By: Justin Felisko May 29, 2014@ 02:15:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― It is easy to say things were different for Gage Gay a year ago when he brought a couple thousand fans to their feet in Asheville, North Carolina, with an impressive 91-point ride on Delco to win Jeff Robinson’s annual Touring Pro Division event.
Gay was still just an 18-year-old aspiring bull rider that had recently made his Built Ford Tough Series debut, after quickly making a name for himself in North Carolina through success in the high school, amateur and TPD ranks.
As a teenager, it was very common to see Gay hauling his bull rope and chaps to events where BFTS regulars J.B. Mauney, Shane Proctor, Billy Robinson and others were attending to fine-tune their trade and remain fresh during the offseason.
But even though he was beginning to make a name for himself last year, he was a relative unknown to a national audience.
That all changed this season when Gay began to compete on the BFTS full time, starting in Sacramento, California, eventually becoming a household name to PBR fans across the United States when he finished as a runner-up at Iron Cowboy V in Arlington, Texas, after eliminating three World Champions – Mauney, Guilherme Marchi and Mike Lee.
Gay will no longer be a young rider looking to make a name for himself when he returns to Asheville this year on June 6-7, for Robinson’s TPD event, which is just 30 miles from Robinson’s Mars Hill ranch. Instead, he will be one of a slew of talented BFTS riders looking to climb aboard the reigning four-time Stock Contractor of the Year’s rankest bulls in hopes of remaining fresh for when the BFTS second half resumes on Aug. 15 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While the two moments in Gay’s young career are vastly different in matter of scale, size and audience, both of his bull riding performances in Asheville and Arlington remain close to him as career highlights.
“That was my career highlight until the Iron Cowboy,” Gay recalled. “It was a great event. I rode Delco for 91 points. I knew when I rode him, he was a Built Ford Tough short-round caliber bull and that just made me that much more confident to know I can come here and hang with these guys.”
Robinson had seen Gay around before and had heard plenty of the guys talking about him having quite a bit of talent. He got a first-hand glimpse of the teenager’s potential on the second night.
Not only did Gay ride Delco for 91 points in the championship round, the Staley, North Carolina, native conquered KISS Animalize for 87.5 points in the long round.
According to Robinson, there was no doubt Delco would have been 92 or better at a BFTS event.
“I thought it was one of the better rides I had seen all year,” he said. “I thought Gage should have been 90 in the long go and the short go.
“I think that set Gage up for success this year. I think he knew he could ride the best bulls and he did a good job.”
Gay currently sits 18th in the world standings, after posting three Top-5 finishes and five Top-10 finishes during the first half of the BFTS season. The 5-foot-6 rider finished the stretch with a 32.61 riding percentage and is currently leading the PBR Rookie of the Year race.
“A few people were speechless, but I got quite a few pats on the back saying good job,” Gay said about his 91-point performance on Delco.
While working his way through the ranks, Gay spent many car rides with Billy Robinson, and got to pick the 12-year veteran’s brain about the sport.
Billy Robinson competed last year at Robinson’s event and will be there once again this year.
“It was probably one of the best bull rides I had ever seen (Gay) make,” Billy Robinson said. “That was an outstanding day for that bull, too.”
There is never a guarantee that success at the TPD or amateur levels will lead to immediate triumphs on the PBR’s rankest circuit. Regardless, Billy Robinson says it is no surprise to see Gay, who won the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Billings, Montana, with a career-high 91.5–point ride on Percolator, thriving in his first full season competing with the best.
“Everybody expected it out of Gage,” Billy Robinson said. “I’ve seen Gage ride around here for years now and it was nothing new to him getting on those caliber bulls. He has been getting on them around here at the house and riding them for several years. It wasn’t a step up for him as far as the bull-wise. He adjusted quick to the surroundings and atmosphere – better than most at that age.”
Delco and Percolator are just two of Jeff Robinson’s bulls that will buck during his event. Rango and I’m a Gangster Too will also buck.
The stock contractor also is in the process of organizing a special Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation bonus round for the first night that will feature a select amount of riders in a champion’s challenge that has a $15,000 prize pack from RMEF waiting for the winner.
On Saturday night, Robinson and his sponsors, with the help of Wendell Berry, are giving away a home to a select military veteran through 1,000 Miles Till Home and the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
One local high school senior will also be awarded a $5,000 scholarship in memory of Robinson’s good friend Paul Briggs Jr.
“We are excited,” Robinson said. “This is our fourth year of the event and it’s growing.”
Along with the bull riding in his home state, Gay plans on competing at other TPDs this summer to gain some more points toward the world standings and the rookie of the year race.
He added that it would clearly be an honor to become the PBR’s 21st Rookie of the Year award recipient.
“It would be a really big deal in my life,” Gay said. “I’ve won the rookie a couple of times in different associations. I just feel it is a stepping stone to a world title.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.