OAKDALE — Trevor Brazile and wife Shada crawled into Oakdale four years ago with a modest trailer rig and a busted clutch.
He had won the all-around world championship the previous December, but he still wasn't Trevor Brazile.
Besides, he hustled on his own to Modesto to repair his truck.
Four years later, he and Shada are back for the 56th Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo, and today they ride in rodeo luxury. Their new trailer stretches 39 feet long, enough room for horses, living space and more than a few first-place saddles.
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Said Brazile with a satisfied grin, "We've evolved a little bit."
Brazile, 30, is the name on everyone's lips. He's won four of the last five world all-around titles, which places him in the same conversation with seven-time champion Ty Murray, the Michael Jordan of his sport.
Murray was a freak of nature, an iron man who excelled in rodeo's three most thrilling — and dangerous — disciplines: bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding. His riding 30 head each year at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas stands as one of the great feats in all of sport.
Conversely, Brazile specializes as a roper, a skilled hand in the events judged by a stopwatch. They've carried the man from Decatur, Texas, into a duel of eras against the icon from Stephenville, Texas.
The drive-time between Decatur and Stephenville is about 90 minutes, and Brazile is closing the gap in overdrive.
"I want eight gold buckles. Everyone has to have something to work for," Brazile said. "You can't get caught up in the big picture and lose sight of the calves and steers you're running right now. But that (catching Murray) is why I'm out here now."
Murray retired in May of 2002. When he was 23, he became the youngest cowboy to top $1 million in career earnings. Last year, Brazile became the youngest to earn $2 million.
Better still, Brazile has been rodeo's steadiest performer for nearly a decade. Before his four championships, he placed third, third, ninth and third between 1998 and 2001. He spent long years knocking on the door before he lassoed the thing off its hinges.
Only another third in 2005 kept him from claiming the last five in a row. Here is where Brazile shows his superstar status. He's still not happy with the one that got away.
"I love riding great horses and training horses. It's definitely a hobby of mine, but I kind of got caught up in that part of it when I lost my world championship," he said. "When you win the previous three years, a guy gets to thinking it's his to lose. It didn't sit well with me to say the least."
His performance since 2005 reflected his new focus. He set a single-season PRCA money record last year by winning nearly $330,000 and ran away with the gold buckle. This year, he's already leading and sending ominous messages to fellow Texas twirlers Fred Whitfield (nursing a shoulder injury) and Cody Ohl (competing closer to home).
Last month in Guthrie, Okla., Brazile won a record fifth title at the Wrangler Timed Event Championship, an annual invitational for the top 20 timed-event cowboys. Though his $69,000 payday doesn't count toward the official PRCA money list, it still spends nicely, thank you.
So it follows that he didn't exactly stress through an uneasy Friday at the Rodeo Capital of the World. In team roping, his steer swerved and forced him to miss. In tie-down roping, he managed only a time of 9.0. He'll finish his work in Oakdale in today's slack.
"I have wins and money at San Francisco (at the Grand National) and at Logandale (Nev.)," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better week."
It's telling that Brazile treats even the potential obstacles like the dirt beneath his boots. His adversaries won't be comforted by knowing Brazile has nursed a groin injury since last September. He also won the Timed Event with borrowed horses after an injury to Texaco. He's competing this week with a horse he bought before he headed West.
"I didn't know what to expect coming off last year. I thought I was going to have surgery but it worked out I didn't need to," he said. "Now I'm getting stronger each week. I'm getting pretty excited."
So should rodeo. Here's a cowboy who's using Murray's legacy like a road map, connecting the destinations one by one.
And there are no more problems with the clutch.