“Time?” demanded Hooter as he made yet another trip down his rope to take it off the dummy's horns.
“Six seconds exactly,” said Peetie Womack.
“It's just not possible,” muttered Hooter. “How do they do it? Are you sure you're timing me right?”
“Soon as you nod your head. You sure you're not taking too many swings?”
“Again!” shouted Hooter.
“According to my stop watch, three-tenths of a second longer than the last time. I really do think you're taking at least one swing too many.”
The Stuff of Champions
It was Bugsy's report for her math class that had gotten him to wondering how fast he could rope something. Actually, it was her question to him to that effect.
Bugsy, enthralled with all things horse and rodeo had begged and pleaded to get her mama to let her stay up every night to watch the national finals. She did so by claiming, honestly, that she was using the timed events for her report about mathematical averages. She threw in scores from the rough stock events for good measure.
“Are you sure this is right?” wondered Hooter as he leafed through the finished report. It had been a while since he paid much attention to the finals, even longer since he'd competed while harboring a dream of making it to Oklahoma City, way back when the finals used to be there. It had been even longer than that since he went to a jackpot roping to donate his money.
“Look at the footnotes. Of course, it's right,” said Bugsy.
Hooter believed it, but was amazed.
Jason Miller of Lance Creek, Wyo., dogs all 10 steers and wins the average with 4.27 seconds per steer. “He also won the world championship,” Bugsy noted. Sean Mulligan of Coleman, Okla. comes in second at 4.45 seconds average across all 10 steers.
Six cowboys nailed all 10, and four more got nine of them.
It was the next part that verged on incomprehensible. The fastest time was 3.2 seconds, achieved twice, in round 6 from Luke Branquino of Los Alamos, Calif.; and in round 9 from Mulligan. The slowest winning time in any round was 4.0 seconds in Round 4. The average winning time across all 10 rounds—3.51 seconds.
“You can't peel an apple, pick up dropped pliers or retrieve a dip of snuff in that little time; how do they do that?” Hooter had asked Lonnie Johnson the day after reading the report.
Calf roping was much the same. Cody Ohl of Hico, Texas won the average with an average time across all 10 calves of 9.08 seconds, a full seven-tenths of a second faster on average than Stran Smith of Childress, Texas, who came in second.
The average winning time across all 10 rounds was 7.43 seconds. The slowest winning time was 8.0 seconds. The fastest was a blazing 6.7 seconds from Trevor Brazille of Decatur, Texas, who didn't win the average, but did walk home with the world calf-roping title, and a convincing 5th world all-around cowboy title. He'd won the world steer roping championship back in November, so he walked away with three world championships for the year, the first cowboy to do so in better than 20 years. Brazille also placed 4th in the team roping average (9.92 seconds on average) with heeler Patrick Smith of Midland, Texas, and placed 5th in the calf roping average (10.17 seconds on average across all 10 calves).
“What can you do in eight seconds or less?” wondered Hooter to Peetie later that day. “I reckon I could drive a nail in that length of time, if you spotted me the time to find the hammer…and the nails,” said Peetie. That's when he'd volunteered to time Hooter on the roping dummy if it was bothering him that much.
“It's not bothering me. I just can't fathom it. I used to team rope some. The times these guys are getting, nobody would have ever even had the guts to dream of.” Then he launched into reciting that portion of Bugsy's report.
Jake Barnes (heading) of Scottsdale, Ariz. and Clay O'Brien Cooper of Morgan Mill, Texas won the average with 7.26 seconds across all 10 steers. Chad Masters (heading) of Clarksville, Tenn. and Allen Bach of Weatherford, Texas were second at 7.73 seconds across all 10.
The fastest winning time was 3.7 seconds in round 8 by Speed Williams (heading) of Deleon, Texas and Dean Tuftin of Prineville, Ore.
