By: Kristian Limas
June 05, 2016
VINITA, Okla. – There is a certain charm to Touring Pro Division events that is hard to ignore. Even when the two-time reigning PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney is in town, there’s just a different feel to the bull riding in a town like Vinita, Oklahoma.
The American Legion Rodeo Complex, which is not much more than a dirt ring surrounded by some bleachers, is obviously not Chesapeake Energy Arena down the highway in Oklahoma City or the state-of-the-art T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas that will host this year’s PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals.
No, the American Legion Rodeo Complex in Vinita is a more intimate setting. One that holds as much classic charm as an arena that has hosted the Will Rodgers Memorial Rodeo since 1934 should.
So when Mauney and the PBR come to town it’s a truly unique spectacle.
It was fitting then that Thad Newell, a local of nearby Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma, and Elijah Mora, from Wiggins, Colorado, split the win at the Hometown Dodge Touring Pro Division event Saturday night. The riders both earned 45 points in the world standings for their efforts.
Newell and Mora finished the event 1-for-2 with 86.5-point rides. Newell rode Bar Fly for 86.5 points early in Round 1, while Mora turned in his own 86.5-point effort aboard Suicide Dancer. In the championship round, Newell was bucked off by Pound The Alarm in 4.39 seconds and Mora lasted just .62 seconds against veteran BFTS bull Little Red Jacket.
Even though their nights ended with buckoffs, the pair were still more than pleased with their win in front of the Vinita crowd.
“It’s really cool,” Newell said. “I live two hours south of here so I mean it works out perfect. A lot of my friends and family got to be here and watch. Just being in an outdoor setting now that it’s the summer it makes it feel a lot more different too. But it was a great crowd and everybody was screaming so it just gets you pumped up.”
Newell isn’t exactly a stranger to the bright lights and the higher caliber of bulls the riders faced Saturday night, as he competed last year in the fifth round of the World Finals as an alternate.
That said, it didn’t make riding any easier, especially with the bulls that local stock contractors Gene Owen and partner Jimmy Roth brought to buck.
“You got to stay focused and stay working,” Newell said. “A lot of these guys will get a plan in their head because they’ve seen the bull before and as soon as you make a plan they’ll do the exact opposite of what they normally do.”
Newell still hopes to work his way back up the ranks, but realizes that it is challenging in both mind and body. He is currently 115th in the world standings.
“You just have to stay confident and walk in your faith you know,” Newell said. “That’s what keeps your confidence up. Just because you buck off one bull, you’re getting on the best bulls in the world; and if you buck off one bull you can’t let it get to you, you got to forget about it and move on to the next bull.”
It was the same for Mora, who has trekked across the Touring Pro Division in hopes of fulfilling his own bull riding dreams and is 96th in the world standings.
“I just want to give glory back to God,” Mora said. “As far as these caliber of bulls, these are the ones I want to be riding. I want to be competing against the best and I want to be riding the best. I’m just going to keep moving forward and keep working hard.”
Though the event technically counted as a TPD event, facing the higher level of bulls that Owen brought to town has done wonders for his confidence.
“Most definitely it will help,” Mora said. “Like I said, you have to just keep moving forward to the next bull and knowing you can do it and that God blessed you with the ability to do it.”
That, in essence, was the appeal of Saturday night, bringing a different level of competition to town and giving both riders and the fans a chance to experience something that was arguably one of the biggest events, not just bull ridings, in the town’s recent history.
The scale was not lost on Tim Carter, a Vietnam War veteran, and head of the American Legion Post 40 in Vinita, which manages the rodeo complex next door.
“I think it’s the biggest single-day event that has happened in Vinita since, probably since Will Rodgers was here,” Carter said. “Will Rodgers started the rodeo here and it’s going to be its 80th anniversary. But Gene Owen and JARS (Bucking Bulls) and Cindy O’Neall, and especially J.B. Mauney, makes it feel like we got a one-day World Series.”
Carter has been a veteran for 45 years and feels like the event was one of the biggest successes he’s had since taking over the post.
“I think the biggest success is that the general public in a four-state area got to see a top-notch bull riding with some of the top contestants,” Carter said. “The production has been excellent, the people that put the production on have been professional and I think it will make this little town grow, and if we put on a good show they’ll be back every year.”
It was a fun, laid-back affair with even Mauney jumping in to help Owen haul bulls to the event.
“Oh yeah, he came out to the house and we loaded bulls onto the truck,” Owen said. “He just jumped right in and helped, I’ve never seen him do that, but at those Built Ford Toughs it’s a little different. They do that five hours before. He’s been here hanging out and decided to jump in and help. He probably does that around the house so it’s nothing unusual for him.”
Mauney was quick to acknowledge that coming down to Vinita was a nice change of pace from the usual BFTS grind.
“You know going every weekend you got cameras in your face every which way you turn,” Mauney said. “You got all kinds of PR to do everywhere all day long, and coming down here it’s like back when we were younger, these deals are just fun.”
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