Bray is a team roping heeler from Stephenville, Texas, a rodeo-laden community just less than 100 miles southeast of Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. A few days after his 22nd birthday in December 2020, Bray arrived at Globe Life Field, the one-time home of the National Finals Rodeo during the pandemic.
He and heading partner Erich Rogers went straight to work. There were no first-timer jitters for the young Texan. With the 2017 world champion leading the way, Bray followed, and the tandem walked away with the NFR average championship. Three months later, they returned to Arlington for The American at AT&T Stadium, where the magic continued. They each pocketed $100,000 by winning the team roping title.
“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to win that rodeo,” said Bray, 23, the 2019 Resistol Heeling Rookie of the Year. “To have the cards fall our way to come out on top is an unbelievable experience. That’s one you want to win financially, and the experience is pretty hard to beat.”
They will have a great chance to follow up with another title at this year’s event. Because they finished among the top 10 in the world standings in the 2021 ProRodeo season, they received an exemption to compete. They will be in the field in the long round, set for Friday, March 4, at Cowtown Coliseum in the Fort Worth (Texas) Stockyards. The top times and scores in each event will advance to the next round, which takes place Sunday, March 6, in Arlington.
“That stadium has a surreal feeling to it,” Bray said. “I’ve been there twice now. Even before I made it, I was on the cattle crew. When I made it, I realized how big and beautiful the stadium is. You could actually feel the noise of the crowd come through the arena.”
That’s part of the experience, but so is the purse. The exempt contestants will battle for the $100,000 first-place prize, but The American is unique because six of the top cowboys and cowgirls in each event will have worked their way to the long round through a series of qualifying events. If a qualifier goes on to win, that person will earn at least a share of the side pot, which is typically $1 million.
Because no qualifier won in 2021, that amount rolled over into this year’s kitty, making the side pot worth $2 million. There is a chance that two people could be earn a million dollars by the time the final event concludes that Sunday afternoon.
“I would put The American on a bigger platform than most, and I have qualified and gotten an exemption,” Bray said. “I’ve been on both sides of it. The amount of money it brings is like a lottery ticket. If the cards fall your way, you could be a millionaire, and that’s what every cowboy dreams of.”
He will be one of six Resistol heelers in the mix at The American, joining: