Bona fide cowboys ride into town for the PBR Charlotte Invitational

Cody Nance attempts to ride Bailey Pro Rodeo’s Dakota Storm during the first round of the Des Moines Built Ford Tough series PBR.
Cody Nance attempts to ride Bailey Pro Rodeo’s Dakota Storm during the first round of the Des Moines Built Ford Tough series PBR. Bull Stock Media

I don’t know if all bull riders are as polite as Cooper Davis. But I’ve never heard “Yes, ma’am” as frequently as in the 30 minutes we spoke by phone last week.

The other word the 22-year-old Texan uses most often is “heck.” I asked him if being the No. 1 rider on the tour (as of Labor Day) put added pressure on him. “Heck, ma’am,” he said. “You’re already on the back of a bull. You’re going 100 miles an hour and moving in 10 directions at once. If you’re not already nervous, you’re in the wrong business.”

Davis rides into town for the Professional Bull Riders’ Charlotte Invitational in the No. 2 position after sustaining a shoulder injury in the ring last weekend. He’s still expected to compete here on Friday and Saturday. “You get accustomed to the danger,” he said. The risk factor earns a cowboy more points. The tougher the bull, the more points a cowboy can earn for riding him.

Air Time (a black-spotted bull that spends more time in the air than on the ground when in the ring) and Pearl Harbor are the two toughest bulls this season, according to Davis, and he always hopes he’s chosen to ride one of them. For the points as much as the thrill.

Davis described the time he’s on the bull as an adrenaline rush. Riders are required to stay on for 8 seconds. If they last that long – and Davis estimated about a third of them do – trained bull fighters distract the bull to allow the rider to dismount and skedaddle safely.

It’s not only a rush for the rider. It’s a rush for the audience, too. PBR events have a rock concert kind of energy, with pyrotechnics and a rodeo clown who warms the crowd up. (Davis calls Flint Rasmussen “the funniest guy I’ve ever met.” He’s won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s “Clown of the Year” award for eight consecutive years.)

Each cowboy, and there are 35 in all, has his own trademark song that’s played when he’s introduced. Davis rides to the instrumental version of a song that’s about as far from country: “All the Way Up” by rappers Fat Joe, Remy Ma and French Montana.

Davis didn’t grow up in a rodeo family, as most PBR cowboys did. But when he was 11, his sister started dating bull rider Clayton Foltyn. Being around a real cowboy made Davis interested in becoming one himself.

And now he’s on top of the sport. He dropped 25 pounds this season by running three miles a day and doing cardio and ab work. For him, it’s important to “eat clean and eat right.” The average bull rider is 135 to 145 pounds. The average bull weighs 2,000 pounds.

These bulls are well-loved, Davis said: “They’re like pets. Some of them get massages. They get the top feeds. Some of them follow you around like a dog. Air Time will walk up to the fence and let you rub him. It’s genetics that make them buck; it’s not because they’re mistreated.”

Cowboys have a complicated relationship with the bulls they ride. Davis said they view them as both partner and opponent.

I assumed mental preparation was essential in the ring, but Davis said, “The less I think about it, the better I do,” Davis said. “Bulls are very unpredictable. You have to be ready to counter-move.”

With only four events left before the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas, the Charlotte Invitational is a crucial contest. The season culminates with the finals in Las Vegas Nov. 2-6 when the bull rider who earned the most points will win the World Championship belt buckle and $1 million.

Heck, that’s a tidy sum.

Buck, yeah.

If you think PBR just stands for Pabst Blue Ribbon, then you may not be familiar with Professional Bull Riders. The PBR’s Charlotte Invitational will be at the Spectrum Center (formerly Time Warner Cable Arena) at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. North Carolina natives expected to compete include two-time (and reigning) PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney, as well as Shane Proctor and Gage Gay.

This year marks the 10th time the popular tour has stopped in Charlotte. Tickets start at $20 and are on sale at the Spectrum Center box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-732-1727. Details: www.pbr.com.