2017 Champions, Elk City Rodeo

Bareback riding champion – Tim O’Connell

Elk City was one of about two dozen rodeos that bareback rider Tim O’Connell won last year.

The two-time and reigning world champion dominated his event in 2017 and went on to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) to win the world for a second year.

In Elk City, he scored 85.5 points on Beutler and Son Rodeo’s Nutrena’s Anything Goes to win the title. He’d seen the horse being ridden by his traveling partners, Logan Corbett, and Shane O’Connell (no relation to Tim.) “What I’d seen of him, he looked strong and pretty bucky. That day he really fired for me. You have to be aggressive when you ride him.”

O’Connell likes to hit his circuit rodeos in Palestine, Ill. and Dayton, Iowa, with a side trip to Elk City instead of going to the Northwest, where a lot of the rodeo competitors are. Money won from the circuit finals counted towards the world standings last year, so getting his circuit rodeo count in is important to him. He loves the rodeo as well. “The crowd is really rodeo savvy, and it’s Bennie’s hometown rodeo, so he brings his A-team. The crowd really appreciates what Bennie brings to the rodeo, and they understand rodeo. Not every place is like that.”

He and his wife Sami had their first child, a boy, earlier this year, and he’s enjoying being a father. The boy, Hazen, has changed his world. “I didn’t know you could instantly fall in love with something like that,” Tim said. “He’s pretty special.” The new dad is even getting in on diaper changes. “I lucked out the first couple days and got pee diapers. Yesterday, I got a combo, the worst one I’ve had.” The baby has been “awesome. He’s definitely a life changing thing, and for the better.”

Steer wrestling champion – Stockton Graves

Oklahoman Stockton Graves won the steer wrestling at the 2017 Elk City Rodeo with a time of 3.6 seconds.

The forty-year-old cowboy has been competing in Elk City nearly every year since he became a PRCA member in 1997, but he’s never won money at the rodeo. “I told those boys, before we started, Elk City has got to be good to me one time in my career. Maybe this is my year. And it was. I’ll take it.”

Not only did Graves win Elk City, he is the 2017 Prairie Circuit steer wrestling champion. He has qualified for the Prairie Circuit Finals about a dozen times, and is also a seven-time WNFR qualifier (2004-2011).

His rodeo resume helps him as a college rodeo coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State in Alva. Budding steer wrestlers come to Alva to rodeo collegiately and be coached by Graves. His rodeo team has seen some success, which helps in recruiting. His competition helps, too. “Being active in rodeo and being successful helps with recruiting,” he said. “And it’s good for the kids, too. They can see me being successful and I try to help them be succcesful in college as well as the pro ranks.” Some of Graves’ students have done well in rodeo, including Kyle Irwin, JD Struxness, Kody Woodward and Bridger Anderson.

When he’s on the rodeo road, he likes to drink iced tea and Red Bulls. He tried to quit the Red Bulls for a while, but not for long. “I swore off Red Bulls for a while but I’ve gotten fond of the different flavors.” The new orange flavor is one of his favorites. He also likes to golf, to de-stress. “I enjoy it when we get a break. I might play nine holes. I’ve decided I’m not very good at it, and probably won’t be, so I don’t get frustrated with it.”

Graves is married to his wife Crissi; they have a daughter, Sequin, and a son, Augustus.

Team roping (heading) champion – Casey Hicks

Casey Hicks was on the head end of the partners that won the team roping at last year’s Elk City Rodeo.

The Sperry, Oklahoma cowboy headed for Braden Harmon; they put together a 4.5 second run to win the title.

Hicks and Harmon have roped together for the past two years and have known each other for the last half-dozen. They work well together. “There’s one thing about heading for Braden. When I turn steers for money, I know he’s going to do his job.” He’s a good partner. “He always has a good attitude and is always trying to better himself. He rides really good horses and it always seems like he makes a good throw. He’s a guy who takes high percentage shots every time he heels a steer. And that’s what makes our team so good. I get a little reckless on them, and he does a good job of cleaning up the messes I throw at him.”

Hicks rode his twelve-year-old horse named Tattoo, a horse he’s owned for the past year and a half. Tattoo is off the race track, “scores good, is extremely fast, and lets me do my job.” When he’s not rodeoing, Hicks trains horses and shows at AQHA events.

When he’s driving, he likes to eat sunflower seeds (original, no flavor), chew Double Bubble gum, and drink a lot of water. He listens to all genres of music, but red dirt country is his favorite.

He hasn’t spent the $100 in gold Sacajawea coins the rodeo gives to the champs. “I keep them in the console of my truck. One of these days I might get in a bind and I’ll need them,” he joked.

