The Winston Pro Tour: Big Hair, Bigger Money

Before their was the ERA, the Wrangler Champions Challenge or the American, there was the Winston ProTour
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Before their was the ERA, the Wrangler Champions Challenge or the American, there was the Winston ProTour
Winston Pro Tour

Left to right: Linderman Award winner, steer wrestler and tie-down roper Steve Bland, World Champion and Hall-of-Fame saddle-bronc rider Tom Reeves, nine-time NFR qualifying steer wrestler Marty Melvin, 11-time World Champion barrel racer Charmayne James, four-time World Champion heeler Allen Bach, 1994 World Champion bareback rider Larry Peabody and two-time World Champion Bobby Hurley.

The Winston ProRodeo Tour existed for just two years, 1985 and 1986, but some cowboys today consider it a golden era in rodeo for the major corporate sponsorship, television coverage and money paid out to rodeo contestants.

The tour broke contestants down into teams, much like today’s Wrangler Champions Challenge. In 1986, though, the 18 teams were sponsored by such outside-the-industry corporate giants as Coca Cola, Jolly Rancher Candies, Coors, Polaroid, 7Eleven, United Airlines and Valvoline, in addition to traditional sponsors like Wrangler, Justin and Resistol. 

Teams were initially drafted in Reno in the spring of 1985, and to be eligible in 1986, competitors must have finished in the top 24 in their event.

“Almost everybody that I’ve ever known of my buddies in that era, we all just loved the Winston ProTour,” remembered Allen Bach. “Ken Stemler (head of PRCA properties at the time) created it, and he was a genius. He was one of the first guys in the administration with a marketing mind. He wanted to turn spectators into fans, and he wanted us to be accessible. He wanted to create an opportunity for spectators to follow us around from Reno to Spokane to Casper. It created a fan base, and people loved to keep up with us.”

The Winston ProTour paid out over $2 million in its 10-city tour in 1986, and awarded $135,000 in prize money at each stop, in addition to $20,000 per event to the top finishers at the conclusion of the tour. Each team also battled for the Coors Cup at the end of the season, with another $4,000 in bonuses (sponsored by Coors) to the winning team at each rodeo.

But after 1986, the Winston ProTour was no more.

“There were some guys who, in their opinion, because they bought a $500 PRCA card, they should get to go to every rodeo,” Bach explained. “Those guys won, when it came down to it. They thought the top 24 in the world were at an advantage because they could win more at these ProTours. But I loved it, and if you think about it, if people would have gotten behind Ken, he would have taken us to another level of rodeo.”