Heart Attack Takes NFR Header Jack Rasco
Today’s young guns won’t remember him. But National Finals Rodeo header Jack Rasco was a big deal back in the day. And it feels like more than a small cowboy coincidence that Jack died exactly one week after one of his all-time favorite heelers, Leo Camarillo. The Lion left us on December 30, 2020, and Jack headed to Heaven on January 6, 2021. Both were 74. I can only imagine the fun little roping reunion they might be having right now.
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According to his little brother, 1976 World Champion Team Roper Ronnie Rasco, Jack’s been living in Northeast Oklahoma, and had recently had a heart attack he wasn’t expected to recover from.
“Jack had been in the hospital right across the Oklahoma line in Missouri,” said Ronnie, who’s 68 now and living in Arizona, and won the world heeling for Bucky Bradford in 1976. “He had a heart attack, and was in a coma. They didn’t expect him to make it. But Jack woke up. And they sent him home. Then he had another heart attack and died.”
The Rasco boys grew up in Southern California’s Lakeside area. Jack headed for Angel Crosthwaite at the 1968 NFR. Back then, the Top 15 individual team ropers qualified for the Finals and got to invite anyone they wanted. According to his brother, Jack had other chances to rope at the NFR. But due to the harsh reality of pre-equal-money team roping, Jack declined.
“Back then, it didn’t pay much,” said Ronnie, who the world with Bradford in 1976—in one of three sudden-death years when regular-season earnings were erased and world championships were based solely on NFR earnings—with $4,512. “Jack had other chances to rope at the Finals, but chose not to go, because it basically didn’t pay anything.”
Taking a pass on roping at the Finals might seem far-fetched now. But having been raised by a dad who also said “thanks, but no” to NFR offers, because he could make more money than a round paid in a couple hours at his veterinary practice without driving to Oklahoma—it happened more than people now know.
The Camarillo boys played a big part in the building of Jack’s roping resume. At that time—when California was king in dally team roping—the biggest jackpots included the Oakdale 10 Steer, Chowchilla Stampede 8 Steer and Riverside Rancheros 8 Steer. Winning the Oakdale 10 Steer with Leo was one of Jack’s proudest accomplishments.
“If you were to ask Jack which wins meant the most to him, I think he would have named that one with Leo at Oakdale,” said Ronnie—aka “Milkshake”—who roped at a second NFR in 1981 with Julio Moreno. “That roping was really prestigious back then.
“Jack was pretty famous for roping the horns. He was born with the talent to rope horns all day long. Jack could really reach a long way, and for the rodeos that were one-headers, that was the ticket. And he had consistency, too. Jack didn’t miss. He could rope head-duckers, fresh steers—it didn’t matter. For several years in a row at those big ropings, Jack roped every steer around the horns and never broke a barrier. He was the real deal. Jack and Leo were the toughest team around at one time. Those guys could really rope back in the day.”
“Leo and I moved Jack to Oakdale from Lakeside in 1966,” remembers Jerold Camarillo, who graduated from high school a year after Leo in 1965, and still lives in the original Cowboy Capital of the World. “We called him up to head for Leo and I while (cousin) Reg (Camarillo) was in the Army (serving two years in Vietnam). Jack came up here in an old Mercury and a homemade two-horse trailer with one yellow horse in it.
“Leo and I were living at the Live Oak Hotel for $1 a day, and here came Jack knocking on the door. He’d left his car running, because the starter didn’t work. Jack roped with Leo and I that whole year in 1966. That yellow horse was broncy, but he was a badass son of a gun. I don’t think Jack missed two steers that whole year—at the ropings and the rodeos. That guy was bad.”
With the 2021 International Professional Rodeo Association Finals going on right now at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, it’s the perfect time to mention the Rasco IPRA Threepeat of the 1960s. Jack Rasco was the 1965 IPRA champion team roper; their dad, Bud, won the 1966 IPRA team roping title; and brother Ronnie was the IPRA champ in 1967. As an aside, another guy who won the IPRA title before making his PRCA move was 1987 IPRA Champ Speed Williams.
“Leo and I amateur rodeoed with Jack in 1966,” Jerold said. “At that time, the big amateur outfit in California was called Western Approved Rodeos, or WAR for short. With Jack on our team, I was the 1966 WAR team roping champ, and Leo was the 1966 WAR calf roping and all-around champ.
“After we wiped ’em out in 1966, I decided to do something different in 1967 before joining the (PRCA-predecessor) RCA in 1968, which was the plan. In 1967, Jack Rasco, Billy Colli and me spent the summer in Wyoming and Colorado, jackpotting and open rodeoing. Leo stayed in California that year, but Jack and Billy and I had a big time out there. It was a fun summer I’ll never forget. When we weren’t roping, we were fishing. We won a lot up there. When we left there, they knew it and were glad to see us go.”
The Camarillo connection was game changing for Jack.
“When Jack came to Oakdale, he didn’t have a dime,” said Jerold, who remembers big brother Rasco having really bad asthma. “In a month or two, he had a brand new car—a red Ford—a brand new horse trailer and $10,000 in his bank account.
“Jack used a really stiff head rope. Back then, most people used a 7/16”, unlike the 3/8” ropes people use today. Jack’s rope was so stiff that I could heel with it. It was unreal. Jack went for first, and that yellow horse was unbelievable. Jack’s claim to fame was that he never missed. And it wasn’t a neck or a half head, it was around the horns. Jack Rasco was a bad cat.”
Besides brother Ronnie, Jack is survived by his daughter, Amanda, and son, Cy. TRJ