Like Father, Like Son: Memories of Winning the BFI Never Fade for Walt Woodard

Walt Woodard will return to the Bob Feist Invitational April 2 with Logan Olson, but first he'll rope in the first BFI Legends Roping with Tee Woolman and Chris Francis.

Walt and Travis Woodard both own BFI buckles, which makes them one of only two father-son cowboy combos in history to get that done. David and Ryan Motes also share this very distinct roping honor, David having won it heading for Denny Watkins in 1981, and Ryan heeling for Caleb Mitchell in 2009. In the Woodards’ case, the son struck before the father when 19-year-old Travis won the 2003 BFI heeling for Mikey Fletcher. Five years later, at 52, Daddy Walt won the 2008 BFI behind three-time champ Clay Tryan. Walt’s got another shot at BFI superstardom next Saturday, April 2, as he rolls into the 45th annual BFI at the Lazy E Arena behind Logan Olson.

Clay Tryan and Walt Woodard winning the 2008 BFI. Tryan also won it in 2005 with Patrick Smith and 2012 with Travis Graves. BFI Photo

I have fond and vivid memories of gathering in the awards area on both days the Woodards were in the BFI winner’s circle. The day Travis won it is the only time I’ve ever seen the ever-stoic Walt Woodard cry. What does Walt remember about that day today?

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“That was probably the most emotional thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he says at 66. “There are defining moments in all sports. What if you have a chance to win the BFI and miss? That would be like stepping up to the plate with the bases loaded at the World Series and striking out. After winning the BFI, Travis went on to win San Antonio and make the NFR (National Finals Rodeo). There are guys who rope fantastic who never make the NFR.

“Travis was only 19. I knew what was at stake, and I was very nervous for him. What a run. He ate that steer alive. That will always be one of life’s defining moments for him.”

Five years later, Walt was the one with the shot at winning the BFI. The two things that stand out for me now about that day are the fact that Clay and Walt were due a big win together that they could both enjoy, and given the scenario going into the short round, that they won it against all odds.

Mikey Fletcher and Travis Woodard in the 2003 BFI winner’s circle with founder Bob Feist. BFI Photo

Walt had won his second world championship at the 2007 NFR heeling for Clay, but it was one of those borderline unbearable split decisions in the world team roping title department. It was so exciting that Walt got his second gold buckle 26 years after strapping on the first one with Doyle Gellerman in 1981. But how heart-wrenching was it that Tryan came up $2,683 short on the heading side behind Chad Masters, who by the way had been beat by just $848 the year before by Matt Sherwood?

Clay and Walt were third high callback on BFI Monday in 2008 behind Speed Williams and Allen Bach, and Riley and Brady Minor. After taking the lead in the roping, Walt was riding out of the building at the back end. He saw Brady slip a leg, then started riding out again, but stopped to look over his shoulder when Speed and Big Al were backed in the box.

“Speed was the best in the world at that time, and he had almost 10 seconds to win the roping,” Walt remembers. “It was over.”

But when Walt saw Speed drop his hand, he knew he would a split second later break the barrier. A few second later, the leg Allen roped did not matter.

Walt and Travis Woodard’s BFI saddles are a prominent part of the Woodard Training Facility décor in Stephenville. Courtesy Walt Woodard

“Jack Nicklaus said it best when he said, ‘I wanted them to play the greatest round of their life when I beat them,’” said consummate lifelong sports fan Woodard.

Walt had gone 0-for-30 at the first three decades of the BFI. He had placed every which way but first. But this one—this was Walt’s day. He considered it “last call,” because the Woodard Training Center was under construction in the current Cowboy Capital of the World in Stephenville, Texas, and Walt was not planning on living much more of his life on the full-time rodeo road.

“What’s amazing about this roping is that you don’t win it when you’re supposed to, and you do win it when you’re not,” Walt told me at the time. “We went into the short round two seconds behind Speed Williams and Allen Bach, and they had 15 seconds in penalties on their last steer. I’d have bet my house that that would not have happened.

“I’d been in the lead at the BFI several times before I won it. One time, I roped my horse’s front feet on the fifth steer. I’d done that when I was 12—and at the BFI.”

Walt Woodard surprised me yet again—this time by tipping the humorous hand he’d been hiding from me forever—the day he won the BFI.

“This is a special win for all of us in this sport,” he said that June afternoon in Reno. “How many of these fans have been up there rooting for me all the way (for 30 years)? Their hair has turned gray waiting for this. We all won today.”

Walt stated matter-of-factly 14 years ago that, “The BFI is the biggest thing you can win other than the world championship.” I asked him today if that statement still stands.

“Yes,” he said. “Absolutely. Especially now that the BFI’s in Guthrie. I take pride in having won it in Reno, but the Lazy E—OMG—those steers run so fast in that (440-foot-long) arena that it really is the ultimate test. Me being from California, where it all started for team roping, it’s reminiscent of the most famous places, like Salinas, Oakdale and Chowchilla. It’s what team roping is all about.

“The talent it takes to win at the Lazy E is amazing. The BFI is an even bigger challenge and test at the Lazy E due to the degree of difficulty. Those steers are flying. Why is winning the BFI the biggest win besides the gold buckle? I won the NFR, and that’s great, but nobody knows it. Everybody knows I won the BFI. Against the 100 best teams in the world. Going one time. Over a long score. On hard-running steers. No excuses.

“Whoever wins the BFI is the winner. Period. And they do a great job making that event as even as they can. I didn’t leave the Lazy E last year saying, ‘Kory Koontz drew better than me today.’ I left there saying, ‘Kory Koontz heeled magnificently today.’”

Walt and Travis’s BFI saddles are positioned prominently in the clubhouse at the Woodard Training Facility that the BFI surely helped build. Walt’s roping at the rodeos right now with 2021 BFI Champion Header Manny Egusquiza, who will be back to defend that title with Koontz.

“I want to go back to The Show (NFR) one more time,” Walt said. “No one thinks you can do it at 66 years old. But how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? I don’t feel 66. If I was on an island and lost track of time, I might guess that I’m in my late-40s now. Manny and I were just 4.9 at the rodeo in Huntsville (Texas). I just unloaded a semi load of hay—440 bales. I could do that when I was 40, and I can still do it.”

Walt will heel for Logan Olson at the BFI next Saturday. But first, he’ll take two swings at the inaugural BFI Legends Roping on Friday. He’s entered with a couple of fellow past BFI champs in Tee Woolman (who won the 1980 BFI with Leo Camarillo) and Chris Francis (who won BFI 2018 with Cade Passig).

“I’m excited to rope against guys who are shaving,” Walt said. “I enjoy Frank Sinatra’s music. Most of the guys roping today don’t know who that is. Not that the Legends roping is going to be easy, because it’s not. But it’s surely going to be easier than going head-to-head with the under-40 crowd.” TRJ