March 20, 2004 -- Tie-down roper Nate Baldwin of Rigby, Idaho, brought the home-state fans to their feet by winning the 18th annual Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo at Holt Arena. Baldwin, who qualified for the 2002 Wrangler NFR, captured the national title with a final-round run of 8.0 seconds. He used his traveling partner's horse to seal the win.
"I split the sixth round at the NFR with Trevor Brazile and when we were driving over to the Gold Coast my little brother ask me, 'do you think this is the highlight of your career'?" Baldwin said. "I said I hope not. Right now, this is the highlight of my career. This is my best accomplishment."
Baldwin, who lives just 30 minutes from Pocatello, said having his family, friends and home-state fans behind him made the evening extra special. One of those fans was Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner of Afton, Wyo., who visited with the cowboys before the event.
"This is a big event every year and when I was a little kid I dreamed about coming here and winning it," said Baldwin, who pocketed $13,226.
The Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo (DNCFR) is the crowning event of the PRCA's circuit system of regional competition. National circuit champions are determined at the elimination-style event. Cowboys competed in two preliminary rounds. The top eight contestants in each event advanced to the semifinals, where all previous scores were erased. After the completion of the semifinals, the top four contestants in each event moved to the final round, known as the Wrangler Round, where the national titles were decided.
The other big story of the night was college bareback riding champion Cimmaron Gerke, who set an arena record with a 91-point ride aboard Kesler Rodeo's Smiling Cat. Gerke of Brighton, Colo., broke the record of 90 points established one year ago by Tom McFarland aboard Sankey Rodeo's Dippin Broadway.
Gerke qualified for the finals in the last spot with an 82-point ride on Sankey Rodeo's William in the semifinals.
Badlands Circuit's Ryan Hanna was the first steer wrestler out of the box, turning in a run of 3.6 seconds. The closest any of his other competitors got was 4.2 seconds, turned in by Keith Webster of Weatherford, Texas.
Hanna of Watford City, N.D., finished fourth in the semifinals with a 5.0-second run, but with the format of the DNCFR he knew he could still take the title as all previous scores are erased going into the final round. He departed Pocatello with $8,147. Darby Hunt of Jacksonville, Fla., pocketed the largest check worth $11,711.
Mountain States team ropers Wade Kreutzer and Ryan Zurcher knew if they just went out and caught their steer they would leave Pocatello with their first DNCFR title. Kreutzer of La Veta, Colo., and Zurcher of Torrington, Wyo., had to beat a time of 18.7 seconds turned in by Southeastern Circuit ropers Jimmy Tanner and Ashlee Swedenburg.
Saddle bronc rider Chet Johnson took top honors with an 86-point ride aboard Powder River Rodeo's Miss Congeniality Dip. Johnson of Gillette, Wyo., had never drawn Miss Congeniality, but was thrilled to see his draw after the semifinals. Jet McCoy rode three-time reigning PRCA saddle bronc of the year, Painted Smile Dip of the Kesler string, for 83 points and a second-finish.
Cody Wright of Milford, Utah, won the most money in saddle bronc riding, taking home $13,178.
Wilderness Circuit barrel racer Terri Wood Gates grabbed her first DNCFR title with a 15.50-second run. Gates of West Jordan, Utah, qualified for the finals with a 15.29-second run in the semifinals. She was the big money winner as well with $15,209.
The hottest bull rider going in the PRCA kept his hot streak alive on Saturday night in front of the capacity crowd. Dustin Elliott of Maxwell, Neb., won his first DNCFR title with a 94-point ride aboard Western Rodeo's Broken Bone in the semifinals. No one made a qualified ride in the finals so they reverted back to the scores posted in the semifinals. Elliott heads to Houston for his second Xtreme Bulls event on Sunday night. He hopes his momentum from this win will carry him to a win in Houston.
The Montana Circuit won the team title with a total of $47,191 in earnings. This is the first time the Montana circuit has taken top honors since the early 90s. The Badlands Circuit was second with $46,329.