two guys who’d just won the Mega Millions Lottery than mere perf champs.
“We needed this bad,” Porter said. “We had a great winter, but couldn’t keep things going this spring or summer. This is a fourth-quarter rodeo. Hopefully, this hit will get the ball rolling.”
Here’s the thing: They were still smiling just as big when it was all said and done on Sunday afternoon, even after getting moved twice and finishing third behind San Juan team roping titlists Jeff Flenniken and Jake Minor, who were 5.1 for $9,287 a man and climbed to 18th and 17th in the world, respectively; and reigning World Champion Header Erich Rogers and Clint Summers, who were 5.2, earned $8,310 apiece, and jumped from 16th to 11th, and 11th to eighth in the world heading and heeling standings.
That’s because the rodeo in San Juan Capistrano—which is open to the Top 30 in the world, and features equal money in the team roping of a fat $40,000 a side at a crucial time in the regular season—paid $7,332 a man for third (and no, it wasn’t top loaded; a very cowboy-friendly 10 places were paid).
“Nobody needed this more than I did,” said Wyatt, who’s now 27th in the world and just $10,000 behind 15-place header Derrick Begay (Porter is currently 19th in the world, and less than $2,500 behind 15-ranked Quinn Kesler in the heeling standings). “I didn’t have enough money to my name to pay my entry fees this week. We still have an outside chance at making the Finals. But this money will let me keep entering, and literally get me to the next one.”