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Elliott has a need for speed in and out of rodeo

8/25/2006

Dustin Elliott is having the year most bull riders envy. He sits No. 4 in the latest ProRodeo Cowboys World Standings with more than $68,000 won, performed well enough to qualify for the Winter Tour Finale and is off to a solid start on the Summer Tour.

Oh, he also owns championship buckles by winning average titles at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, S.D.; La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson, Ariz.; and Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.

Then again, most riders don’t have the bar set as high as Elliott does.

That’s what winning the 2004 world bull riding title did for this North Platte, Neb., sensation. Not that finishing fourth in the final standings last year translated into a disappointment, either, but the 2006 season hasn’t yet met his high expectations.

“Average,” said Elliott, summing up his entire seven-month season into one word. “I hate being average. I want to excel. Being in the top 15 halfway through the year is definitely an accomplishment with so many riders out there. I need to pick up my game. I know that.”

Elliott, still just 25, enjoyed a nice start to the season. He won Rapid City and $4,800. Then he set the Tucson arena record with a 93-point ride aboard Western Rodeos’ Cow Pix and bagged nearly $8,000 in the process. He was ranked as high as eighth.

Then, something happened. He remained a force in the bull riding standings. But those stellar rides became farther and farther apart. His season went from outstanding to just average.

He placed in Laughlin, Nev., to secure his winter tour ranking and won $4,000 by finishing second in the semifinals at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out in Tulsa, Okla. But he also was bucked off two of three rides there, too.

He won money at just one Fourth of July rodeo, some $5,400 in Prescott, Ariz.

He’s had an even worse time in the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour, presented by B&W Hitches, where he has been virtually shut out through six stops. His only two paychecks came in Division II events in Rapid City and Greeley, Colo.

“Cynthia (his wife) told me to stop entering,” Elliott said. “But you can’t not enter them, because if you hit a lick at one, you’re golden. It’s just a matter of hitting that lick.”

Still, he stands in great position to return to Las Vegas for his third consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Ranked first in the Summer Tour standings at the one-third mark, he stands a better-than-average chance at competing in the lucrative Summer Tour Finale (Sept. 28-30) in Omaha, Neb.

After spending the last month or so away from home, he returned for a few days, just long enough to hit the local Wal-Mart. There, he supplied up for a list of duties to get done around the house — mowing the lawn, getting the tractor running, working on the driveway or, as Elliott puts it, “good, fun ‘honey-do’ stuff.”

But when the chores are done, Elliott looks forward to leaning back and letting the rubber hit the road. A longtime motorcycle enthusiast, Elliott owns a BMC Chopper and a Harley-Davidson and rides whenever he can, no matter the season.

That’s not the best news for his wife, but it goes back to a deal she struck that made the whole thing happen.

“I’ve always liked motorcycles,” Elliott said. “In 2004, about April, we were in California and I saw a bunch of guys riding. I wanted one bad. Cynthia never let me. She said if I ever won the world title, I could get a motorcycle.

“Well, touché! I got my BMC. She won’t even sit on the thing. I don’t know, she thinks I’m going to kill myself.”

Elliott rides with Cynthia’s father down the Nebraska highways and byways.

On Aug. 6, the annual Sturgis (S.D.) Motorcycle Rally starts its week long run, which for the past 65 years has attracted thousands of motorcyclists to the western South Dakota town for scenic riding, entertainment, camaraderie with fellow bikers and a Main Street atmosphere like no other.

And he has no doubt he’ll be there.

“I live it,” Elliott said. “I ride the BMC first. I feel like more of a badass when I’m riding it. It’s just cool. It’s got a big old fat tire on the back. It’s so relaxing and so awesome. No phone, no radio. Just bugs hitting the windshield and the smell of gasoline.”

Nebraska state law requires helmets. Even in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s much-publicized accident in which the Super Bowl XL-winning quarterback was helmet-less at the time of the mishap and somehow escaped life-threatening injuries, Elliott said he doesn’t think about the down side.

Then again, this is a guy who rides bulls for a living, too.

“I’m not worried about my riding ability,” said Elliott, referring to his bike riding. “I wear the protective gear you should wear, but I’m more worried about another driver not seeing me. I’m not going to wreck my motorcycle, but someone might wreck me.”

Obviously, riding bulls and bikes both come with inherent danger. Elliott knows that but doesn’t let that get in his way.

“The way I see it, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Elliott said. “So far, I’ve never really gotten hurt riding bulls, and I’ve never gotten hurt riding bikes, either.”

Now, about that “average season.” Elliott sees the late summer as a time where things can really rev up.

“This is definitely a good time of the year go get hot,” Elliott said. “This year has been hard, so far. When I draw a good one, I usually take advantage of it. But there’s still time to turn things around.”