“Under four seconds. Even in a short arena, under four seconds for the header to get out, catch, turn and then for the heeler to scoop up two hocks and lay him out,” said Hooter shaking his head.
“I still say you're swinging too much…”
The slowest winning time was 4.8 seconds in round 3. The average winning time was 4.28 seconds. Six teams caught all 10; five more caught nine. Masters ended up the world champion header, while Walt Woodard of Stockton, Calif., was the world champion heeler. “And it's not like Walt's a spring chicken,” whispered Hooter.
Though Hooter never had paid any attention—even less respect—to barrel racing, he read that part of Bugsy's report in admiration. Brittany Pozzi-Pharr of Victoria, Texas won the average with an average time of 14.02 seconds; she also became the world champion. Lindsay Sears of Nanton, Alberta was the day-money queen, winning five rounds, though she ended up sixth in the average.
“See, that's why averages don't tell the whole story,” Bugsy had concluded. “You need to know what goes into making the average.”
The fastest time was 13.64 seconds, posted in the 7th round by Sears, and also in the 6th round by Jill Moody of Letcher, S.D. The slowest winning time was 13.93 seconds; the average winning time was 13.81 seconds.
Eight Seconds or More
Though it had nothing to do with speed, at least in terms of the scoring, Hooter was also amazed by the prowess in the rough-stock events, especially in the barebacks, his old competition.
Only two guys out of 15 didn't cover all 10 barebacks, and those two rode nine to the whistle. Visiting with Charlie at the mail box, Hooter explained, “Those aren't just any bucking horses, and those guys aren't just trying to stay on, either.”
The winner of the average was Will Lowe of Canyon, Texas, with an average score of 84.6 per round. That was 16 points ahead of second place, Jessy Davis of Payson, Utah. Plus, Lowe won three go-rounds along the way. Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore. won two rounds and ended the year as world champion bareback rider.
The highest single score was 91.5 scored by Lowe in Round 10, and also by Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla. in Round 3. The lowest winning score was 84.5; the average winning score was 88.2.
It was the saddle broncs, where Bugsy launched into another explanation about averages relative to the sums going into them. Rod Hay of Wildwood, Alberta distanced himself from the pack with an average score of 82.6; he was the only one to cover all 10, plus he won the second round. Four riders stayed on eight head; it dropped from there with six contestants sticking to five or fewer broncs.
Taos Muncy of Corona, N.M. was second in the average, winning three rounds along the way. He was also the world champion.
The top score was an 89.5, coming in the last round from crowd favorite Billy Etbauer of Edmond, Okla., who also won the 8th round. “He's got to be pushing 40,” said Hooter, shaking his head. The lowest winning score was 83.5. The average winning score was 86.3.
The bull riding was Bugsy's best chance to make her report shine. Wesley Silcox of Payson, Utah was the only one to stick seven of them. Out of 15 riders, nine stayed on three or fewer bulls across 10 rounds.
Silcox also won three rounds and shared the top score of 91.5 with Logan Knibbe of Rockdale, Texas who won the 7th round. Silcox also became the world champion.
The average winning score was 88.7; the lowest winning score was 85.
Only One Thing Faster
“Face it,” said Peetie, after yet another of Hooter's trips down the rope in even longer time. “These guys are athletes. Yeah, they're rodeo cowboys, but they happen to also be phenomenal athletes. You'd never look at Michael Jordan back in the day and wonder how he could hang in there air like he did and expect to be able to do it yourself.”
Somehow, Delmar Jacobs had slipped up unnoticed, much as anyone can slip up while weaving and stumbling.
“I-I u-u-u had a rope like that once,” slurred Delmar.
“One th-th-that could catch something.”
“What happened to it?” wondered Hooter, playing along.
Delmar took a long pull from his thermos. “It le-le-left with something I caught.”
Hooter slapped his knees. “You're right Peetie, I'm done wondering.” As he coiled up his rope he added, “I'm just going to marvel; at least I can do that as quick as anybody.”