PUEBLO, Colo ― Years before the first Iron Cowboy Invitational set a PBR attendance record and, in fact, before the newly opened Cowboys Stadium was even built, the original idea for the event was agreed upon with a handshake between two old friends.
Randy Bernard, then the CEO of the PBR, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood side-by-side at a Dallas Cowboys practice talking about their futures.
Jones mused over the state-of-the-art stadium he planned to build in nearby Arlington, while Bernard talked of his excitement over the continued growth of the PBR and the potential he saw for even bigger events.
"I think the whole night was magical."
Standing there along the sidelines at the Cowboys practice facility ― three years before Cowboys Stadium would even become a reality ― the two men continued talking and before long their plans had become intertwined. The conversation ended with a handshake and an agreement to stage a one-day, one-of-a-kind Built Ford Tough Series event at the stadium shortly after it opened.
Jones' only stipulation was that he wanted Bernard to assure him that he wasn't using the Arlington event as leverage simply to gain a better contract back in Las Vegas for the World Finals.
That wasn't the case at all for Bernard, who saw the potential for the Iron Cowboy to be an annual event that could serve as one of several "staple events."
Bernard simply wanted to develop a new relationship.
"We shook hands," Bernard recalled, "and he said, 'That's what I want to hear.'"
This coming weekend, Cowboys Stadium will host the Iron Cowboy IV. It's become an anchor event for the PBR along with the World Finals, Last Cowboy Standing and the season-opening BFTS event in New York City at Madison Square Garden.
Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "Record Day at Cowboys Stadium" is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.
In 2010, the PBR hosted the first Iron Cowboy Invitational at the newly opened Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The single-day, elimination bracket-style tournament drew a record crowd of more than 40,000 fans, who were on hand to see Valdiron de Oliveira win $260,000, which is the largest single-day payout in history.
The Built Ford Tough Series returned in 2011, and in 2012, as part of a four-stadium mini-tour that also included the Georgia Dome (Atlanta), Reliant Stadium (Houston) and Ford Field (Detroit). This will be the fourth consecutive year the event takes place and a testament to its popularity and drawing power.
Some seven years since their training camp meeting and the phone calls exchanged before and after the handshake, Bernard admits there was a pressure to deliver on a promise made to a friend.
As nervous as he and others may have been the week of the event, in 2010, he said he was more nervous the afternoon he shook Jones' hand.
The PBR had evolved from hosting an event in Fort Worth at the Cowtown Coliseum to American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas. And now he was committing himself to a stadium that generated news every time Jones booked a new event.
"I had this God-awful fear that I didn't want to be the first event in Jerry's beautiful new billion dollar facility and it not work," Bernard said. "That was a tremendous amount of pressure."
Because other than in 2003, the PBR hadn't had "major success" in a stadium and that event at the Georgia Dome, was bolstered by being held in conjunction with several other events being held in downtown Atlanta ― namely the annual NBA All-Star Game.
It's estimated there were as many people in Atlanta that week as there are for a Super Bowl.
Click here to view more photos from the past Dickies Iron Cowboy events.
While some observers, including Rudy Martzke from USA Today, thought the PBR would suffer from too many other events, it proved to be just the opposite. With a Final Four-like configuration inside the dome, the PBR nearly sold out the event.
Bernard and Martzke, who has since retired, had an early dinner the day of the event.
Martzke apologized for not being able to work the actual event into his schedule. However, by the time they finished eating Bernard convinced Martzke to come over to the dome for 10 minutes prior to covering the All-Star game festivities.
He agreed and wound up taken aback by what he saw and spent 90 minutes there before heading over to the Philips Arena. Martzke was blown away by what he witnessed and from then he began giving the PBR regular coverage until he retired.
That success is what Bernard hung his hat in the months and years putting of developing the event and later in the days and weeks leading up to the February 2010 event, which he could have never imagined years earlier would be his last as CEO.
And he went out in style.
Bernard and country singer Gary Allan are friends and in the months leading up to the event the two were on a boat together outside Nashville, when Bernard got the idea to have Allan headline a concert in the center of the stadium to kickoff the event.
Bernard said Allan's label, MCA Nashville, did a tremendous job promoting his performance and has been a big help to the PBR in the time since. Allan was about to release "Get Off on the Pain," the title track of which would become the official song of PBR broadcasts in 2011 and 2012. His latest single "Bones," from his recently released ninth album, now serves as the official song.
In the years since Allan's 2010 appearance, that performance has been headlined by Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley and this year Texas native Kevin Fowler will headline Saturday's concert beginning at 7 p.m. CT.
"It was a great way to go out," Bernard said.
Bernard said the entire month leading up to the 2010 event was emotional.
While he was excited for the opportunity to become CEO for IndyCar, it came with mixed emotions knowing he was leaving behind friends and something he loved and had invested his life in.
However, Bernard, who is now the CEO of RFD-TV, said he believes it's important for companies to bring in new CEO's and new ideas. The Iron Cowboy turned out to be one of his last great ideas for the PBR.
"I think the whole night was magical," Bernard said. "There are very few events you go to in the world where you feel the energy that is just huge and you can cut it with a knife and that was one of them. The people there, they got their money's worth."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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