By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Ride or go home.
It is a simple concept that carries significant weight for 25 riders competing at the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals on Nov. 6-7 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that are currently outside of the Top 35 of the world standings.
There are four Wild Card berths for the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium up for grabs next week at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center for riders that fail to finish the regular season inside the Top 35 of active/eligible riders in the world standings.
There are also crucial world points available for riders fighting on the bubble to qualify for the World Finals, let alone for the top two bull riders in the world – Jose Vitor Leme and Joao Ricardo Vieira – that are battling for a world title.
Since the Velocity Tour began offering up wild card invites at their season-culminating event in 2015, it has been customary for a few big names to shine on the PBR’s expansion tour.
Let’s look back at some of the biggest names that have made a name for themselves through the Velocity Tour Wild Card system.
Jose Vitor Leme (2017)
The legend that is Jose Vitor Leme began at the 2017 Velocity Tour Finals when the PBR Brazil champion earned the International Wild Card berth that season.
Leme earned his first ride on American soil at the Velocity Tour Finals when he made a beautiful 85.5-point ride on Wileywood Blue to finish tied for ninth in Round 1. He would then ride The Original for 81 points in Round 2. Leme next turned down a re-ride option in Round 3 – keeping 62 points on 2-14 HCR – to clinch a spot at the 2017 World Finals. He would then buck off in the championship round.
Leme’s 3-for-4 performance was far from noteworthy, especially considering what he would go on to do days later at the 2017 PBR World Finals, but his goal was to get to the World Finals.
Of course, we all know what transpired afterwards.
Leme would go a stunning 6-for-6 to win the World Finals event average and the PBR Rookie of the Year title just 10 days after arriving in the U.S. for the first time.
He will head into Sioux Falls next weekend as not only the No. 1 rider in the world, but also in the Velocity Tour standings. If Leme continues to dominate like he has for the majority of the 2020 season, there is a good chance he becomes the first back-to-back Velocity Tour champion.
There is not an International Wild Card for this year’s World Finals as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of sanctioned events for PBR Brazil and PBR Mexico.
Sage Kimzey (2017)
At times, it is easy to focus on whether or not reigning six-time PRCA champion Sage Kimzey will ever make a full-time run in the PBR. However, Kimzey does have a World Finals appearance on his resume thanks to the Velocity Tour Finals.
In fact, it was Kimzey overshadowing Leme at the Velocity Tour Finals three years ago. At the time, the PBR was offering the previous year’s PRCA champion an exemption to the Velocity Tour Finals, and Kimzey made sure to cash in on the opportunity.
The current No. 1 rider in the PRCA went 3-for-6 at the World Finals that year, finishing 12th overall, and is attempting to win a seventh consecutive PRCA championship this coming December at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Additional Velocity Tour Wild Card Winners from 2017: Alex Marcilio, Skeeter Kingsolver and Taylor Toves
Derek Kolbaba (2015)
A 19-year-old kid from the upper northwest of the United States who seemed destined for a Head & Shoulders commercial began to earn some attention late in the 2015 season.
Derek Kolbaba was slowly making a name for himself on the Velocity Tour and would go 1-for-3 in his premier series debut event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, notching his first qualified ride seconds after J.B. Mauney bucked off to the disappointment of the Pennsylvania fan base at the PPL Center.
However, it appeared as if time was running out for Kolbaba to qualify for the World Finals. He would end up becoming the youngest bull rider at the 2015 World Finals, though, by going 2-for-3 at the first Velocity Tour Finals in Louisville, Kentucky.
Kolbaba would go 1-for-5 at his first PBR Finals, but he would quickly evolve into a World Champion contender two years later and head into the 2017 World Finals as the No. 1 bull rider in the world.
The now six-time PBR World Finals qualifier will head into Arlington ranked ninth in the world standings thanks to back-to-back 15/15 Bucking Battle victories, and Kolbaba is on pace for his best finish in the world since concluding 2017 runner-up to Jess Lockwood in the world title race.
Additional Velocity Tour Wild Card Winners from 2015: Justin Paton (International), Neil Holmes, Luis Blanco and Michael Lane
Dener Barbosa (2016)
The Velocity Tour Finals has become a pipeline for Brazilian bull riding talent in recent years, and that trend began with Barbosa.
