BFI Week was built on a foundation of tradition. It’s packed with prestige, and the producers keep coming up with new ways to raise the already sky-high BFI bar. The concept of the BFI Legends roping is about as cool as it comes, and a chance for over-40 living legends who may have pulled up from the full-time rodeo trail to come together for a roping reunion with each other, while at the same time showing the rest of the Western world that they’ve still got it. Cory Petska and Seth Smithson won the 2023 BFI Legends roping, held today (March 31) at the world-famous Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. And it doesn’t get much cooler than a world champion heeler heading for a guy who never rodeoed professionally.
“This is the biggest win of my heading career,” said 2017 World Champion Heeler Petska, who’s 43 now. “It’s my first major win as a header, and the Legends roping is an amazing concept. I didn’t win anything at this roping last year, and couldn’t wait to come back this year.
“We got to watch Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton), and Tee (Woolman) and Rich rope together today. Nick Rowland lived with my family when we were kids. I headed for Nick and heeled for my dad (Paul Petska) when we were 16-17 years old. Getting to head for Nick here today was like old times.”
Petska and Smithson—who roped five steers in 37.7 seconds to take home $21,000, including $19,000 for the average win and another $2,000 for the Round 2 win—are a first-time team, and had only seen each other around before now.
“I’ve seen Seth at the jackpots for years, but I didn’t know him,” Petska said. “Seth’s a guy I said ‘hi’ to in passing, and I knew he roped really good. Martin Lucero was supposed to be my second partner today, but when he couldn’t make it, I was excited to get to rope with Seth.”
They’d only met in passing, but even before Logan Olson played last-minute matchmaker for this year’s BFI Legends roping, Petska had made a mighty impact on Smithson’s heeling without even knowing it.
“I’d never met Cory in my life until Corpus (Christi, Texas) in 2019,” remembers Smithson, who’s 40 and lives with his wife, Leah, and three kids, Scarlett, 10, Beau, 8 and Saylor, 6, in Liberty Hill, Texas. “I was in a big rut with my roping, and asked Cory about it. He told me one super-simple thing that made a big difference for me.
“I was explaining to Cory that I was way behind in the run, and was getting my shorts jerked down a lot. He asked if I watched the head rope go on, and I said, ‘Yes.’ Cory told me to stop doing that, and to just watch the feet. It changed everything. And funny thing is, ‘Just watch the feet’ was the last thing I told myself before our short-round steer today.”
They built up a commanding lead on their first four runs to ride in high team.
“We were high call by five seconds, had 13 to win it and were 8 on our last steer,” said Petska, who lives with his four-time World Champion Barrel Racer wife, Sherry Cervi, in Marana, Arizona. “I just made sure I saw six inches to a foot further than I had the rest of the steers, and took a couple extra swings.”
Smithson has roped at The American twice—with Colby Schneeman in 2014, and Wesley Thorp in 2017.
“This is my biggest day,” said Seth, whose day job is running the 3 Spurs Ranch in Liberty Hill. “It’s the most money I’ve ever won in one sitting. I was just a jackpotter. I amateur rodeoed some, but never pro rodeoed. It was really cool just to get to rope with guys like Cory and Logan in this roping. They’re professionals. Roping with them was fun. This is a big win for me.”
Smithson won it with Petska, and also placed third with Olson behind reserve champs Troy Fischer and Boogie Ray. And Seth surely gets bonus points for having his banner day on the back of a 3-year-old. He bought the sorrel he calls Gunner at the Triangle Horse Sale in Shawnee, Oklahoma when he was 2.
Petska rode an 11-year-old, bald-faced sorrel he and Sherry raised and call Brutus.
“Sherry started him as a barrel horse, then I started heading on him,” Cory said. “He’s my pride and joy. I love Brutus as much as I love Chumley, and I won a gold buckle on Chumley. He’s a cool horse.”
He better be to take on the cowboy conditions that come with the massive Lazy E Arena, of which these guys are both big fans.
“I love this roping, especially in this arena,” Petska said. “I love the Lazy E. It’s big, and it’s legendary. I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. I love roping here—heading and heeling. It’s a very special arena, and you better cowboy up when you come here.”
“I love it here at the Lazy E, too, and it just seems like I always do good here,” Smithson added. “This was an awesome roping, and Cory did an unbelievable job. He headed like a world champion header today.”
About that. Yes, Cory will heel for Clint Summers in tomorrow’s (April 1) 100% payback BFI. But to tip you off on how much Petska’s been heading, his horse herd currently consists of seven head horses and three heel horses.
“I head a lot more than I heel these days,” he said. “I’ve heeled my whole life. It’s a job. Heading is fun, because I’m getting to work on something new.”
Summers is an NFR switch-ender. Might Petska entertain such a challenge?
“I would love to,” he said. “There’s no bigger dream to me than to try and make the NFR heading. But every time I think about it, it plays in my mind that it’s stupid to try something I’m not sure about when I know I can win heeling. It’s just a dream, but it is in my head that it would be cool to be the first guy to win a gold buckle heading and heeling.”
It’s fun to daydream about, but rodeo’s role in Cory and Sherry’s lives continues to evolve.
“I rope (at the rodeos) every winter, then head to Wisconsin,” he said. “Sherry and I run 1,900 head of yearlings, and the cattle deal is my priority now. We used to look at rodeo as a job. Now we pick and choose the rodeos we want to go to. I still love to rope, and still feel like I’m competitive.
“I rodeo because I love it now, not because I have to do it. Sherry, too. She’s training a bunch of colts, and still wants to make her 20th trip to the NFR. But if her horse steps up and becomes the next big thing, she can get that done in 30 rodeos. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the heart to go to 75 rodeos again, and that’s what you have to do to make it heeling. But I still practice every day, and I do still love it.”
When a nearby grass fire and high winds caused a delay during the BFI Legends roping, it almost felt like a blessing in disguise to Petska.
“The BFI Legends roping was a full-on roping reunion,” said 15-time NFR heeler Cory. “When they had to shut the roping down for a little while for the smoke to clear, we all had so much fun visiting and telling stories. I only wish more guys would come, even if only to socialize, because it was just like old times. A great roping, and so good to see so many old cowboy friends.”
2023 BFI Legends Results
Aggregate Results (on five head) – payout per team
- Cory Petska and Seth Smithson, 37.70 seconds, $19,000
- Troy Fischer and Boogie Ray, 42.65 seconds, $11,000
- Logan Olson and Seth Smithson, 42.99 seconds, $7,500
Round One Fast Time
- Vic Morrison and Steve Orth, 6.70 seconds, $2,000
Round Two Fast Time
- Cory Petska and Seth Smithson, 6.09 seconds, $2,000
Short Go Fast Time
- Chris Francis and Josh Patton, 7.34 seconds, $2,000