Fred Whitfield arrived in Colorado Springs, Colo., the weekend of Aug. 14 to accept the ultimate honor in his storied ProRodeo career — induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
While Hall of Fame induction usually comes at the end of ones career, Whitfield made certain everyone knew he was far from done and that he was planning to add to his lengthy, Hall of Fame-worthy resume.
Whitfield has won six world tie-down roping titles and one all-around world title. The aggregate mark of 84.0 seconds on 10 head that he set at the 1997 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is one of the sport's most remarkable, likely akin to Barry Bond's single-season home run mark of 70. And Whitfield is aiming for more. Retirement can wait. Whitfield still has goals to accomplish before he hangs up his ropes.
"I don't want to set a timetable on it [retirement]," said Whitfield, 37, of Hockley, Texas. "I've got a couple of personal goals I want to reach, whether it's winning eight world titles or going to 20 straight NFRs, who knows? I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on myself, not in the public eye anyway. I see myself roping for another three or four years, as long as it takes to get accomplished what I set out to do."
While Whitfield is a virtual lock to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December, he finds himself in the unusual position of trailing in the Jack Daniel's World Standings in his quest for world tie-down roping title No. 7. He sits fourth with $75,258 — about $27,000 behind world leader Stran Smith.
In a testament to Whitfield's great career, that's about as far out of first place as he's been since 1994, when he finished fourth in the world standings with $130,194, behind world champion Herbert Theriot's $151,922.
Beginning with the next year, Whitfield and Cody Ohl began an amazing streak, winning every world tie-down roping title. Whitfield won in 1995-96, 1999-2000 and 2002. Ohl won in 1997-98, 2001 and 2003.
Despite the deficit this year, Whitfield believes he can win the world title.
"I'm always up for a challenge," Whitfield said. "I'm a little bit behind in the world standings. But I'm pretty much right where I want to be. I haven't had a very good season all year — just bad breaks and drawing bad. But champions overcome a lot. That's what it's all about."
Whitfield began his stretch run to the Wrangler NFR with a victory at the Horse Heaven Round-Up in Kennewick, Wash. (Aug. 25-28).
Whitfield won Round 1 in 7.7 seconds and finished second in Round 2 with another 7.7-second run, en route to capturing the aggregate title with a two-head total of 15.4 seconds. All totaled, he earned $4,650 in Kennewick. Whitfield also won the rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., earning an additional $4,101.
Those are the types of paydays to which Whitfield has grown accustomed during a career in which he was only the third cowboy in history to surpass $2 million in career earnings. Whitfield realizes he'll need a few more paydays like that to contend for a world title this year.
Yet, if there is anyone who can get it done, it's Whitfield.
"I think I'm a lot smarter now than I was back when I started," Whitfield said. "I just jumped into a pickup truck and drove mile after mile. Now you try to cut it down. When you draw well you've got to take advantage of it. A wasted opportunity nowadays is like a blown save. Every opportunity you get to win, you've got to take advantage of it."
One factor working in Whitfield's favor and one that his fellow tie-down ropers are no doubt well aware of is the fire that made him a world champion burns as brightly now as it ever has.
"I know that I'm getting older, but I have the same drive I had 10 years ago and that's the thing that makes me a contender," Whitfield said.