LAS VEGAS One of the first things Kelly Maben did at the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was tip a barrel. Since then, she's been nearly unstoppable.
The elementary reading and writing teacher from tiny Spur, Texas, did some writing of her own on Wednesday with an arena-record, 13.58-second run. That gave her a fourth round victory in six nights at the Wrangler NFR and vaulted her into the top spot in the world standings for the first time this season.
Her record run topped the previous arena record of 13.63, set by Tammy Key (Ledbetter, Texas) in 2002.
After back-to-back round wins on Friday and Saturday netted her $32,043, Maben put things in perspective from the point that her annual salary teaching in her hometown, located in the wind-swept South Plains region of Texas some 275 miles northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, is $32,000.
And after consecutive victories on Monday and Tuesday, Maben boosted her six-day total to an eye-boggling $73,648 nearly $3,000 more than she won during the 10-month regular season. And that includes her opening-night run on Nov. 30 in which she knocked over the second barrel and didn't earn a check.
"I can't believe it," a stunned Maben said on winning her fourth round and occupying the top spot in the world barrel racing standings. "All the runs were faster tonight, but I'm going to say, tonight, my horse (Bubba) did everything right. It was flawless."
While Maben broke the first record of this year's Wrangler NFR, Tuesday's Round 6, witnessed by 17,343, featured new champions in the other six events and included an emotional tribute to a fallen bull rider.
Two years ago, Shane Drury returned to the arena after a second surgery to remove cancer that originated in his chest cavity and spread to nearby areas. He then traveled with eventual 2004 World Champion Bull Rider Dustin Elliott (North Platte, Neb.).
On Oct. 31, Drury died after a four-year battle with his disease. Prior to Tuesday's competition, Drury and nine other friends of professional rodeo and the Wrangler NFR who passed away during the past year were posthumously recognized as part of the annual Memorial Night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Elliott then did his part to remember his friend, winning the round with an inspiring, 88.5-point ride aboard Southwick, Robertson and Wilson Company's Foolish Man.
Elliott also had someone else on his mind, his grandfather, who was recently admitted to a Las Vegas hospital with internal bleeding.
"Last year, my grandma had a brain aneurysm and had to have brain surgery while she was in Vegas," Elliott said. "Well, this year, grandpa has something internally and is bleeding inside, so he's been in the hospital. He's getting out soon, but we'll be off soon to visit him."
Besides Elliott, the other first-time champions of the 2006 Wrangler NFR included bareback rider Royce Ford (Briggsdale, Colo.), who rode Classic Pro Rodeo's Wise Man for 87.5 points;
Steer wrestler Gabe Ledoux (Kaplan, La.) tied for the round title with Luke Branquinho (Los Alamos, Calif.), the 2004 World Champion, with a time of 3.7 seconds. Branquinho took his third victory lap of the Wrangler NFR and is within $4,000 of standings leader Dean Gorsuch (Gering, Neb.).
Team ropers Garrett Tonozzi (Fruita, Colo.) and Brady Minor (Ellensburg, Wash.) stopped the clock in 4.1 seconds to claim the victory;
Saddle bronc rider Cody Wright (Milford, Utah) topped his event with a score of 89 points on Bar T Rodeo's Fire Fly and;
Tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa (Chubbuck, Idaho) recorded a time of 7.2 seconds to win his event. One night after Scott Kormos (Teague, Texas) claimed a first-place check on the last run of the night, Shiozawa did the same on Tuesday.
The Wrangler NFR, an annual Las Vegas event since 1985, is the world's premier rodeo. Only the top 15 contestants in each of rodeo's events qualified for the event, which will crown world champions at its conclusion on Dec. 9.