J.W. Harris has won just about everything there is to win in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA): four World Championships, two Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) average titles, two Ram National Circuit Finals (RNCFR), three Wrangler Tour Finales and better than $1.6 million dollars in a nine year professional career.
That changed in 2014 and Harris did not even have to sweat out the title race during the Xtreme Bulls Finale held Aug. 30, 2014 in Ellensburg, Washington. In fact, he didn't even compete in Ellensburg.
Harris seized control of the Xtreme standings with the first events of the season, winning big at the Rapid City (SD) event in January and adding a split of first at the Division II Bulls Night Out in Fort Worth, Texas a few days later. He closed the season with $47,726 at X-Bulls events.
"It's about time," Harris told Prorodeo.com of the season title. "It's something that I've wanted to do ever since I bought my PRCA card, and I've been close several times and couldn't ever get it done. I just didn't ride good enough at Xtreme Bulls events in the past, that's all that it boils down to."
The PRCA's leader in career 90-point rides, Harris built a lead that was insurmountable.
"It's probably right up there in the top three of accomplishments, behind winning the world and average at the NFR," Harris continued. "I really wanted this, and it was one of my goals this year. Come hell or high water, I wanted to be the Xtreme Bulls champion. I've been trying to win it for eight years, which was way too long."
Harris has led the PRCA World standings for about a month as he chases a fifth PRCA world championship all while chasing his first qualification to the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals as well; in recent years, very few cowboys have been able to secure Finals qualifications to both the WNFR and PBR World Finals in the same year. It was that pursuit that kept him from Ellensburg as he competed at a PBR event in Oklahoma.
While Harris' lead couldn't be erased, second ranked Sage Kimzey gave it his best shot. The rookie has been setting the pro rodeo ranks on fire this season, ever since earning both the San Antonio Xtreme Bulls and San Antonio Rodeo titles and nearly $40,000 in one day in February.
Kimzey led the standings for most of the season, relinquishing his lead after Harris won the title at the Dodge City Round-Up the first of August. Trailing in the Xtreme standings as well, Kimzey couldn't earn enough at the Finale to catch the champ for the X-Bulls title but he could make a big dent in Harris' World standings lead.
With that goal in mind, the Oklahoma bull rider, who just celebrated his 20th birthday four days prior to the Finale, jumped out to a good start, earning 83.5 points in the opening round of the $70,000 Finale.
Utah cowboy Joe Frost won the first round with his 88 point effort aboard Summit Pro Rodeo's Tuff Stuff.
Returning later that same evening for the short round, Kimzey matched wits with Corey & Lange's Wild Eyes. The rookie won the battle, earning 87 points on the judges' score sheets to win the go round.
"Wild Eyes is an awesome bull," Kimzey told Prorodeo.com. "I had never ridden him, but saw him at the NFR last year. He bucks really hard, and if you stub your toe, you're getting thrown, but if you do your job you'll get a lot of points."
Kimzey's two bull total was 170.5 points, good enough to share the win with Oregon rider Cody Campbell. Campbell had earned 85.5 in the first round and backed it with a 85 in the final round aboard Western Rodeo's Bad Blake.
Kimzey earned $15,052 for the night. He only closed the gap in the Xtreme standings on Harris to just over $7,000 but in the Windham Weaponry World standings that gap is just about $1,500.
Kimzey's phenomenal year sets up a great battle for the title as the season closes out this month. Kimzey is hoping to become just the second rider in PRCA history behind BIll Kornell in 1963 to win the World Championship as a Rookie.
"A win like this is always big for confidence, and success breeds success," said Kimzey. "I'm not too worried about the world standings because there's so much money to be won at the NFR."
It's the ultimate incarnation of the classic battle youth vs. experience and it will likely come right down to the final night in Las Vegas during the 2014 WNFR.
Meanwhile, the share of the win was worth $14,206 for Campbell, giving his hopes of a second consecutive trip to Vegas a much needed shot in the arm. After winning second behind Reid Barker at the Reno (NV) Xtreme event in June, Campbell was injured and has slid in the World standings after missing big chunks of the important Fourth of July and summer runs.
"I've missed the last few months after breaking my ankle in Reno and I haven't been able to go as much as I wanted to," Campbell said. "I'm happy to get back rolling and get a win under my belt and get a push back towards the Finals."
Coming to Ellensburg ranked 28th in the standings, Campbell needed the big win to keep his hopes alive and he got it via his first career win on the Xtreme Bulls Tour. He moved into the top 20, less than $10,000 from the 15th and final qualifying position for the WNFR.
"It feels great, especially to do it here at the finale," said Campbell. "It was spectacular. The crowd was a packed house and you can't ask for better fans than they have here in Ellensburg."
Other bubble cowboys made the most of their final chance on the Xtreme Bulls Tour this season as well. Frost earned $10,223 for the first round win and fourth place average; the money is huge, taking Frost from 16th in the standings all the way to the top ten, a seemingly much safer position to earn his first trip to the WNFR this season.
Wyoming's Kanin Asay -- the only two-time season champion in X-Bulls history -- was in much the same position as Campbell, ranked 26th before Ellensburg. He finished third, the only cowboy besides the co-champions to ride both bulls in the Finale. His earnings of $9,518 gave him a fighting chance to return to Vegas as well, though he will need a huge finish in September.
Like Frost, Elliott Jacoby worked his way off the bubble by earning $6,345 during the Finale. Jacoby was ranked 14th but should be much more comfortable within the top ten once his Finale earnings are included into the World standings.
The PRCA regular season concludes on Sept. 30.