- Bob Welch
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RENO, Nev. For traveling partners J.W. Harris and Sonny Murphy, the Reno edition of the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour presented by B & W Trailer Hitches was dramatic from the word go.
As the duo was driving to Reno, Murphy's new Dodge Truck he won at the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho, last March was running low on diesel. They trip gauge predicted 56 miles until they ran out of gas. Town was only 36 miles away. They figured it would be no problem. As you've probably guessed, it was, and Harris was walking down the highway when a state patrolman picked him up and gave him a ride to the nearest filling station. They rolled into the Reno Rodeo grounds minutes before the first bull bucked hurried and frazzled.
Soon enough, they were able to relax.
Murphy saw he had drawn Western Rodeo's Spin Drift, a bull he had ridden successfully two previous times in April once to win the Clark County Fair and Rodeo in Logandale, Nev., and again in Clovis, Calif. Harris breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing that he was the second-to-last bull rider out and had time to compose himself.
True to form, Murphy rode Spin Drift again, this time for 86.5 points.
Harris, on the other hand, had to watch 12 other bull riders cover, including an 89-point gem from Cody Hancock on Flying U's Water Puddle (a bull he had been bucked off of previously), an 86.5 from Jerry Shepherd and an 86 from Bryan Richardson before he had his chance against Flying Five's bull Four Aces.
That's when he let rip a 92.5 that brought the crowd to its feet. The score wound up being the best of the round.
Incidentally, reigning world champion and standings leader Matt Austin drew out of the event due to an injured riding wrist. At worst, he plans to be sidelined for a month, but could come back in as soon as two weeks.
The final round promised a set of great bulls.
Russell Rodeo's Frosty carried Steve Woolsey to the Clovis Xtreme Bulls title in April and Flying U's Reindeer is the fourth best bull in the world according to probullstats.com. Eight of the 12 bulls had been to the Wrangler National Finals.
The cowboys had their work cut out for them.
Indeed, it didn't look good at first. The first seven cowboys to nod their head in the final round hit the dirt before the eight-second whistle blew, including Levi Smith who had drew the nearly impossible Reindeer.
Murphy drew Flying Five's Fire Water a bull that is historically ridden about half of the time. Murphy, solidly in his groove, stayed with the bull jump for jump. When it was over the judges awarded him 94 points.
The next three more bull riders nodded their heads without making the whistle.
As Harris readied himself in the chute, he knew that no matter what happened, he would go home no worse than second. He drew Growney Brothers Rodeo's Wild Side. The crowd was primed for a spectacular ride. When the gate cracked, Wild Side showed he had no sense of timing and ran and jumped down the fence in one of the worst trips of his career.
The crowd grumbled disappointed at the anticlimactic end to the night until the judges and Harris began to huddle. Once it was apparent a re-ride was being discussed, the crowd erupted. The judges awarded Harris a re-ride due to inferior stock and the famous Werewolf of the Flying U string was the bull waiting in the wings.
"I've seen that bull for a long time," Harris said. "And I've always wanted to get on him."
The gate cracked and Werewolf, seemingly feeding of the crowd, exploded.
"He can have two different trips," Harris said. "He can be an eliminator or he can be real good. Today, he was great."
So great, in fact, that the judges scored the ride 96 points an Xtreme Bulls record and a Reno Rodeo arena record. It was so spectacular that fellow bull rider Zack Oakes sought out Harris to tell him that was the best ride he had ever witnessed.
"I had the 92.5 in the first round and that's the most I've ever been. Then I had this . It's unbelievable," Harris said. "I'd have to say this is the biggest win of my career by far."
For winning both rounds, Harris raked in $17,258. The second place finisher, Murphy, won $10,152.
The next stop on the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour is all the way across the country in Lexington, Ky., but surely that's enough money for them to keep their tank on full this time.
1. J.W. Harris (May, Texas), 92.5 points on Flying Five Rodeo's Four Aces, $5,076
2. Cody Hancock (Taylor, Ariz.), 89, $3,892
3. Steve Woolsey (Payson, Utah) and Jerry Shepherd (Nephi, Utah), 86.5, $2,369 each
5. Bryan Richardson (Dallas, Texas), 86, $1,184
6. Sonny Murphy (Herriman, Utah), 85, $846
7. Jason McClain (Lewis, Colo.), 84, $677
8. Clayton Foltyn, (El Campo, Texas), 83.5, $508
1. J.W. Harris, 96 points on Flying U's Werewolf, $3,722
2. Sonny Murphy, 94 points on Flying Five's Fire Water, $2,820
1. J.W. Harris, 188.5 on two head, $8,460
2. Sonny Murphy, 179, $6,486
3. Cody Hancock, 89, $4,794
4. Jerry Shepherd and Steve Woolsey, 86.5, $2,538
6. Bryan Richardson, 86, $1,410
7. Jason McClain, 84, $1,128
8. Clayton Foltyn, 83.5, $846
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.
When Wild Side showed his lackadaisical side in Reno, Nev., J.W. Harris assumed his Thursday would end the way it had been going badly. But a re-ride in the championship round on Flying U's Werewolf cured his ills.