By: Justin Felisko
November 18, 2016
NEW TOWN, N.D. – Eric Lee hasn’t measured how tall he is since he got his driver’s license back home in Michigan when he was 16 years old.
The 24-year-old believes he is likely 6-foot-4-inches tall, but right now, Lee’s bull riding is helping him stand out alongside his skyscraper stature on the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour.
Lee has begun the 2017 PBR season by riding his first four bulls attempted and his 2-for-2 performance on Friday night in New Town, North Dakota, has him in position to possibly win his first RVT event of his career on Saturday at Four Bears Casino and Lodge.
“It would mean the world to me,” Lee said. “I have been telling my traveling partner for months that I can’t wait to win my first buckle at one of these. I came real close in Albany, New York, at the end of last season and last week in California. I have been training sometimes twice a day because this is all that is on my mind.”
Lee finished in third-place last weekend at the Ontario, California, RVT event and is quickly turning into a rider to watch in the fall months before the 2017 Built Ford Tough Series kicks off in New York on Jan. 6 with the Monster Energy Buckoff at the Garden.
This is Lee’s fourth professional season, but he has only been competing sparingly. He concluded 2016 ranked 199th in the world standings and is 44-for-124 (35.48 percent) at various PBR events and pro rodeos since 2014.
Still, Lee is no stranger to bull riding despite being an Adrian, Michigan, native and the tallest man competing in New Town.
Lee is, in fact, a third-generation bull rider and had already been on a calf when he was still in diapers.
“I am originally from the state of Oregon,” Lee said. “That is where I was born and the whole family is from. My dad rode bulls out in the Pacific Northwest and so did his dad.”
Lee’s dad, Ty, and Eric’s grandpa, John, each rode at amateur bull ridings during their younger days, and John’s brother, Adam Irwin, rode in the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) for almost 10 years.
Ty was close to 6-feet tall, while John was probably 5-foot-6 and Irwin was around 6-foot-3, Eric believes.
Eric grew up competing in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association of Michigan before taking a break from bull riding when he was in high school.
Once he turned 18, he became invested in the sport once again and found some amateur and local bull ridings, sometimes as far as 8 to 10 hours away, to try and hone his craft.
Lee, who is not related to 2004 World Champion Mike Lee, also has spent time watching video footage of 2016 PBR Ring of Honor Inductee and 1996 PBR World Champion Owen Washburn.
“I don’t know what it would be like to be a short bull rider,” Lee said. “I just practice the fundamentals. I watch a lot of Owen Washburn. I really like the way Owen rode.”
There were 20 qualified rides in night one at the Four Bears Casino and Lodge.
Fabiano Vieira (170.5 points) and Wallace de Oliveira (163) are sitting in second and third-place overall after also beginning the two-day event 2-for-2.
Vieira rode Ferdinand in Round 1 for 86 points and Roll Your Own for 84.5 points in Round 2.
Oliveira came through with an 85.5-point ride on Super Cella in Round 1 and then turned down his re-ride option in Round 2 following a 77.5-point ride on Garber’s Ghost.
Justin Lloyd is sitting in fourth place overall after winning Round 1 with an 89.5-point ride on The Kraken. Lloyd bucked off Joe The Grinder in 6.28 seconds in Round 2.
“He kind of had me all over the place, but I kept fighting to get back on my rope and that’s all you can do,” Lloyd said.
Scottie Knapp, who was bucked off by Set ‘em Up Joe in 1.73 seconds during Round 2, rounded out the Top 5 with his 88-point effort aboard Yesterday’s Wine in Round 1.
Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger provided the majority of the bull power and is helping put on this weekend’s event.
“These kids really rode good tonight,” Berger said. “These guys don’t ride a lot of these kind of bulls and these kids really did good tonight. They ride their hearts out.”
Lee (171.5 points) finished Friday night on top of the event leaderboard after his second-round winning ride of 86.5 points on Wipeout.
He began his weekend with an 85-point ride on Felix in Round 1.
“The first one jumped out there and was just around the right away from my hand and really good and great to ride,” Lee said. “The second one, shoot, he felt like he was really blowing and kicking and blowing up into me. It was pretty wild.”
The winner of the New Town bull riding will be the rider with the highest-aggregate score over the course of the four rounds.
The Velocity Tour event concludes with Rounds 3 and 4 Saturday night at 6:45 p.m. CT.
“I am not looking too far ahead for a win,” Lee concluded. “Just ride my first bull tomorrow and go from there.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.