By Jolee Jordan
Little Rock, Arkansas—Legend has it that Arkansas’s richest roping began as an excuse for producer Dane McCracken of 2G Productions to build an arena on his ranch in Clinton, Arkansas.
The owner of Clinton Feed and Ranch Supply and avid team roper called his event The Spoke Invitational and it was a roaring success from the start. Over the course of four years, the event continued to add sponsors and attract more ropers, culminating in a 2018 payout over $168,000 with 1,225 teams competing.
In 2019 the Spoke moved to new digs, just down the road in Little Rock at Barton Coliseum, making its fifth annual event the first to be held indoors.
McCracken continues to add to his roping with new features each year. The roping is a Junior American qualifier and a qualifier for The Patriot roping, held in conjunction with RFD-TV’s The American each year. The Spoke hosts dummy ropings for the kids as well as open and numbered team roping competitions.
No doubt inspired by his three young daughters, McCracken has also included an all-women’s team roping, which was sanctioned by the WPRA in 2018 and again this season, and added breakaway roping to the line-up for 2019, giving WPRA ropers a shot to improve standings positions as the regular season winds down to its September 3, 2019 conclusion.
Cowgirls had the opportunity to enter the breakaway roping twice and the team roping four times (for a total of eight runs); there were two full rounds of breakaway roping and three progressive rounds of team roping. The top 20 in each event in the average were invited back on Friday night, August 16 for the Short Go Showcase.
Three cowgirls who took advantage of the big payout and prize line were Loni Kay Lester as well as WPRA World Champions Whitney DeSalvo and Lari Dee Guy.
DeSalvo, who owns the last two WPRA World Championships as a heeler, was the big winner, taking home a new horse trailer and saddle as the High Point Cowgirl. An Arkansas native who just finished her senior year at University of Arkansas-Monticello, DeSalvo made most of her points in the team roping where she placed five of her six runs back into the top 20 for the finals. She had the two high calls with partners Hope Thompson and Guy.
As the second high call after roping three steers in 25.9 seconds, Guy and DeSalvo were solid at 10.22 in the Finals to take the lead and hold on through the final competitors. Their four head total of 36.12 seconds was .22 seconds ahead of second place, Alexandra Turner and DeSalvo.
In fact, DeSalvo won three of the five money holes paid in the average of the roping. She walked away with checks worth $4,120 to clinch the High Point award.
When asked in a Facebook video about her secret to roping so well, DeSalvo was quietly humble as usual.
“I don’t have one,” she joked simply. “Just catch ‘em all by two feet.”
DeSalvo is already leading the WPRA World standings for heelers with nearly $20,000 won in WPRA sanctioned contests this year as she seeks a third straight championship.
Guy earned $2,200 for the win on the heading side. The reigning WPRA World Champion Header is eighth in the current standings with considerable ground to make up on leader Jackie Crawford. Guy owns three WPRA World titles in the heading.
An eight-time WPRA World Champ in multiple disciplines, Guy helped maintain her number one position in the breakaway roping by placing fourth at the Spoke, earning $500 after roping three calves in 7.90 seconds.
Sam Houston State alum Lester was the champion in the breakaway roping. She was high call into the short go round after roping two in 4.35 seconds and also made the Short Go Showcase with her second run, a blistering 2.0 on one calf.
Only fifteen cowgirls caught two calves in the long rounds. The round payouts were wicked tough with three runs on the weekend under two seconds. Crawford won round one with a 2.01, Hope Thompson took round two with a run of 1.93 and Kelsie Chace won the short round with the fastest time of the event, a 1.86.
In the final go, Lester took third in the go with a time of 2.06 with her second run. On her high call run, she was just out of the money with a time of 2.20 seconds but plenty fast enough for the average win. Her three run total of 6.55 seconds was seven tenths better than second place Jessica Rowland.
Lester was ranked just 70th in the WPRA World standings for breakaway ropers prior to the Spoke but will see a big improvement in that position after earning $2,720.
“Boss and I got the win in the average at the Spoke Invitational Breakaway in Little Rock AR,” Lester posted to Facebook after the win, noting her good horse Boss. “Placed in the first, second and short round! Shane won second with 10k. It was a good weekend for our rig — and the “brothers” (our horses are by the same stud),” she added of significant other, PRCA team roper Shane Phillip.
The WPRA regular season for the roping disciplines ends September 3, 2019. The WPRA World Finals will once again be held in Waco, Texas October 24-27, 2019. Entries open this week so keep an eye for more information on www.wpra.com.
For more information on The Spoke Invitational Roping, find them on Facebook.