PUEBLO, Colo. – Only one time in his professional bull riding career has Ben Jones been able to step foot inside AT&T Stadium, look up into the massive football stadium that is home to the Dallas Cowboys, and see tens of thousands of fans standing and cheering him on.
The 35-year-old dancing Australian still remembers the adrenaline rush that ran through his body during the 2011 Iron Cowboy event, and he hopes to make his way back in 2015 to the gargantuan stadium that sits less than an hour away from his Boyd, Texas, residence.
While his main goal this coming year is to earn a spot on the Built Ford Tough Series full time once again, Jones hopes to battle his way to RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN, which is set to take place the day after the PBR’s Iron Cowboy (Feb. 28) on March 1.
Jones is currently in good position to make his first appearance in four years at AT&T Stadium by being one of five qualifiers for THE AMERICAN. Jones sits atop of THE AMERICAN bull riding standings with 1,129.71 points earned at Touring Pro Division and BlueDEF Velocity Tour events since he paid the $350 entry fee to make himself eligible July 1.
THE AMERICAN will feature the Top 10 riders from the 2014 PBR world standings – Silvano Alves, Joao Ricardo Vieira, Matt Triplett, J.B. Mauney, Fabiano Vieira, Eduardo Aparecido, Mike Lee, Guilherme Marchi, J.W. Harris and Cody Nance – as well as the additional five qualifiers who have paid the one-time entry fee and accumulated the most points between the time they paid their fee and January 31, 2015. The winner of THE AMERICAN SEMIFINALS on Feb. 20-22 at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, will also be awarded a final qualification spot.
Just like last year’s inaugural THE AMERICAN, the six bull riding qualifiers will be eligible to win a share of the $1 million bonus offered to any qualifier who potentially wins one of the seven rodeo events – bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding.
“That is a $1 million bonus and just a chance to go into there is another dream coming true,” Jones said. “To win potentially $1 million so close to home would be a good feeling. That is another advantage to me. I can sleep in my bed the night before and treat it like I am in the practice pen.”
Jones is one of 19 PBR bull riders that have paid the entry fee thus far to put themselves in the running for THE AMERICAN. Tyler Harr, Jason Malone, Stetson Lawrence and Lachlan Richardson currently round out the Top 5 of the qualifier standings.
“It would be amazing to compete in it,” Harr said. “I feel very blessed to even have a chance. It is kind of a blessing in disguise because at the time I didn’t know if it was going to work out the way it has and I would be in a position that I am in.”
Harr registered on Aug. 1 and currently sits 430.33 points behind Jones, but he is 311.63 points ahead of No. 6 Budd Williamson. Some of the other riders that have paid the entry fee include Austin Meier, Stormy Wing andTy Pozzobon.
While he knows there is still much to be decided before March 1, Harr believes a qualifier can potentially walk away with a share of the $1 million bonus – noting that last year Richard Champion was able to win $1 million as the only qualifier to win his respective event (bareback riding).
“I wouldn’t call it a crazy long shot for one of us to slip in there and win,” Harr said. “It is definitely still a tall order. There is going to be some of the top bulls there and definitely the Top 10 in the world from last year are going to be tuned up and ready to go. Anything can happen.”
Both Jones and Harr are scheduled to compete at Saturday’s Luke Snyder Invitational in San Antonio at Cowboy’s Dancehall and are hoping to continue to gain points toward the world standings, as well as THE AMERICAN.
Jones also learned last week that he would be competing at the BFTS season-opener on Jan. 2-3 in Baltimore thanks to his BlueDEF Velocity Tour event win at the L.J. Jenkins Invitational in Clovis, New Mexico, on Nov. 1.
It was an unexpected phone call, he said.
“I thought maybe I would make it in to the second or third one,” Jones said. “To get into that first one at the start of the year, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
This weekend will be his last TPD event until the New Year. Jones is planning to climb on some young practice bulls courtesy of Wolf Creek Cattle Company, which he credits for being a huge supporter of him, before Baltimore, but is primarily focused on resting and continuing his workout regimen at the gym.
“I can’t thank Wolf Creek enough,” Jones said. “Not just as a sponsor, but as a friend. Dennis and Kathy (Tebow), it is unreal what they do for me. They are more like family than a sponsor to me.”
Speaking of family, Jones also credited his wife, Christy, for helping keep his confidence high after he was cut from the BFTS last season.
“I couldn’t ask for a better friend or better wife,” he said. “I won that event in Little Rock (Arkansas) just before the Finals and Christy said, ‘You could still do it. It is time to step up to the plate.’”
Now, Jones hopes to build off his strong offseason, which also includes a TPD victory in Enid, Oklahoma, on Nov. 7, to make his way back to the BFTS and potentially earn a qualifying spot for THE AMERICAN.
“A lot of people thought I was finished because I am 35,” Jones concluded. “I still go to bed thinking about (bull riding) and I still wake up thinking about it. It is far from over.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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