It’s not lost on Calvin Jackson that his idea for what became Unfinished Business could result in any one of the eight PBR legends participating being seriously hurt.
Yet he and others can’t help but laugh.
However, there’s definitely a nervousness that can be heard as Jackson’s high-pitched laugh sort of trails off into silence of anxiety.
Last July, Jackson called J.W. Hart with the idea of having Hart and four other Ring of Honor members – Justin McBride, Ross Coleman, Chris Shivers and Mike White – compete for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize at this coming weekend’s J.W. Hart PBR Challenge, in Decatur, Texas.
“It’s not like we’re asking them to come out of retirement for a tennis match,” Jackson said. “They’re getting back on and I know their competitive fire is in there, but for J.W. — I just didn’t think he’d do it, but I should’ve known better.”
Jackson added, “He was working cows when I called him and he got real quiet. I said, ‘J.W., did you hear me?’ He goes, ‘I’m not real sure if heard you or not.’”
Hart joked, “It kind of snowballed from there.”
By years end the five-man draw had grown to eight with the addition of Tater Porter, Cody Custer and Michael Gaffney, and the prize money swelled to $160,000.
When all 3,500 tickets sold out within 36 hours of going on sale, arrangements were made for additional temporary bleachers to accommodate 1,900 more seats and then an additional 1,400 were made available — all of which have been sold. They recently added another yet another 900 seats of which less than 250 remain.
Based on ticket sales and hotel reservations – there are no rooms available in Decatur on the night of May 30 – Jackson said there are PBR fans coming from at least 35 states as well as Canada and the U.K.
After the PBR got involved, it added a Champions Challenge featuring PBR gold buckle winners Guilherme Marchi, J.B. Mauney, Mike White and Renato Nunes and PRCA champions Shane Proctor and J.W. Harris.
And the Blue Def Velocity event, which features Texas natives Douglas Duncan and Stormy Wing, will also become only the second Pay-Per-View special in PBR history.
“It’s just a buzz going on here in our little town,” Jackson said. “Everybody knows how big of an event this is for our community. Everybody’s come to the forefront and just said, ‘Man, here we go.’ We’re so excited.
“I don’t want to take anything away from these guys today,” Jackson continued, “but (Unfinished Business) is connecting (the fans) to the good ole days.”
The annual event will take place at the Wise County Fairgrounds on Saturday at 7 p.m. CT.
According to committee members – Andrew Rottner, Alan Sessions, Wendell Berry and Jackson – in addition to expanding the seating capacity of the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse Arena they’re also doubling the staff to include more concessions, beer sellers and parking attendants.
They’re also bringing in twice as many port-a-potties.
The committee has also been working with Sheriff David Walker and Police Chief Rex Hopkins, both of whom have pledged increased staff on hand that night as well, and assured the city can handle the doubling of what was already a premiere event.
“Since day one they’ve been on board,” Jackson said. “They were like, ‘Get it boys. Lets go.’”
Jackson said he and Hart shared a laugh earlier this week.
In 2009, a year after Hart had last competed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and had announced his intention to retire, it was Jackson who talked the Iron Man – Hart had once ridden in 175 consecutive Built Ford Tough Series events without missing a single one – into one last out at the Decatur event.
At the conclusion of the Touring Pro Division event, Hart got on Cat Man Do, which he co-owned with then Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, and within seconds he was picking himself up off the dirt for what he thought was the last time.
“I feel kind of bad,” Jackson said, “it seems like every time we come up with something there’s a chance he could get hurt or a chance he could lose money.”
This is the 12th year Hart has held his annual event in Decatur.
In addition to the event, which regularly features riders ranked in the Top 10, he has paid to have three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker on several occasions – including his challenge of Pistol Robinson in which he gave him 40-1 odds against $40,000 via Twitter – World Champion Bull Asteroid and other highly-marketed challenges.
Rottner said he thought last year’s event, which featured a challenge between Mauney and Harris, was one of the most complete events they’ve done from top to bottom and that this year’s added feature will be next-to-impossible to surpass.
Regarding this year’s Unfinished Business, Rottner added, “It’s a great opportunity to engage the original fan base. These are the heroes and the legends that they watched.”
“The running joke now is, ‘Well, what are we going to do next year,’” Rottner said.
Another story everyone, including the eight legends, like joking about is the notion that Hart convinced each of them to commit by telling them the others had done so anyone had to chance to say yes.
