When Junior Nogueira flew to Arizona in November 2013 to visit a friend, his intention was to spend some time there as well as in Las Vegas to watch the World Series of Team Roping at South Point and the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center.
And then Nogueira figured he would return to his native Brazil.
But his friend, roper Robert Reynoso, knew Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame roper Jake Barnes.
So as Nogueira, who grew up with rodeo as the family business, began to work with both of them and soon realized he had a new home.
“That’s when I got a miracle in my life,” Nogueira said. “Jake decides to give me a chance, and him and his wife opened their house door for me, and I lived with them for two years.”
Barnes not only showed Nogueira how to become a top-line roper, he also helped his South American friend and partner adjust to living in a new country where he had to learn to speak English.
Nogueira was 5 years old when his dad died of a heart attack at 36, so he and Barnes developed a much closer relationship than that of simply teammates.
“It’s a good thing I roped with Jake, and we have a great relationship,” Nogueira said. “He’s like my dad now. He’s the exact same age that my dad would’ve been, and he taught me everything. None of Jake’s sons roped. They’re all basketball players, went to college. I think that was the key, staying with Jake. He’s the No. 1 man in this business.”
Nogueira, 28, has become one of the sport’s top ropers. He won the all-around title in 2016, the first Brazilian to claim that honor.
He and Barnes are no longer partners. Nogueira is in his third year working with Kaleb Driggers, who lives in Albany, Georgia, and turns 29 on Dec. 19.
“Ever since we were kids, he was dreaming of coming over here, and we both have been dreaming of world titles,” Driggers said. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport, one that you really want to attain. I’ve been close three times. I won second three times.
“I don’t really worry about what the past has held. I’m all about the future, and I’m just trying to do my job, and hopefully it works out for us and this time I can finish it.”
They struggled in Monday’s go-round, failing to place after a time of 10.1 seconds. Paul Eaves and Clay Smith won the night by clocking in at 3.8 seconds.
That dropped Nogueira into second place among heelers with $168,948, and Driggers slipped to second among headers with $167,9674. Eaves (heelers) and Smith (headers) are the leaders with $181,473 each.
Driggers knew from Nogueira’s work with Barnes that the transition to becoming teammates would be smooth.
“I was watching him for a couple of years with Jake Barnes, and we have the same morals and same outlook on life,” Driggers said. “I was looking for a similar partner. Before, I had always roped with people that had families and stuff. Not to mention I thought he was a great roper, so I thought that would be a good fit for us.”
Nogueira is looking for his first roping championship as well, finishing second each of the past two years. On Sunday night, he reached the $1 million mark in career earnings.
“We kind of rope the same,” Nogueira said of his partnership with Driggers. “We both rope fast and are pretty much the same age. That’s why it’s been good for us and been successful.”