LAS VEGAS – Michael Lane had just moved to Randleman, North Carolina, five year ago when he first saw Gage Gay competing at a North Carolina High School rodeo.
At the time, the North Tazewell, Virginia, native was 19 years old and had found a gig judging some local rodeos.
The aspiring bull rider’s eye always seemed to be noticing this high school junior putting together one impressive rider after another.
“We got to talking and before you know it his dad was like, ‘I need someone to get and go with him. I can’t go everywhere with him, I have a job to work.’ So I said, ‘I was more than happy to.’
“It was before Gage was 18, so his dad signed him off to me so I could sign for him at bull ridings.”
In their first three months competing at local, amateur bull ridings in the North Carolina region, Lane believes the young duo earned $20,000 together.
“He was the first guy I went with to open bull ridings without my dad,” Gay said. “He was my parental guardian when I wasn’t with my dad.”
It was only the beginning of a budding friendship, and on Friday night the two Built Ford Tough Series riders combined to win $7,000 as their 88-point rides in Round 1 of Last Cowboy Standing were enough for them to split the round victory.
Not only did they win the round, but Lane and Gay are very much alive heading into the second round of Last Cowboy Standing on Saturday for their shot at winning $180,000 at the second PBR Major of the season.
Friday night was a moment that both friends talked frequently about in those long drives throughout the hot and humid Tar Heel State on Interstate 81 and various other highways and back roads.
They spent countless late-night hours talking about how much fun it would be for them both to make it the top level of bull riding and compete side-by-side on the Built Ford Tough Series.
“Man, words can’t explain it. They truly can’t,” Lane said moments after his 88-point effort aboard Gentleman Jim. After a slight pause to compose himself he added, “Since we were young, we have been dreaming about this moment.”
Immediately following his ride, Lane was rushed over to an interview on the back of the bucking chutes with Cord McCoy on the PBR LIVE broadcast on CarbonTV.com, while Gay ran to grab his buddy’s cowboy hat and toss it to him.
“That was a pretty good bull ride,” Gay said. “I thought he could probably be a point above me or so. That bull kept stumbling. That bull did pretty much everything but pull a knife on him to try and buck him off.”
Gay had ridden Recovery Time for 88 points earlier in the night for the first qualified ride of Last Cowboy Standing.
The 20-year-old, who was competing in Las Vegas for the first time since seeing his grip on the 2014 Rookie of the Year title get snatched away at the World Finals when he went 1-for-5, said this weekend has been his most enjoyable BFTS event.
For once he didn’t feel like he was pulling his rope next to all of the guys he idolized on television as a kid.
Instead, he was riding at an event with one of his best friends.
“Me being around him keeps me positive,” Gay said. “I feel like I had more fun tonight than I have any other time when I nodded my head. It is just because he is my buddy and I am not here with guys I have watched growing up on TV. I am here with one of my buddies growing up at home.”
Lane added, “It makes the world of a difference having Gage there with me. I feel the same for him. I feel like me being there for him helps him. In bull riding, you always have someone you feed off of.”
Relaxing and being able to have fun has been something Gay has been trying to focus on this season since he was originally cut from the BFTS after eight events. However, he worked his way back onto the BFTS and back inside the Top 35 with his second-place finish in Billings, Montana.
When they arrived at the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on Friday afternoon, Gay and Lane rolled their gear bags past the two locker rooms set up for the Top 50 bull riders in the world standings and instead set up shop just outside the out gate of the far bucking chutes.
This weekend is only Lane’s third BFTS event and just his second with Gay since both were bucked off in the first round of the 2013 Last Cowboy Standing.
“We were here two years ago together and I think we were a different group of guys,” Lane said. We are still young, but now we are here and we are here to threat for the win.”
If it were not for back-to-back surgeries on his left shoulder that cost him a year and a half, Lane believes the two riders may have already been competing together on the BFTS.
“You see a lot of guys come in as twos,” he said. “Me and Gage would have been those twos if it weren’t for injuries, but you don’t blame nothing on your injuries. You let it build you. Whatever struggles you got, you just let it push you forward.”
Lane appeared unfazed by the bright lights, his lack of experience on the BFTS or riding in front of a live national audience.
He was comfortable, and, quite frankly, he feels the two riders have as a good shot as anyone on Saturday night.
“All week long, we hung out together and we said, ‘It starts right now,’ Lane said. “We believe we can win this event. We didn’t come in here not thinking about the event and show up and say, ‘Oh, we are here and now it is time to win.
“We prepared all week knowing we are coming in here to win.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2015 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.