A chance at a winter payday is a good thing and the fact that winners move on to a rodeo that promises five-figure paydays is the icing on the cake. That’s what we’ve got this weekend.

This weekend’s Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo will play host to a number of athletes with Kittitas County ties — they either live here or have in the past — and the drive for fans to watch is a short trip from Ellensburg south on I-82 to the Yakima Valley SunDome.

The circuit finals allows ropers to add to the coffers in a season-ending format as regular season and finals champions will be blessed with paychecks, buckles and the opportunity to travel to Kissimmee, Fla., for the National Circuit Finals Rodeo this spring. National Circuit Finals winners can earn between $15,000 to $25,000, which certainly makes it worth the trip to Florida.

But it’s a matter of qualifying for the national stage and the circuit finals in Yakima will do that for a couple of athletes in each event. Ellensburg is well-represented in the roping specialties, but also have an entry in barrel racing (Jody Tucker) and bareback riding (Kevin Lusk).

One roper who has a chance to win money in multiple events is Ellensburg’s Jason Minor. Minor is second by less than $1,000 to Caleb McMillan in the Columbia River’s All-Around standings and it’s a buckle he’d be proud to earn.

“Midway through the year I looked at the standings and I was in the lead,” Minor said last week. “I’ve never won the circuit and I thought it was a good goal to set. It’s something I want to do. Hopefully I can have a good weekend and pull it off. He’s in two events as well. I just focus on my roping. I’m not really worried about those guys though.”

Minor is roping in both tie-down and team roping (with header Jordan Tye). McMillan is in tie-down and bull riding. Jason Stewart — third in the standings about $2,500 behind Minor — is in team roping, having already competed in the circuit’s steer roping finals in October.

At the top of the standings in their respective events are Riley (team roping header) and Brady (heeler) Minor, as well as tie-down roper Jake Pratt. Mathematically they can be caught if a roper gets on a hot streak and wins rounds and the average, but all have a decent cushion to win the season title.

“It’s an opportunity for everyone that’s there,” Jason Minor said. “Obviously you want to win the average because that’s going to total for good money.” Last year’s go-rounds paid about $1,600 for a win while the average paid out about $2,400.

With the calendar being in the middle of winter, it’s clear being able to compete inside the SunDome is a blessing, but of course the SunDome poses its own challenges with the size of the arena.

“It’s usually as small as they get for the ones I go to,” Minor said.

Being indoors will be a nice change too, given the weather doesn’t allow for much.

“My biggest deal is not being able to practice and compete,” Minor said. “I’ve been riding my horses when I can. And I’ve been ranching on my calf horse to get him ridden. I’ve been to a couple of local competitions. We rented a place so we can knock some of the rust off this week before the finals.”

The circuit finals begin Friday night at 7 p.m. Saturday’s second round is 7 p.m. as well. Sunday’s third round is 1 p.m., and this proves God is cool with both rodeo and football. The Hawks game is at 3:40 on Sunday, which gives us time for those worried about it…but I’m not. No excuses, you can watch the circuit finals in person and the Hawks on TV. Join me in cheering on our locals.

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a weekly rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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