ENID, Okla. —
The 2013 Enid Professional Bull Riders Challenge has a chance to run like a well-oiled machine.
Plenty of preparation went into this weekend’s PBR-sanctioned tour stop. Like any show organized by Diamond Cross Rodeo Promoter Wesley McManus, planning started six to 12 months out with activity and adrenaline building until the last gate opens tonight. The 2013 Enid PBR Challenge, will be 7:30 tonight at Enid Event Center. Tickets start at $25. To purchase tickets, call 855-TIX-ENID, or go to EnidEventCenter.com.
McManus and partner Dale Mitschke direct the proceedings from the top down. Rob Smets, a veteran rodeo performer, is at the microphone as live announcer.
And Chris Hammack will retire tonight, ending a long career as a professional bullfighter.
For McManus, the first challenge was figuring out how to hold a rodeo inside the brand new Enid Event Center.
“It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together,” McManus said as the hours ticked down to go-time Friday. “First of all, we’re bringing dirt into a place that’s not supposed to have dirt.”
The building’s not the typical rodeo grounds, so the hired hands had to make sure they brought in the dirt, panels and bucking chutes safely — and without damaging anything.
He also had to find the bulls. There will be five stock contractors providing tons of angry beef for the cowboys to ride.
If the show goes well, the months of planning pays off. It only got busier for him as time went on.
“The bull riding’s easy,” he said. “It’s the pre-game and getting everybody in order to do that.”
A little before the first ride, McManus held a production meeting to nail down, in detail, each moment of the show to keep it down to about two and a half hours.
“We want to keep the audience on the edge of their seat so when they leave here, they’re talking about it at the coffee shop for the next day and the next year when we come back,” he said.
It’s Smets’ job to color what the attendees see. He fought bulls for 30 years, breaking his neck three separate times, and now is an announcer. He’s not the typical booming voice from the rafters, though.
“I’ll be out in the arena with the bulls while the game’s on,” Smets said. “Every once in a while I still get chased around a little bit. That lets me bring something a lot of announcers aren’t going to do.”
What he lacks in pro announcer gravitas, he makes up for with three decades of jumping between a bull and its fallen rider.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have the great big, deep announcer voice. My specialty will be my knowledge of the sport and being able to explain things to educate the fans more than knock them out with a big baritone voice,” Smets said.
His own preparation involves getting to know the riders and their stories.
“Some of them’s a new dad, some it’s his rookie year,” he said. “Some, it’s the guys who are seasoned veterans who are coming to a pinnacle at the end of their career.”
Of the 35 riders who performed Friday night, he figures he personally knows at least 30. Some of them were riding when he still was a bullfighter.
“I’ve been in a lot of good wrecks with Mike Collins,” he said, looking over the list of names on his day sheet.
Chris Hammack knows tonight will be his last go-round as a professional bullfighter.
“This is it for me. I’ll be done after 27 years,” he said.
After finishing up in Enid, he heads back home to Belton, Texas.
“My knees are shot. I’ve got plates and screws in most of my body,” he said.
That, and there are plenty of young bullfighters coming up and ready for the big show.
“I’ve got a good name for myself and I feel I have the respect of a lot of bullriders and I want to keep it that way,” Hammack said.
His preparation has been honed over all those years. It involves getting in a mental state that lets him stare an upset bull in the eyes, drawing it away while everyone else runs for cover.
“Everybody reflects in their own way,” he said. “For me, I say a good prayer and I imagine situations in my head.”
He also gets to know the livestock and their tendencies. Hammack also knows nothing’s for sure.
“When you’re fighting bulls, you can work out any situation you want and you can say all the prayers, and you can listen to all the music and drink all the energy drinks, but it doesn’t mean anything until that first bull bucks out,” he said.
Then in the space of a few seconds, he mostly knows what’s going to happen. Is the rider going the full eight seconds? Will he fall?
“After that first or second jump and that bull comes out, you know what’s about to happen. You can see the slammin’ coming,” he said. “(But) I’ve been proven wrong. I’ve seen some guys hanging off the sides before and not thinking they were going to make it. Sometimes the bulls win. Sometimes the riders win.”
Hammack plans to have more than a dozen family members in town tonight as he courts danger under the bright lights one last time. In the back, dozens and dozens of the men he calls brothers will watch the orderly end of a career.
“When that last bull comes out,” he said, “I’m done.”