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Sledge Hammers coach Fred Whitfield hopes Kid Rock’s Rock N Rodeo takes rodeo to new heights

The revolutionary rodeo takes over AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on May 17.


FORT WORTH, Texas – Fred Whitfield may have retired from rodeo in 2019, but he hasn’t lost the competitive fire that propelled him to legend status.
Seven PRCA tie-down roping world championships and one all-around world championship. Four Wrangler National Finals Rodeo tie-down roping wins. Twenty WNFR qualifications. He became the second Black cowboy in PRCA history to win a world title in 1991 and the first Black Western sports athlete to win the all-around title in 1999. His 10-head total of 84.0 seconds en route to the aggregate title in 1997 is regarded as one of the WNFR’s greatest performances.
Whitfield was always driven to compete, and to win.
So when he got a call from PBR Commissioner and CEO Sean Gleason inviting him to be one of the head coaches at Kid Rock’s Rock N Rodeo, there was no question about his response.
“I said, ‘You damn right I’m interested. I’ve been waiting on this phone call for a long time,’” Whitfield said. “I hung up the phone, and I was just over the top. I’d done some stuff with those guys before, just a little bit. They’re involved in the Bill Pickett, and I went and announced a rodeo a couple of years ago, and I thought that might open the door to be involved. I didn’t know Kid Rock very well, but I’ve gotten to meet him and hang out with him a little bit. I think he’s a great guy, and he believes in a lot of things I believe in. I mean, it was a perfect relationship that came together in a short period of time for me.”
While Whitfield retired in 2019, he’d been slowly easing his way out of the rodeo game since 2015, primarily roping in the big rodeos in Calgary and Houston. He decided to go out while he was still on top and able to win.
Last year, he returned to the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon to be inducted into its Hall of Fame and help out Shad Mayfield, the 2020 PRCA tie-down roping world champion.
“I said, ‘Alright man, but Shad, there’s going to be a couple things we’ve got to do. I tried to help you your rookie year, and you really didn’t listen to me. Shad, with your ability and my brain, they’re going to have a hard time getting by both of us,’” Whitfield said. “And I was just being straight up. So I flew to Pendleton, helped him, and I was kind of around a bunch of people that I hadn’t been around in forever. You never lose the urge of competitiveness, so it felt good to be back in that environment.
“I got to visit a lot of old friends, and I got inducted, got to go up on stage, say a speech, went to a couple concerts, and I was kind of like, ‘You know, I miss that a little bit.’ I really honestly did.”
But Whitfield had to return home to the real world after that. These days, he makes his living selling diesel fuel for Moffitt Services, which he’s built into “a pretty damn good empire.”
He’s remained involved in rodeo by helping athletes out and having clinics, and then jumped at the chance to coach at Kid Rock’s Rock N Rodeo.
Each of the six head coaches leads a team of rodeo athletes they drafted, two in each discipline. The teams will compete head-to-head in barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling and breakaway roping. Using a format similar to drag racing, each discipline will see two competitors performing their sport simultaneously, competing for the best time.
There are four total rounds of competition. Rounds 1, 2 and 3 will consist of each discipline in an elimination bracket. Round 4 will feature the two teams with the most discipline bracket wins facing off head-to-head to determine which team is the event champion.
“I love it. I love the concept,” Whitfield said. There are not very many rodeos, period, that you can go to, be there for four or five hours, and the winner’s going to get $28,000 per player, plus the coaches. I mean, that’s a big-time benefit for a Friday night deal. The head-to-head competition—I’m all about it. We had to draft our players, so there’s a lot of strategy involved in this.”
Part of Whitfield’s strategy was trading Riley Webb for Mayfield, who’s now the envy of the other coaches. While some of his other coveted picks were off the board early and he had to adjust on the fly, Whitfield says he’s “tickled pink” with everyone on his squad – the Sledge Hammers.
The roster includes bareback riders Taylor Broussard and Tanner Aus, barrel racers Stephanie Fryar and Ashley Castleberry, breakaway ropers Maddy Deerman and Taylor Munsell, saddle bronc riders Dawson Hay and Logan Hay, steer wrestlers Dalton Massey and Justin Shaffer, tie-down ropers Mayfield and John Douch, and team ropers Coleman Proctor/Logan Medlin and Tanner Tomlinson/Patrick Smith.
“For me, I never back down from a challenge, so I want all of my people to be that way,” Whitfield said. “Whoever they put out in front of us, we’re going to go right through them. We’re not going to go around them. We’re not going to go under them. We’re going directly through them. If I can get that to come across in enough of them, then we’ve got as good a chance as any. And everybody drafted okay. It just depends on who gets a break and who doesn’t. That’s all it is. And I love my chances there, I promise you. If I didn’t, I’d tell you. I’m excited. I can’t freaking wait. Friday can’t get here soon enough. Seriously.”
Then, of course, there's the Kid Rock of it all. Whitfield got to meet the man himself at the draft, and Kid Rock invited all the coaches back to his house for dinner.
Not only is Kid Rock the face of the event, but he’ll also be performing within it.
“I absolutely love it,” Whitfield said. “I absolutely love it. He’s as down-to-earth as anyone I’ve ever met. The guy, he’s a promoter. Why wouldn’t you want him involved? And they’re bringing a lot of freaking people into the industry that we’ve needed for years. I’ve always said this about the PBR – anything they touch turns to gold. I mean, look what they did for the 20 guys that started it 30 years ago. It’s just gotten bigger and bigger and better and better. If you’ve got the right people involved, it attracts good people.”
And ultimately, attracting people is what helps rodeo grow, which is Whitfield’s chief priority.
“I just think that we’re taking rodeo to a whole new avenue, and this has needed to happen for quite some time,” Whitfield said. “If a guy’s going to rodeo his whole life, there needs to be more than one avenue to profit. And with the sponsors that they’ve brought on board for this deal, it’s beneficial for everybody. I started in 1990, when there weren’t any sponsors.
“It just helps the sport as a whole. That’s what I’m about. I’d love to see rodeo grow. I just want to see the sport grow. Whatever avenues that we have to take to do it, I’m all about it. That’s been my sentiments from day one. I think that if a guy sacrifices his whole life for something, then he should profit from it. That’s what I’m about.”
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media