FORT WORTH, Texas ― When it comes to the single most asked question regarding Gage Gay, the answer is no.
He’s not related to Donnie Gay.
The eight-time World Champion is too old to be his father, but, perhaps, not quite old enough to be his grandfather nor is he any other kin to the 19-year-old from Staley, N.C.
“Yeah, I kind of get tired of people asking me, but it doesn’t bother me,” Gay admitted. “I’m going to get it all my life.”
He especially got it after finishing second at the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V. Prior to that, it was mostly whispers in the stands that sometimes trickled down to the dirt afterward while he was signing autographs, or it would come up in conversation on the concourse beforehand.
Gage Gay puts up 90.5 points on Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey at the 2014 PBR BFTS Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy in Arlington, Texas.
However, after he knocked off three former World Champions – Mike Lee (2004), J.B. Mauney (2013) and Guilherme Marchi (2008) – in the first four of five rounds at the marquee Built Ford Tough Series event in Donnie’s home state of Texas, some folks went from wondering to assuming they were related.
“There (are) worse people I could be kin to,” said Gage, who laughed about the whole notion. “Everybody thinks I ride good and he was a however many time World Champion, so they think I gotta be related to him.”
Just to be sure, he’s not.
BULL RIDING IN HIS BLOOD
However, his dad Troy was a bull rider along with his uncles and all his cousins, so naturally Gage followed suit. Troy could very well have turned pro, but he and his wife started a family – Cody, 21, Gage, 19, and Shyanne, 12 – instead. Not to mention, the money riders could earn back then isn’t what it is nowadays, so he found a 9-to-5 job and went to work.
Ever since Gage was 3 and 4 years old his parents could put a four-hour bull riding tape in the VCR and come back at the 3-hour and 59-minute mark and he’d still be sitting in the same spot staring at the TV.
As a young boy, he loved the adrenaline of watching it, much like the rush he’d feel once he started competing.
Gay excelled from the start.
Twice he won the Florida junior rodeo in steer riding, while also winning the North Carolina junior rodeo title twice and the North Carolina high school rodeo championship three times in bull riding as a sophomore, junior and senior.
By the way, he also finished second as a freshman.
Veteran Billy Robinson lived just over 100 miles from Gay before recently cutting that distance in half.
“He’s a great kid and he can dang sure ride,” Robinson said. “He showed me that several years ago. He didn’t have to come here to do it.”
Gay has been working with his dad forever and still confides in him when it comes to critiquing his riding.
They used to videotape him at a local practice pen in the past, whereas now they can watch the television broadcast on CBS Sports Network or, in the case of the Iron Cowboy, CBS.
Despite the father-son relationship that often heeds teen angst, Gage and Troy have always been able to talk about the corrections that need to be made and, according to the younger Gay, “Fix the bad stuff.”
“If you tell me what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it, it doesn’t take long,” Gage added. “I can fix it. Just snap into it and fix it. I’ve just always been like that—a quick learner, I guess.”
GAY IMPRESSING OTHERS DESPITE AGE
Mauney has been impressed with how Gay has handled himself this year.
“The more I see Gage, the better and better he’s getting at it,” Mauney said. “He’s trying harder and harder. It’s not like he gets out of shape and takes the easy way out. He keeps going.”
Gay is definitely a lanky kid that could draw shades of comparison to the reigning World Champion.
However, the rookie’s style and love for action – kicking loose with his outside foot – could very well be the shadow of two-time World Champion Chris Shivers. If he indeed keeps that up it would mean, in addition to making the whistle, he’s likely to earn 90 points doing it.
“Chris Shivers was about the only hero I ever had,” Gay said. “People always told me that I kind of rode like him. … We just have the same style of riding. The judges will like it. That’s the main point.”
Gay’s self-confidence has been well-earned.
For the past three years he’s been regularly entering open bull ridings on Thursday night’s at a ranch where Boyce Knox raises BFTS-caliber bulls for longtime stock contractor and PBR board member Tom Teague.
It’s a little weekly $500 bull riding, but a couple years ago Gay drew Trickster – a bull who had bucked off L.J. Jenkins, Pistol Robinson and Cody Nance at BFTS events in 2011 – and rode him to win the jackpot.
In fact, he won Knox’s weekly bull riding quite a few times.
“I feel like that’s more of an accomplishment than winning a high school rodeo, because there you’re really getting on buckers,” Gay said. “You’re getting on Built Ford Tough bulls. That put me on top of the world.”
By then, Mauney had already heard others talking about the up-and-coming teenager and recalled seeing him at another local weekly event in nearby Asheboro, N.C. – which happens to be a Wednesday night deal hosted by Jay Hinson.
Mauney was there working on fundamentals and basics in the practice pen when Gay got on a few bulls.
“He was down there one night and, I thought, ‘That kid does ride pretty good,’” Mauney said.
THE TRADITION OF THE CAROLINA KIDS
Nevertheless, there’s quite a difference between being “pretty good” and actually living up to what has quickly become known as the tradition of the Carolina kids.
