December 3, 2021 - 3:49 pm
Back in 1987, in Estes Park, Colorado, Allen Rheinheimer had his first experience with rodeo. Or more accurately, with rodeo dirt, not necessarily the sport of rodeo.
“I’d started my own company, Showtime Jump LLC,” Rheinheimer said of his business, which he runs to this day, providing equipment for show-horse events across the country. “I did my first show on the Estes Park rodeo grounds, which aren’t set up for a horse show. That was my first time dealing with rodeo dirt.”
Apparently, that dirt seeped into his veins. Through his work in the show-horse community, he created more contacts within the rodeo community. And in 2000, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo general manager Shawn Davis persuaded Rheinheimer to join his team.
“So that was my second dealing with rodeo dirt,” Rheinheimer said.
Over the past two decades, he has been a jack-of-all-trades each year at the Wrangler NFR, which on Thursday kicked off its annual 10-day run at the Thomas Mack Center.
“There’s not much I haven’t touched in this arena,” Rheinheimer said. “I’ve never announced, never judged, never cracked a gate. But I’ve been involved with everything else.”
That would include, of course, the literally ground upon which the Wrangler NFR takes place each night. It’s not an uncommon sight to see Rheinheimer driving a tractor, making sure the surface is just right each night for the riders, ropers, racers and wrestlers.
But in March, he got an unexpected offer: to take over as NFR general manager, after Glen Alan Phillips exited the role in February.
“It was a compliment that they’d ask me,” Rheinheimer said. “I was a little apprehensive to begin with, knowing my workload already with Showtime. I talked to my wife and my kids. It was a big decision to make. So I sat them all down at dinner, and we all agreed this was what we should do. And since then, I haven’t stopped.”
As general manager, Rheinheimer was charged with the task of getting the NFR back on track in Las Vegas, after COVID restrictions forced a move to Dallas for the 2020 NFR. And though it was difficult to predict early this year whether the pandemic would continue wreaking havoc, Rheinheimer and his team understood the necessity of this event returning to Vegas.
“In 2020, everybody was hurting throughout the year. COVID created chaos in all aspects of the world. Vegas not having this event, it was truly missed, from a financial standpoint to the fan experience. The overall setting in Vegas makes a huge difference,” Rheinheimer said. “Back in March, we started out with the mindset that it was gonna be in Vegas. We have not turned back or even thought about it. It’s so important to be back in Vegas.
“It’s monumental to all these people – the contestants, the stock contractors, the staff and the fans. It’s a huge thing to come back for the fans.”
Fortunately, Rheinheimer had a veteran crew that was just excited as he was to return to Vegas.
“What’s most fulfilling for me is the team that we’ve put together over the years. Ninety-nine percent of the team from 2019 came back. It’s because of the love they have for rodeo, the love of the sport, the love of the NFR,” Rheinheimer said. “I feel a lot of accomplishment to have those people come back and work with me. There’s not one employee that’s more important than another. This event takes an army to put together. It’s not a 10-day job, it’s an all-year job.”
With the NFR already underway, much of the heavy lifting is done. But Rheinheimer feels each go-round provides another learning experience, and he wants all the fans and contestants to leave town with the feeling that this is the best NFR ever.
“My goal over the 10 days is to make this the best experience it can be for the competitors and the fans. I want dedicated fans to appreciate what we’ve done, and for first-time fans to be wowed by this rodeo,” Rheinheimer said. “There are some things we’ve done this year to make this a better experience for the fans and the competitors. We’re all in here to produce a good rodeo. I feel we’ve done everything we can to accomplish that.”
A year after Las Vegas temporarily lost the NFR, Rheinheimer is mostly looking forward to firmly re-establishing this event on Vegas’ December calendar.
“It’s great to be back in Vegas, with some sense of normalcy,” he said, noting the nightly Grand Entry is his favorite part. “That always gives me chills. Everybody is happy to be back in Vegas. I haven’t heard one person not happy to be back, me included. There’s no bigger fan of Las Vegas than me.”