He is engaged to Audrey Hart.

Team roping (heeling) champion – Braden Harmon

Braden Harmon is a repeat champ in the team roping.

Last year, he won it heeling for Casey Hicks. In 2015, he won it with Brandon Vaske.

Last year, he and Casey turned in a time of 4.5 seconds with their usual aplomb. “We always try to make the best run on the steer we have,” he said. The two have roped together for two years, and they stick to their mode of operation, no matter what kind of steer they draw. “We don’t try to get too far-fetched, away from the way we rope. We just try to make the best run on the steer we have.”

Elk City has been good to him; not only has he won it twice, he’s won second there as well. “I don’t know why,” Braden said. “It’s one of the places I go I always seem to do well. One of the first times I went there I did well, had success which gave me confidence. It seems to work out in my favor.”

Last year, he rode Platinum, a horse he bought from Joseph Harrison. The ten-year-old sorrel is “an incredible athlete,” Braden said. “He changed my roping in a good way. He’s escalated my abilities.” The sorrel, with a white striped face and white socks, is “fast and does everything by himself. He’ll have me where I need to be right when I turn. He’s definitely a major, major portion of my success.”

He loves coming to Elk City, in part because of the prize money and in part because of the rodeo entertainment like the longhorns and the sky diver who brings in the American flag. “I like it that they add good money there. They try to go above and beyond to put on a good show.”

Braden put part of the bag of $100 Sacajawea coins in his truck; the rest are in the bank, paying entry fees.

The twenty-six-year-old cowboy who lives in Tuttle, Okla., has competed at the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo five times, winning second in the average at the 2017 Prairie Circuit Finals. He is married to Bethany.

 

Saddle bronc riding champion – Cody Wright

Cody Wright is no stranger to the winner’s circle, and he stepped right into it in Elk City.

The Milford, Utah man has won the PRCA world champion saddle bronc riding title twice (2008 and 2010), and in 2017 won the Elk City Rodeo title as well.

He scored 81.5 points on Beutler and Son Rodeo’s Mean Dream, a horse that carried his brother-in-law CoBurn Bradshaw to a win in Elk City in 2016.

Wright, who rodeos with his brothers Jesse and Spencer and sons Rusty and Ryder, didn’t travel to Elk City with his traveling partners; he was up in Colorado Springs, so as soon as that rodeo was over, he headed to Elk City to wait for brother Spencer and son Ryder. They flew in from the Northwest, and Cody picked them up from the Oklahoma City airport.

The timing was right for Wright to compete in Elk City. “I usually have a hard time getting there because of Ellensburg (Wash.), Filer (Idaho) and a whole bunch of circuit rodeos that are going on that weekend,” he said. He usually stays in the western part of the U.S. in early September, but was able to compete in Elk City on Friday  night. Then he, Spencer and Ryder drove to the Northwest.

The patriarch of the Wright rodeo family (he is the oldest of thirteen children and has five children; five of his brothers and three of his sons ride saddle broncs), he often does the driving. “I don’t know if I like it,” he joked, “but I do. I don’t mind driving.” He lets the younger guys take the wheel at night. “They like to do the night driving, so if I can get a good night’s sleep, I drive most of the day. I don’t have any objection to a normal schedule and they don’t have any objection to an abnormal schedule,” he laughed.

Wright, who is 41 years old, has been around the block a time or two. The forties are getting up there in age for a rodeo cowboy, but he’s still ticking. “I’d like to be young again,” he said. “I would like to know what I know now and be 25 again.” The rodeo world has improved for contestants, he believes. “I think a lot of things have gotten better. The stock, and some of the rules they’ve changed for entering rodeos have gotten better. I think it’s getting better all the way around.”

When he’s driving, he likes to listen to the Garth Brooks Channel on satellite radio. “It’s pretty fun,” Wright said. Garth “tells stories and you feel like you get to know him.” Not all the music on Garth’s Channel is his own; he plays a variety, which Wright enjoys and appreciates. “I think he has pretty good taste, myself.”

For his first trip to Elk City, Wright has several good reasons to compete at the Rodeo of Champions. “Shoot, with $8,000 added (money), and the rodeo towards the end of the season, and Bennie brings some good horses to it, it’s nice to be able to go somewhere I hadn’t been.”

Tie-down roping champion – Jarrod Branch

Jarrod Branch is no stranger to the victory lap in Elk City.

The Wellston, Okla. cowboy was co-champion (with Jeff Miller) in 2013 and won the tie-down roping again last year.

