Junior Nogueira won $7,500 behind Colby Lovell at his first major American jackpot—the 2014 Wildfire Open to the World in Salado, Texas. The money—not much compared to what the three-time world champ wins each week now—changed the course of team roping history.
Not all big breaks mean big wins.
For Junior Nogueira, his big break came in the form of a fourth-place, $7,500 paycheck at the Wildfire Open to the World in 2014, just two months after Nogueira showed up at a Jake Barnes clinic with never-before-seen talent.
Nogueira’s story is for the ages, and one we’ve told before: Of coming to America, barely speaking any English, being mentored by the legendary seven-time World Champion Barnes, making the Finals his first year, becoming the PRCA’s All-Around World Champion just two years later and building a family and a future in the States with two more heeling gold buckles in 2021 and 2022.
Those big moments have gotten their due—but the little moments we’ve never written about provide more perspective on how long the road to the top really is.
“I was broke,” Nogueira said. “I had a few dollars and a few pennies to my name. I didn’t speak very good English, and Jake had bought that horse for me.”
Nogueira had been staying with Barnes and his wife, Toni, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and they made the trip across the Southwest to Salado, Texas, to rope in the Wildfire in February 2014.
“I had seen all the videos of that roping,” Nogueira said. “That was the first time I’d ever been to a big Open roping like that. I didn’t know what to think. ”
Future World Champion Colby Lovell signed up to take a chance on the kid from Brazil.
“I met him at Rapid City a week or so before, and I needed a run,” Lovell remembered.” I didn’t enter Odessa earlier that January, but everybody was telling me about the kid roping with Jake Barnes.”
Nogueira didn’t look like much at the time, until you saw that heel shot. No patches on his shirt, a tan hat that had seen better days and a Booger Barter trophy jacket he’d won on a previous trip to the States (when he’d come to help his other mentor, Robby Schroeder, at the horse shows).
“He was very nice and appreciative of me roping with him,” Lovell said. “But I think that was the last time he ever entered with me because everyone figured out he was one of the best right there that day.”
The little sorrel Nogueira rode that day was just the transportation he needed to get close enough to the feet for his pullback heard ’round the world.
“I watched him turn in and heel, and I thought, ‘Holy…,’” Lovell laughed.
They were 44.22 on six head in the roping won by Clay Smith and Will Woodfin.
Barnes and Nogueira had lost a horse and wrecked a truck in Rapid City a few weeks earlier, so the money helped Nogueira scrape by—until he picked up a check with Barnes at the American Rodeo that year. With that money, they headed West, winning the Clark County Fair & Rodeo in Logandale, Nevada, and on to the summer run. Nogueira was the Resistol Rookie of the Year in the heeling, and he and Barnes qualified for the NFR that year. The rest, as they say, is history.