PUEBLO, Colo. ― Despite being on the fringe of the world standings,Austin Meier had no doubts he would be making a pit stop in Clovis, Calif., Thursday night before heading to Des Moines, Iowa, for this weekend’s Built Ford Tough Series event.
Meier, currently ranked 37th in the standings, as well as former World Champions Mike Lee and Renato Nunes are among a group of BFTS riders that will be kicking off the action at the 100th anniversary of the Clovis Rodeo with a Touring Pro Division event at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds.
“No matter which way, I was still going to Clovis,” Meier said. “They really embrace the whole event. It’s not just ‘this is a town over here, but we have rodeo grounds over there.’ When that rodeo and bull riding comes into town, the whole town embraces it. It don’t matter where you are at in town, you know that there is something going on.”
What originally began as a festival created by The Clovis Women’s Club at a park near the current Clovis Avenue has since evolved into a four-day event that has repeatedly set attendance records and increased its prize money.
According to Vince Genco, who has been a member of the Clovis Rodeo Association Board of Directors for over 30 years, the rodeo is expecting to sell out all four days with over 40,000 people coming through its gates. Thursday night’s TPD event is already sold-out, and with a post-event concert from Scotty McCreery, event organizers believe there could potentially be 10,000-plus fans in attendance when factoring in standing-room only tickets.
Numbers like that are a part of what make this bull riding something you don’t want to miss, says Meier.
“The fans are very passionate,” he said. “You always think of places like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas – you know, central states – being the passionate, rodeo people, but even California and places like that surprise you. A lot of places out in California are very passionate rodeo fans, especially events like Clovis.
“Whether it is Touring Pros, Built Ford Tough events or rodeos, (Californians) pack them in.”
In Clovis, the fans are loud and provide an invigorating environment for athletes to compete in.
“Every seat is right on top of the action in our arena,” Genco said. “It is a big arena and everything looks good in it.”
The evolution of the rodeo is something the association prides itself in. What once began as a two-day event has since become four days of exciting, jam-packed action.
In the beginning, riders performed in a makeshift arena of wagons and cars before an official arena was built in the 1930s featuring a wooden grandstand with 1,400 seats. The 1950s later saw the creation of a concrete and steel grandstand with 7,000 seats.
Genco, who also serves as arena director, said that on Wednesday workers were adding the finishing touches to a new announcer stand and VIP luxury suites over the bucking chutes.
“The main thing we pride ourselves on is that we continue to expand this rodeo and continue to increase the prize money,” Genco said. “We have created an event that people want to come back to every year. It’s a community deal.”
On Wednesday night, the Clovis Rodeo Association dedicated a 14-foot bronze statue of Lane Frost riding Red Rock, which was created by Jim Stuckenberg. Lane’s parents, Elsie and Clyde Frost, were on hand and also received a miniature replica.
Meier has competed in multiple TPD events in Clovis since the PBR started hosting annual events in 2007 in the central California town roughly 10 miles away from Fresno. Some past event winners include Chase Outlaw(2013), Douglas Duncan (2010) and Cody Nance (2009).
The Clovis Rodeo traditionally holds its event during the last weekend of April, which normally brings with it nice, warm temperatures for the outdoor event. In a way, the Clovis environment reminds Meier of outdoor Built Ford Tough Series events held in past locations such as Thackerville, Okla., and Laughlin, Nev. – two locations the PBR BFTS returns to this coming August and September.
“It does. It does,” Meier agreed. “There is just something about that breeze blowing that is totally different than any indoor event.”
The Checotah, Okla., native had planned on competing at last year’s event, but travel issues prevented him from making it in time for the competition. Therefore, even though there will be less points available in Clovis compared to Des Moines, Meier rather push through the next couple of days instead of saving his energy for the BFTS.
Regardless, a $25,000 purse and a decent amount of TPD points – 25 percent of which will carry over to the world standings – will be up for grabs.
“No matter where (an event) is at, it’s always nice to be gathering points and trying to stay ahead of the pack and continuing to climb versus having an off-weekend and someone passing you instead,” Meier said.
Genco says the Clovis Rodeo Association appreciates the fact that riders are willing to come compete during the week leading up to a BFTS event.
“We have a great relationship with the PBR,” Genco concluded. “We just continue to get good guys coming. We have a good thing going.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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