“I didn’t want to say that, but, yeah, that’s exactly what he did,” said Jackson, laughing. “I know that says a lot for those guys to step up for him and for him to step up for us, says a lot for him. Not to brag too much on (Hart), whatever we’ve needed from him – this is our 12th year – he’s never said, ‘no.’”
Hart originally held the event in nearby Gainesville from 2000 through 2002 along with an additional event in co-produced with the local Shriners organization in Ardmore, Oklahoma, however, after asking for some help and assistance – Hart didn’t need their money, he needed manpower – he elected not to have an event in 2003.
Jackson, who had sponsored the 2002 event, had reached out to Hart and after learning that he was no longer planning to host the event, the Decatur entrepreneur introduced the PBR legend to his friends.
While they – Jackson, Rottner, Sessions, Berry and the late Roy Young – were essentially trying to convince Hart to lend his namesake to their first-year event, they jokingly turned the tables on Hart.
Near the end of their first meeting, they asked Hart for an official budget.
He laughed and wrote up $85,000 worth of expenses on a scratch piece of paper. By the time all was said and done, Hart had only over-estimated their overhead by $500.
In the years since the budget has increased to roughly $125,000, while this year is $250,000 and that does not include the PBR’s lofty production expense in bring in a full television crew for the Pay-Per-View special.
“It’s a neat deal how it all came together,” Jackson said. “J.W. came down and we haven’t looked back since.”
“He was smart enough to recognize the committee,” McBride said. “I think that’s the best move he ever made. It’s J.W.’s namesake and he goes out there and gets the excitement going and does a great job promoting it and putting it together, but they’re the cog in the wheel.”
Coleman, who used to host an annual event of his own in Molalla, Oregon, agreed.
Like Hart’s event, Coleman was for charity.
“I always say you’re only as great as the company you keep,” Coleman said. He later added, “I think that’s not only part of this great event, but any great event you see out that’s successful.”
Like the PBR cofounders, Hart’s committee has had a single-minded vision from day one.
And they’ve known one another almost all their lives.
Jackson and Roy grew up together in Decatur and met Berry, who grew up six miles out of town, in Chico, 25 years ago. The trio met Sessions when he moved from Fort Worth to his grandparents’ farm.
Rottner has been in Decatur for the past 20 years.
All five have been community leaders the entire time, so it’s no surprise the event, which set a trend as the first nonprofit enterprise, has raised more money for charity than any other PBR event.
In the past 11 years they’ve given more than $600,000 to local charities and will approach, if not surpass, $700,000 this year.
Thanks to Berry and his 1,000 Miles Till Home campaign their giving away their 13th home this week.
For the past three years they’ve raised $260,000 in which they’ve purchased foreclosed homes valued at $250,000 each for $20,000 a piece with the idea they would be donated to wounded veterans. The 13 homes – they gave away five in 2013, two last year, one this year and five others – have a combined commercial value of $3.25 million.
“There’s nothing better,” said Rottner, of seeing the look on veterans’ faces when they receive the keys to a new home. “To be able to give back; it’s meaningful, important and very rewarding.”
“We took off running and it got crazy and it’s been crazy ever since,” said Berry, who along with Sessions will be filming a pilot for a TV series called “Chasing Heroes.” The premise is to find the true American hero among veterans doing extraordinary things for other people.
Hart said they plan to keep their “nose to the grindstone.”
“To me, that’s just like a World Champion,” Hart explained. “I’m sure Chris Shivers or Justin McBride or Adriano (Moraes) weren’t in the midst of the hay day of their careers and lay in bed thinking about how good they were or how great they rode or how much money they won or earned and things they did. They laid in bed at night thinking about that next great bull that hadn’t been rode or wining the next gold buckle or the first gold buckle.
“I think that’s the difference in the average guy and the greats and that’s what put this (committee), who puts this on, in that level of greats. They don’t think about how much they gave. They think about how much more they can give.”
This year, their thoughts haven’t only been about the event, but the community that’s been so supportive.
Following a four-year drought that began with a historic heatwave, North Texas has received unprecedented amounts of rain throughout much of May and more rain is in the forecast for this coming week.
This past Tuesday, Wise County was in the eye of the storm.
According to www.weather.com, there were more than two dozen tornadoes reported in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma with flash flooding throughout the region.
“This feels a lot like that first year with the uncertainty,” Jackson said.
“With all the tornadoes and stuff they’ve had the last few weeks – few days – it won’t be any different,” said Hart, of the resolve the entire community has shown over the years. “They’ll all pull together and it’ll be a triumphant success over that too.”
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