There’s no telling how many times Jeff Robinson has made the four-hour drive east from his home in Mars Hill, North Carolina, to Chapel Hill.
A lifelong Tar Heels fan, he has driven thousands of miles back and forth to watch the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team.
Monday night, he said, “It wasn’t much of a contest.”
Robinson, who played on the Tar Heels junior varsity basketball team in the late 80s while studying to become a large animal veterinarian at UNC, drove there and back Monday – roughly 500 miles roundtrip – to watch what was a relatively easy 96-63 win over the University of North Carolina — Greensboro.
It will most likely be last opportunity this season for the four-time PBR Stock Contractor of Year to see a game in-person. With the start of the upcoming PBR season looming in two weeks, Robinson’s focus will be on hauling bucking bulls up and down the highways from coast to coast.
He hasn’t missed a Built Ford Tough Series event since 2009, an unparalleled streak.
“I think I’ll start picking and choosing more,” said Robinson, who wouldn’t confirm his streak could come to an end shy of the seven-year mark.
However, he did say he hasn’t mapped out his season to identify any BFTS events he might miss – “Not yet. No.” – and if he does miss one here or there, Robinson said, it won’t necessarily be the events held on the West Coast.
“I’m not sure which it would be or where it would be,” he simply replied. “I like going to the West Coast, but we’ll see.”
One thing is certain.
Three days away from flipping the calendar to 2016, he readily admits he’s more energized and looking forward to 10-month long season more than he was at this time a year ago.
You could say he has refocused his attention.
Last January, he was going through a tough divorce and had not yet dealt with the untimely death of Rango. And then, in May, his driver David Wibirt was killed while hauling bulls from Texas back to North Carolina.
He was emotionally out of gas.
“I’ll tell you what, I was burned out at the end of 2014, I think,” Robinson said, “or feeling a little burned out. Last year, I didn’t feel like—I’m not going to say we didn’t give it our all, but we lost Rango and that was a big deal. I guess I was in kind of a funk and we had two or three bulls that I thought were going to turn out that didn’t. It’s not like they didn’t turn out, they just weren’t what I thought they were going to be.
“We’re trying to regroup and I’ll probably try to do it a little different.”
In the past, Robinson has had more than 50 bulls.
It was not uncommon for him to keep a couple trucks on either coast at any given time.
“I probably won’t ever try to do that again,” said Robinson, who paused and then added, “I don’t think.”
This year his focus will once again be on quality over quantity. More specifically, he’s going to concentrate on putting together a pen of short round-caliber bulls.
However, he said, “It’s tough. It’s really competitive.”
It took a lot of time and effort and a lot of investor money to put the pen together he had on the road from 2009 through 2014. He was voted Stock Contractor of the Year from 2010 through 2013 and looking back said, “I’ll be honest with you, I thought I should have won five in a row.”
Chad Berger has earned that title the past two seasons.
“My hat’s off to him,” said Robinson, but he feels the top contractor in the PBR is and, perhaps, has been H.D. Page, who he said has the “best set of bulls going and I don’t think it’s close.”
Robinson said it’s hard to believe, but Page, who is the barometer by which all others are compared, has somehow gone seven years without being voted the top bull man among the top bull riders in the world standings.
That said, Robinson is ready to get back after it.
He said in spite what anyone might have said or thought in 2015, “I still enjoy it.”
Jeff Robinson’s Bucking Bulls is kind of like the Carolina basketball program.
At the onset of any given season, everyone looks at his pen to see what he has. That’s based on history and, more importantly, past success, but while the late Dean Smith is responsible for developing the winning tradition, it’s incumbent upon the current coach Roy Williams and his staff to go out and recruit.
If they’re not working to recruit incoming freshman, those blue chip prospects will wind up at schools like Duke and Kentucky or another program somewhere else in the country.
“Yeah, and I tell you what, I probably didn’t recruit as well as I should have in 2015,” Robinson said Monday evening, while driving back to Mars Hill. “You just get so tired of traveling. … I don’t know how to say, it’s just a physical and mental drag.”
He spent enough time away, last year, he’s ready to compete again.
In 2015, his bulls were out on the road, but he himself spent less time traveling and more time at barrel racing events with his daughter Laney, who won the national junior high finals. Sometimes he’d wait and fly in for the Championship Round or other weeks he’d leave it all in the hands of his brother Casey.
He still doesn’t want to miss out on family time, but he’s planning to be around more.
And, much like himself, he gave some of his bulls – Percolator, Walk Off and Sasquatch among them – some time off since the season ended. He hauled them pretty hard last year – “maybe too hard” – and won’t do that again this year.
He also has some offspring from Voodoo Child and I’m a Gangster that are coming of age.
And, of course, he and longtime partner, Blue Collar comedian Larry the Cable Guy, are partnering on bull that will make its debut in the first part of the season. These days Larry is sponsored by Prilosec, so they’re going to name their latest bull Heartburn.
Robinson and Larry famously teamed up to won Chicken on a Chain.
“We’ve got everybody healthy,” Robinson said. “We have some young bulls that I’m pretty excited about coming up. We’ve bought three or four new bulls, so we’ll how it comes together.
“You never know how good they are until they actually get there.”
In the meantime, Wednesday night, Robinson will watch the Tar Heels (11-2) open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Clemson. Like him, a lot of folks living along the Blue Ridge Mountains will be inside watching the game on TV.
When he first started watching college basketball the area was divided between UNC and North Carolina State, but “then Coach K got to Duke, and it all started to change.”
“It’s like Democrats or Republicans,” said Robinson, who answered “I don’t know” when asked which was which. “I just watch Carolina play as much as I can.”
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