In the ‘80s, there was, of course, Jerome Davis, one of 20 co-founders of the PBR and the elder statesman of the great riders to have come from North Carolina. In addition to Mauney, more recently there’s Brian Canter, Shane Proctor, Josh Faircloth and others who have made their way to the Davis ranch at one time or another and would be recognized from competing on television.
“When I was 16, 17, I was chopping at the bit because I knew I grew up getting on Tom Teague’s calves,” Gay said, “and I knew all of them were coming straight here, so I knew I was ready.”
“He’s been around us,” Mauney said about Gay’s fearlessness and lack of intimidation, “so it isn’t anything different for him.”
Gay was still 18 years old when he won a Touring Pro Division event for the first time last May in Asheville, N.C.
It was one of the first times four-time Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson, who produced the event, had seen the young bull rider.
“He rode KISS Animalize in the long go and Delco in the short go and I thought it was pretty impressive,” Robinson said. “I had not really seen the kid that much before, but he’s really not let up.”
Seemingly overnight he’s become the 12th ranked rider in the world.
He rode twice at BFTS events in 2013 after earning a spot in the draw as an alternate.
Gage Gay talks about his Round 1 win at the Caterpillar Classic in Kansas City, Mo., and the differences between events on the Touring Pro level compared to the Built Ford Tough Series.
This year he’s ridden in six events, including the Iron Cowboy. He made it all the way to the championship round in Arlington, Texas, and a matchup with Asteroid for a chance to earn a $1 million shot at Bushwacker.
Unfortunately, Gay had trouble in the chute and the back judge wound up putting him on the clock. That was enough to rattle the youngster and Joao Ricardo Vieira won the event by less than a second.
Regardless, Gay solidified his place among the top riders – at least, for the time being – during his first marquee PBR event.
“It was kind of hard riding in it because of all the people and all the pressure there,” Gay said. “But you just (have) to take it easy and take it one bull at a time and not let it get to you.”
Billy Robinson called it a big moment not only in Gay’s career, but a life-learning experience.
“I hated that for him, but you’re going to have times like that and you’re going to have moments where it’s more pressure than others, but we all saw what he’s capable of,” Robinson said. “He put his foot in there and said, ‘Hey, I can beat these guys.’”
“I thought he handled that pretty well,” said Jeff Robinson, a North Carolina native, who is not related to Billy. “He’s got all the talent in the world. If he can put it all together he’ll be here for a long time.”
“There wasn’t hardly anybody that gave him a chance at all to come close to winning that deal,” added Mauney, who was eliminated by Gay in the third round. “What I like about him is he didn’t worry about it. He just showed up and proved everybody wrong.”
That night, Gay didn’t need to go home and assess what went wrong with his father. He understood what happened.
He identified the problem – when he got rattled he let his emotions get the best of him and wasn’t relaxed – and promised it wouldn’t happen again; but it never really sunk in how much money he won until after he was home. He earned $25,000 for second place and another $2,000 for having two qualified rides, including an impressive 90.5-point effort on Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey.
He’s been flying to events on his own and then rooming with Matt Triplett, who made his presence known on the BFTS with a late-season surge last year in qualifying for the World Finals.
Last August, Triplett watched Gay make a nice pair of back-to-back rides in the long rounds – Runaway Train for 85.5 points and Chatterbox for 86.5 points – at a TPD event in Big Sky, Mont.
He then told Gay that they would soon be traveling and rooming together at BFTS events.
“As soon as I saw that, I said, ‘That kid is going to be better than most people coming up,’” Triplett said. “I became buddies with him. We motivate each other. He pushes me to do good and I push him to do good.
“The kid has a good head on him, he’s confident and he wants to get a world title—we both do, so it’s awesome going with him.”
ASPIRING FOR GREATNESS
Gay used to hope to be the first rider east of the Mississippi River to win a PBR world title, but, of course, Mauney accomplished that five months ago, so now he has another goal.
He’d like to be the first rider to win the Rookie of the Year title and the World Championship as a rookie. As cool as he knows it would be, Gay said he also realizes, “It would be a hard record.”
“I really think whatever he accomplishes is up to him,” Jeff Robinson said.
Billy Robinson added, “He’s 19 years old and he’s got a lot of career left. He’s just getting started.”
He might be just getting started – he’s ridden in a half-dozen BFTS events this year and eight overall – but he already has a plan.
Don’t look for Gay to be riding in his 30s. Unlike most athletes his age, Gay already realizes his career is a fraction of time compared to the rest of his life.
“This is a young guy’s sport and you don’t need schooling to do it, so I better get it while I’m young. I can go to school later,” Gay said. “I’m hoping it’s not that long. I’m hoping I can make enough while I’m young and not (get) sored up and all beat up like some of the guys on tour. Hopefully by the time I’m 30 I can be done.
“I’d like to be retired and never have to work again.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.