Planes, trains and automobiles is not just a movie. On the final weekend of the 2012 pro rodeo regular season, it also describes the path of bubble cowboys and cowgirls, those who are precariously close to the top 15 money earners in each event.
Because only those top 15 qualify to the $6 million Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), held annually in Las Vegas in December, contestants are scrambling to land on the correct side of the bubble with about a dozen rodeos on the schedule this weekend from California to New Jersey. They are trying to gobble up as many dollars as possible before the sun sets on the 2012 regular season on September 30.
Here’s how the chase for the 15th spot looks in each event with just over 24 hours to go.
In right now: Kansas cowboy Jared Keylon is 15th this week and has already helped his own cause: he is splitting second at the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City, the most lucrative rodeo on the schedule. He will have to wait out the final performances over the weekend to see where he ends up.
Crying hole: Canadian talent Dusty LaValley is 16th, about $2,591 behind Keylon. He and saddle bronc rider Luke Butterfield (also 16th in his event) are trying to prevent a repeat of 2011 where only barrel racer Lindsay Sears followed the Maple Leaf in Las Vegas.
In right now: World Champion Jason Miller finds himself on the right side of the bubble right now with $45,797 in unofficial earnings.
Crying hole: Wisconsin cowboy Nick Guy is 16th but only $2,000 behind Miller.
Tight race: Four guys are within $3,000 of Miller’s position at 15th. Eighteenth ranked Bray Armes is looking dangerous as the leader in Kansas City which could be a huge paycheck. Armes is just $2,271 from his first WNFR.
In right now: World Champions Nick Sartain and Kollin VonAhn are clinging to their spots at 15th to start the final week. On the heeling side, VonAhn is just $82 behind 14th ranked Dugan Kelly so he has a solid chance to move up as well.
Crying hole: Reigning World Champion Turtle Powell is in the crying hole for headers, about $1,230 behind Sartain. He and Kelly are leading in New Braunfels, Texas so they have already given themselves a chance to move up.
For the heelers, another World Champion finds himself in 16th. Rich Skelton needs at least $1,500 to move ahead of VonAhn.
Watch out for: Tyler Wade is ranked 17th for headers but he is only $1,741 out so a big weekend could move him up enough to earn his first WNFR berth.
Saddle Bronc Riding
In right now: Tyrell Smith has won $52,311 this season and is just $14 behind 14th ranked Isaac Diaz.
Crying hole: Canadian Luke Butterfield is chasing Smith. He is $2,361 from 15th. Ironically, Butterfield’s girlfriend, WPRA barrel racer Sydni Blanchard, is chasing her own bubble blues this weekend, ranked 19th.
Tie Down Roping
In right now: Texas cowboy Bradley Bynum is so close he can probably smell the smoke from the Mirage Hotel’s volcano. Ranked 15th this week, Bynum has been busy already and is sitting in the money at both Kansas City and Anadarko, Oklahoma so far. He is $923 behind 14th ranked Ace Sloan.
Crying hole: Clif Cooper is the bubble boy in the tie down roping. The middle of the three Cooper brothers is $1,408 behind Bynum in search of his third straight WNFR.
Watch out for: Blair Burk has been to the big show in Vegas 14 times but not since 2009. He is trying to change that during a furious final weekend. Burk is 17th and just over $2,500 behind Bynum.
Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) Barrel Racing
In right now: Colorado cowgirl Christy Loflin made a huge splash two weeks ago with a win at the Pendleton Round Up aboard her great mare Sheza Blazin Move. Loflin moved to 15th with the win and held on with a big weekend last week as well. She needs to keep winning to have a chance at her first WNFR.
Crying hole: Fallon Taylor and her mare Flos Heiress are only $777 behind Loflin, the smallest gap between 15th and 16th amongst all the events. Could that number be as lucky for her as it is in the Vegas casinos?
Tight race: Another Colorado cowgirl, Sammi Bessert, is $1,733 behind Loflin in 17th and is picking up a check right now at the Poway (CA) Rodeo.
Watch out for: Robyn Herring is $2,777 behind Loflin and ranked 18th but the tough Texas lady is leading New Braunfels and placing high at Kansas City. It could be enough to push her to a first WNFR especially if the ladies above her struggle.
In right now: Tag Elliott is one cowboy fans would love to see in Vegas and he is in right now. With a $4,000 lead, the Utah cowboy has a bit of breathing room but a check or two this weekend would seal the deal.
Crying hole: South Dakota cowboy Corey Maier was hoping to join his brother Ardie in Vegas this year but is a bit short. Maier is winning New Braunfels so far but needs some big heroics to make the cut.