DULUTH, Ga. ― It’s safe to say Sean Willingham isn’t one to quit or give up on himself.
It took 12 years and 287 Built Ford Tough Series events, but the Georgia native finally gave his home state PBR fans something to cheer about this weekend at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
The 32-year-old – he turns 33 in four months on May 18 – from nearby Summerville won his eighth career BFTS event on Sunday.
It’s the second year in a row that Willingham has won a major event in the early goings of the season, but for once in his career he got to acknowledge the fans.
“This is a special win for me,” Willingham said. “I bet they’re probably thinking, ‘bout time,’ too.”
Though it’s been a longtime coming, Willingham said he plans to compete in Georgia for years to come. Unlike his pals, Luke Snyder, 31, and Brendon Clark, 33, who both retired last season, Willingham has no plans of doing so, at least, in the near future.
He added, “I just have to stay focused and stay positive every weekend.”
The key, Willingham said, is maintaining that aforementioned “positive attitude” when things aren’t going his way.
Sean Willingham puts up 88.50 points on C Note to win the Duluth Invitational in Duluth, Ga.
He’s ridden five of eight bulls this season and his 62.5 percent riding average is more than 20 percent better than his career average of 41.53 percent.
This was his first Top-10 finish of the season and leaves him one shy of 70 for his career, but more importantly it moves him from 23rd in the world standings up to sixth.
Fabiano Vieira still maintains a slim 23.88 point lead over J.B. Mauney, who won Rounds 2 and 3 on Sunday afternoon, in the world standings. Mike Lee, Guilherme Marchi and Marco Eguchi round out the Top 5 riders in the world standings after three BFTS events.
Willingham was one of a trio of riders, which also included Eguchi and Valdiron de Oliveira, to go 3-for-3.
He rode Doc Holiday on Saturday night for 85 points and was 10th in the average before moving to third in the overall average with 86.75 points on Bet on Black in Round 2 Sunday. Willingham’s 88.5 points on C-Note finally gave him the win, while Mauney won the Built Ford Tough Championship Round with 91.75 points on Rango.
It was the first 90-plus point effort by any rider in the Top 35 this season.
Stormy Wing, who wound up eighth in the average, took Superfreak with the first pick in the bull draft, while Eguchi took Bad to the Bone. Eguchi’s 87 points in the final round initially moved him atop the average, but ultimately were not enough to hold his three-quarter point lead.
The past three winners in Duluth were World Champions — Mauney (2011), Marchi (2010) and Mike Lee (2008) – and the past four winners in Georgia – if you count Chris Shivers’ win at the Georgia Dome, which came a week after announcing his pending retirement at the conclusion of the 2012 season – were champions.
Now it goes to a Georgia native, who drew relentless cheers and a standing ovation when Wing came down at 7.78 seconds.
Last year, Willingham won his first BFTS event back on tour – a three-day event in Oklahoma City, where the BFTS will be next week – after being cut for just over a year. He wound up finishing the 2013 season ranked 31st, which was up significantly from the year before when he was 43, but he has dropped each year since finishing fourth in the world in 2006.
Willingham admitted that despite being one of the veterans in the locker room, he learned a valuable lesson following last year’s win.
“I think I was overwhelmed with that win after being gone for almost a year,” Willingham said. “Maybe I let it go to my head—hey, I won my first event and then I kind of went back to that it’s smooth sailing.”
He explained that he was proud to be on the BFTS, but did not have the same “urge to win” as the season unfolded.
This year, he said, will be different.
“Just stay positive every week and show up with that winning attitude,” he proclaimed. “You’re not going to win them all – it’s a long season – you just (have) to stay positive.”
Willingham added, “Shoot, this is probably my best win, my favorite win of all time – being here in Georgia and keeping the buckle in Georgia, that means a lot to me and I’m sure it does to all these great fans that come out here and support me.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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