Barbosa, who was nicknamed “90 percent” by some riders inside the South Point Arena because of his 90% riding average in Brazil that season, almost had to miss the Velocity Tour Finals in 2016 when he was not able to get his approved visa until the day before the Finals. He hopped on a red-eye international flight and quickly got to work on qualifying for the World Finals.
Barbosa would ride Simon Says for 85.5 points in Round 1 before turning down a re-ride, keeping a 51-point score, to help him clinch the international invite to the World Finals.
The 2016 PBR Brazil champion would go 3-for-6 at the World Finals, including an 87.5-point ride on Stone Sober for the first qualified ride of his premier series career.
Barbosa has turned into one of the premier series’ most consistent riders, when healthy, and he is currently 12th in the world standings. Barbosa is recovering from a broken jaw and skull fracture, but he is hopeful to ride at the Velocity Tour Finals next week.
Additional Velocity Tour Wild Card Winners from 2016: Emilio Resende, Neil Holmes, Zane Cook and Juliano da Silva
Leandro Machado (2019)
Leandro Machado was the No. 1-ranked bull rider in PBR Brazil heading into last year’s Velocity Tour Finals, and there was certainly excitement in Brazil to see what Machado could do in the United States.
Machado was not outstanding at the Velocity Tour Finals, but the then-22-year-old was able to win the international wild card invite with his 86.5-point ride on Hot Spots. Machado just beat out PBR Mexico’s Francisco Garcia Torres (85 points on Uno) and PBR Australia’s Lane Mellers (84.5 points on Slumlord) as no international eligible rider posted more than one qualified ride.
The Nova Esperança native then flashed his potential at the World Finals by 2-for-5 with a monster 92.75-point ride on El Big Bad. However, Nailed would end Machado’s week by bucking him off and breaking three of his ribs, while also collapsing Machado’s lung.
Machado would not be able to return in time to Brazil for the PBR Brazil Finals, and he was unable to win the Brazilian title because of his injuries.
The 23-year-old competed very sparingly this year, in part because of a knee injury, and was 3-for-16 at all levels of competition.
Additional Velocity Tour Wild Card Winners from 2019: Ramon de Lima, Austin Richardson, Ouncie Mitchell, Daniel Tinsman
Honorable mention: Chase Outlaw (2018)
Chase Outlaw may not have qualified for the 2018 World Finals as a Velocity Tour Finals wild card qualifier, but his performance in the South Point Arena two years ago remains one of the most memorable moments in Velocity Tour history and punched his ticket to the PBR’s marque event.
Outlaw entered the Velocity Tour Finals ranked No. 35 in the world standings less than four months following a gruesome wreck at Cheyenne Frontier Days that required 12 hours of facial reconstructive surgery, and he clinched his seventh consecutive World Finals appearance by going 2-for-3 and winning the Velocity Tour Finals.
It was an incredible comeback by the Hamburg, Arkansas, cowboy, who is the only two-time winner at the Velocity Tour Finals.
While reconstructive shoulder surgery prevented Outlaw from competing the entirety of the first half, he was then forced back to the sidelines just two months after making his 2018 debut when he was involved in the horrific wreck in Cheyenne where he sustained 30 facial fractures.
He returned to competition on Oct. 6 that season as the No. 76-ranked bull rider in the world, and proceeded to rise 43 spots in the world standings.
Outlaw then finished third overall (5-for-6) at the World Finals after beginning the Finals with five consecutive rides. It was the beginning of Outlaw entering the world title conversation as well, and he would finish 2019 as the No. 3-ranked rider in the world.
2020 has not gone Outlaw’s way as he missed the first half of the season recovering from offseason reconstructive shoulder surgery. He then returned for less than a handful of events before a new shoulder injury sent him back to Dallas for his fifth shoulder surgery since 2015.
Outlaw plans to be back to full strength for the 2021 season, and he will still be at the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington with his mechanical bull, the Outlaw Bucker, from PBR partner Mechanical Bull Sales.
2018 Velocity Tour Wild Card Winners: Francisco Garcia Torres (International), Luis Blanco, Paulo Lima, Michael Lane and Juan Carlos Contreras
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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