PUEBLO, Colo. – It was close to the stroke of midnight on Aug. 9, 2014, when Bonner Bolton began to slowly sit down on Rango inside the bucking chutes at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Bolton – a relative unknown to PBR fans at the time – began to go through his standard chute procedure like any other bull riding event. Other than the fact that the back of his hair had been dyed, highlighted, and trimmed to match that of lead actor Scott Eastwood, Bolton treated his pre-chute procedure like any other ride.
However, deep down he knew this was going to be a different ride than normal. Producers for “The Longest Ride” had sent him home earlier in the day to rest once it was decided he would be the final rider to attempt Rango in hopes of getting a qualified ride.
The two-week long filming process in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and Winston-Salem had captured various scenes of Eastwood playing the role of Luke Collins – a fictional champion bull rider attempting a comeback. Part of Collins comeback involves him attempting to ride his nemesis Rango in one of the final scenes of the movie.
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The PBR served as technical advisors to 20th Century Fox to produce all of the bull riding scenes in the film. The film was recently nominated for a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic Movie.
Like so many other times during his four-year Built Ford Tough Series career, Rango was proving fits for Bolton, Josh Faircloth, Markus Mariluch and Billy Robinson.
The four riders, serving as stunt doubles for Eastwood, had attempted Rango earlier during the filming to no avail.
“That was one of the most intense build-up moments of my career,” Bolton said. “Here is this huge production for a motion picture and the PBR is counting on me to make this ride happen and this is the last chance, the last go at it at the stroke of midnight. They needed me to nail it and I knew I needed to nail it.”
Bolton did just that.
It may not have been a qualified ride, but Bolton lasted long enough once the bucking chute gate whipped open to cap off two weeks of filming with arguably the most exciting moment.
“It was cool,” Bolton said. “I had to handle a lot of pressure right there. I think that is comparable to what it might feel like being in a World Championship round position at the World Finals.”
If it was a BFTS event, Bolton certainly would have challenged for a review of the ride, but that didn’t matter on that night.
By the time he arrived eight months later for the premiere of “The Longest Ride” at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in California, Bolton was no longer the same unknown rider that he was on that August night.
At that point, Bolton was already well on his way to making a mark on the BFTS during his rookie season and had cracked the Top 35 of the world standings for the first time.
Bolton didn’t slow down either.
Despite breaking his right clavicle at the second-half BFTS opener in Biloxi, Mississippi, and missing six of the final seven regular-season events, Bolton was able to scratch his way to his first Built Ford Tough World Finals qualification.
Dr. Tandy Freeman performed surgery on Bolton and inserted a plate and six screws into his clavicle.
He had dropped to 35th in the world standings before a Round 1 victory at the regular-season finale in Tucson, Arizona, helped push him to 32nd in the world standings and punch that desirable ticket to Las Vegas.
“Man, I was watching myself move down week after week,” Bolton said in Tucson. “I knew as soon as I got back to getting back to doing something about it, I wanted too.”
Last season was a breakthrough year for the 28-year-old.
He cracked the Top 35 of the world standings and wound up concluding the season a career-best 28th in the world. He set career-highs with 12 qualified rides, 37 attempts, a 32.43-percent riding average and five Top-10 finishes.
Bolton’s best regular-season performance came in Fresno, California, when he went 2-for-3, including a championship-round winning 88.25-point ride aboard LL Cool J to finish fourth.
However, if not for a sprained right MCL in Round 5 of the Finals, Bolton could have potentially won the Finals event title or finished even higher than his seventh-place showing (3-for-5).
It was in Las Vegas when Bolton, who has since recovered from the MCL injury, recorded the first 90-point ride of his career by covering Walk Off for 90.5 points to win $30,000 and Round 2.
Despite the injury, the Finals was a great cap to Bolton’s breakthrough season after he originally expected to not even qualify for the Finals following a broken right clavicle in Biloxi, Mississippi, this past August.
“Man, all year has kind of been a warm up process for me to get comfortable at this level,” Bolton said. “To get on these bulls all the time is a little more than I am used to week in and week out. I am just thankful to put it all together here and be on top of my game where I know I can be. It feels good to brush off the rust and zero in on my skill-set.”
Bolton’s 28th-place finish in the world standings guarantees him eight BFTS events in 2016 before being subject to the BFTS cutline.
In fact, Bolton’s rise to fame partially began with that midnight bull riding under the bright lights of a fictional BFTS event when he was known more as Luke Collins than Bonner Bolton.
“As a kid, my dream was always to be a World Champion and be as good as I can be,” Bolton said. “So far I know I haven’t reached that yet, and I know I haven’t reached my peak yet, so (riding Rango) was just a stepping stone that gave me a confidence boost along the way and kind of a nice surprise.
“I never thought I would do something like that, but it has been a huge blessing in a lot of ways to get more exposure out there and more opportunities.”
*A portion of this story first ran in the 2015 8 Seconds Vol. 2 Game Program
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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