He did it aboard a special mare, an eight-year-old called Rooster who is out of his good mare who died five years ago. Rooster’s dam was ridden by many big-name cowboys for the tie-down. The veterinarian who treated her still doesn’t know what caused her death. “We treated her for about ten different things,” Branch said, “and nothing worked. We kept her alive for a week, then she died.” He and the vet suspect the disease was neurological.

Rooster was trained by Jarrod and his dad, Roger, also a PRCA cowboy. Jarrod works with his dad to train horses, has some cattle of his own, and runs a spray truck in the spring and fall.

He loves to come to the Elk City rodeo. “It’s my honey hole. They always have a good crowd. I’ve always done good there, which makes it a lot more fun.” He has finished as reserve champion twice.

Barrel racing champion – Tracy Nowlin

For the second year in a row, Tracy Nowlin is the Elk City Rodeo barrel racing champion.

The Nowata, Okla. cowgirl rounded the barrels in 15.78 seconds to win the title.

She was aboard her twelve-year-old bay mare, Dolly Joe, who she purchased four years ago on Facebook. A former tie-down horse, Tracy originally bought Dolly for her son Ty, a roper. But she didn’t work for the tie-down, so Tracy switched her to barrel racing and she caught on quickly.

Dolly loves her job, Tracy said, but does not like loud music. That works to her advantage in pens like Elk City. The arena isn’t big and the alleyway is loud. “She really likes bigger pens better, and it’s loud and she wants out,” and away from the noise.

Tracy has ridden since she was two years old, growing up in a rodeo family with parents Terry and Beverly Postrach. Her dad, a tie-down roper, was a perennial International Finals Rodeo (IFR) qualifier. Tracy has qualified for the IFR fourteen times and the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo eight times.

When she’s  not rodeoing, Tracy does beadwork, making headstalls and jewelry. She sells most of her work to Perfect Bits and does some custom work for others. She’s an artist at heart, having done watercolor painting in high school.

Tracy’s son, Ty, is eighteen years old. He hopes to tie-down rope full time after high school.

Bull riding co-champion - Trevor Kastner

Trevor Kastner tied for the bull riding championship at the 2017 Elk City Rodeo.

He and Clayton Sellars both scored 84.5 points to split the win at the rodeo.

Kastner, a three-time Wrangler National Finals qualifier, has competed in Elk City four times, also winning a co-championship in 2011.

He grew up on horseback on a ranch near Ardmore, Okla., and began his pro rodeo career ten years ago. Last year, he finished the season in 23rd place in the world standings, after sitting out much of the season due to cracked ribs and a torn meniscus. Even though he didn’t qualify for the WNFR, it wasn’t  a loss. “It wasn’t a bad year,” he said. “I had a lot of fun and got to hang out with my buddies, so you can’t complain about that.”

When he’s not on the rodeo road, he likes to start colts and enjoy his newborn daughter with his wife, Kate. He loves any candy with peanut butter in it, including Reese’s and Butterfingers.

Kastner won the rodeo on the Beutler and Son Rodeo bull Strong City Slammer.

Bull riding co-champion – Clayton Sellars  

Clayton Sellars made his first trip to Elk City count.

The year 2017 was his first time to compete at the Elk City Rodeo of Champions, and the Fruitland Park, Florida cowboy tied for first in the bull riding with Trevor Kastner. Both men scored 84.5 points to split the title.

Sellars rode the Beutler and Son bull Record Rack’s 90 Proof, and he remembered his ride “clear as day,” he said. “The ride was nice and easy, up and down, right around. The easiest thing in the whole world,” he said.

The nineteen-year-old cowboy is a second-year student at Western Texas College in Snyder, where he is competing collegiately and studying to obtain a welding degree. He will graduate in spring of 2018, and hit the rodeo trail hard.

He got started riding bulls because he had no choice. Whatever his older brother Austin did, Clayton had to do, too, because his mom and dad, Brady and Christi, took the boys to the same activities. For a while, the brothers raced motocross. But when Austin started riding bulls, Clayton did, too. “Dad was taking him to rodeos, so I figured I might as well ride bulls and beat the old big brother,” he joked.

In his first year on his PRCA card, Sellars is doing well. He’s ranked in the top fifteen in the world standings.

When he’s on the road, he snacks on granola bars, drinks coffee to stay awake, and likes to listen to Dwight Yoakum or Gary Stewart.

Sellars still has most of the coins in the bag he was given for winning. He spent some of it for beverages after the rodeo, but “I still have $90 worth of coins stacked up,” he said.