Marty Yates balled his fist, slammed it repeatedly against his chest and then slung his hat into the middle of the Thomas &Mack Center arena.
The 20-year-old Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie had good reason to be fired up. He’d just stopped the clock in 7.4 seconds to outduel No. 1 cowboy Trevor Brazile, Hall of Famer and mentor Cody Ohl and the rest of the 15-roper field in Round 1 of the biggest rodeo of his life.
Yates, the third-youngest contestant in this year’s field, brought the sellout crowd of 17,591 to its feet and raced around the oval in a victory lap he’ll never forget.
“This is an unbelievable feeling, and I’ve worked my whole life to get right here where I am,” said Yates, who earned $19,002 for his round victory. “It’s a dream come true, and it’s everything and more than I thought it would be.”
Brazile finished second in 7.5 seconds, with Clint Robinson third at 7.7 and Ohl fourth with a 7.8-second run.
The win moved Yates into fourth place in the PRCA world standings and pushed the Stephenville, Texas, cowboy past the $100,000 mark in season earnings with $102,190. Yates fought off some early nerves and knew he had drawn a good calf that would give him a chance to win or place in the round.
“I was back in the back before my run, and I was a little nervous,” said Yates, whose horse, Chicken, finished second in the AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year voting this year. “I said, ‘Man, I’ve never felt like this before.’ Then, I backed in the box, and it was just like another rodeo.
“We got to rope (the calves) this morning, and I knew I had a really good chance and had a good calf. All I had to do was do my job.”
Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Shane Hanchey is a good friend and was the first person to congratulate Yates after he rode out of the arena after his winning run.
“That kid reminds me of me so much, it’s not even funny,” said Hanchey, of Sulphur, La. “He sleeps and breathes roping, has the heart for it and has the ice water in his veins for it. Any time he wins, I’m just as happy as he is, and I really mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“When he was about to go on that victory lap, I told him, ‘You’re about to experience the best feeling in your life.’ It’s awesome, and I’m so happy for him.”
Yates was tickled to top Ohl in the opening round, especially considering he grew up roping with the six-time world champion.
“From the time I was in kindergarten, I roped with Cody every day, so I’ve been around him my whole life,” Yates said.
Yates wasn’t the only first-time Wrangler NFR qualifier to win his first round. Bull rider Joe Frost of Randlett, Utah, held onto Pette Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo’s previously unridden bull, Rattler, for 85.5 points and his own $19,002 check.
Tim Bingham, another Wrangler NFR rookie, was second at 83.5 points. The victory was a huge boost for Frost, who entered this year’s Finals ranked 10th in the world standings.
“This is where everybody wants to ride, and it feels good to get off on the right foot,” said Frost, who will enter Round 2 in fifth place. “You want someday to be able to show your kids and your grandkids your old NFR films, and I’ve at least got one good ride.”
Frost’s winning ride not only gave him the biggest paycheck of his budding career but also kept a pretty darned impressive streak going for the 22-year-old cowboy.
“I’ve ridden 31 in a row in the last 45 days,” Frost said. “We’re shooting for nine more.”
Each of the night’s go-round winners accepted their buckles at the South Point Hotel, Casino &Spa Thursday night and also picked up a complimentary bottle of Pendleton Whisky. Yates had no doubt that someone of legal drinking age in his group would gladly take the gift off his hands.
“I’m sure I’ll have plenty of people up there onstage with me,” he said. “I’ve got a great fan base behind me, and it’s pretty awesome having them out here helping me get where I want to be.”
Neal Reid is a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based freelance writer who spent five years as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News. He has written for Western Horseman, American Cowboy, The Ketchpen, Persimmon Hill, USA Today, Newsday, MLB.com, ESPN.com, ESPNW.com, the Colorado Springs Gazette and Denver Post, among others. Reid, a member of the Rodeo Historical Society, covered the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, for the Olympic and Paralympic News Service and is a veteran of 10 Wrangler NFRs. Follow him on Twitter @NealReid21.