SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Throughout the weekend you could hear the crashing of a bull rope against the floor or a loud vulgarity being screamed from deep inside the locker room moments after various riders were sent crashing to the arena dirt.
Emotions were extremely high at JHQ Arena as every rider that is on the fringe of the Built Ford Tough Series struggled to get qualified rides on the board.
In fact, outside of Robson Palermo (2-for-4), riders competing for the final spots for the Built Ford World Finals had an atrocious weekend in Springfield.
No. 34 Michael Lane, No. 35 Lachlan Richardson, No. 36 Dave Mason, No. 37 Tyler Harr, No. 38 Neil Holmes, No. 39 Alexandre Cardozo, No. 40 Douglas Duncan, No. 41 Luis Blanco and No. 44 Sean Willingham went a combined 1-for-27.
“Not having a seat in the Top 35 is definitely disappointing,” Willingham admitted Sunday. “There is no reason I shouldn’t be riding or accumulating more points so I can get back to Las Vegas.”
Being on the outside of the Top 35, or on the verge of being cut from the BFTS, is never a good feeling.
It is only that much more stressful when there are just three BFTS events remaining until the World Finals on Oct. 21-25.
Not only that, but the eight riders from Lane to Blanco are separated by only 93.33 points.
Palermo says that only makes things more stressful every night.
“Oh my gosh, it looks like a nightmare,” Palermo said Friday night. “You come, and a couple of those guys are here, and you know you need to make points. Then you buck off a bull and those guys buck off a bull too.
“Now, it is all about points.”
Palermo was able to creep a tad out of the BFTS cutline jungle by going 2-for-4 and earning 140 points in Springfield. He jumped from 36th to 32nd in the standings.
How important are points at this time of year?
Well, every one of those fringe riders immediately left Springfield on Sunday night to head to various airports in the region, such as Dallas, Nashville, Tennessee, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, to head to Pendleton, Oregon, for the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event on Monday and Tuesday.
Fans can watch all of the action on PBR LIVE on CarbonTV.com starting at 10:30 p.m. ET.
World No. 4 Matt Triplett is also expected to compete.
Willingham is a 13-year veteran fighting for one of the remaining spots in Las Vegas.
“I hate it,” Willingham said about having to go to non-BFTS events. “I don’t enjoy going at all. I rather show up here and show out. Then you wouldn’t have to go to any. I put myself in a position this year that if I want to make it back to Vegas in October, I need to be going and I need to be getting on more bulls. The more the better for me right now.”
Willingham is grateful there are two remaining Velocity events for him to try and accumulate points. He could potentially earn a BFTS event exemption if he were to win Pendleton this week.
However, even simply placing in the Top 6 in the event aggregate will be huge. A BlueDEF winner receives 80 points toward the world standings.
Willingham is only 197.5 points behind No. 36 Dave Mason.
The No. 36 position in the world standings is the current cutoff point for the 2015 World Finals because of L.J. Jenkins’ retirement. As of Monday, Jenkins is still ranked inside the Top 35 (29th).
Willingham has bucked off seven consecutive BFTS bulls since returning from his broken neck. He has a streak of 15 straight buckoffs overall.
“It has been a big struggle this year,” Willingham said. “I haven’t felt really good almost all year long. I had a pretty good start. I had some Top-5’s, Top-10’s maybe here and there, but nothing up to my capability I guess. It has just been a rough year. I broke my neck, so I was dealing with that. My hip was still a little sore. My hip feels good now and my neck feels good.”
Mason doesn’t pay much attention to the standings and tries to only focus on what he can control.
That, of course, is trying to ride his bulls.
The rookie finally ended a 0-for-23 streak on the BFTS this weekend with an 84.5-point ride on Snapback in Round 1, yet he was unable to earn any points toward the world standings.
“Making the Finals is the goal this year, but if I look too much into (the standings) I make mistakes,” Mason said. “All I am looking forward to is the next bull tomorrow.”
Mason added that he has been struggling to regain his form following a concussion last month.
“I just couldn’t get my timing again or nothing,” he said. “I was always out of time when they were jumping.”
The Top 35 active riders in the world standings following the BlueDEF Velocity Tour Finals in Louisville, Kentucky, on Oct. 9-10 will be granted automatic bids to the World Finals.
The final five seeds for the World Finals will consist of the 2015 BlueDEF Velocity Tour regular-season champion, the top international performer at the BlueDEF Finals and the top three performers at the BlueDEF Finals that are not already qualified for the World Finals.
Therefore, there are still plenty of chances for Willingham and the other riders to crack the Top 35 outside of the BFTS events, especially with the two-day BlueDEF Finals offering round points and event average points.
The BlueDEF Finals will feature the Top 30 riders in the BlueDEF Velocity Tour standings and the Top 10 riders in the world standings not inside the Top 30 of the BlueDEF Finals.
The BlueDEF Finals is optional for any BFTS riders that qualify.
Willingham is trying to keep his head up in the face of adversity.
“It seems like you can’t ever seem to crawl yourself out,” Willingham said. “Then one day it will all of a sudden click again and you will crawl back out and you will be back on top of the world where you need to be. You just need to stay positive.
“I will go to Pendleton and have some fun. Hopefully, I will ride some bulls and I will be in Charlotte.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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