Kawasaki Cowboys up at PBR JD Invitational

October 10, 2012
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Kawasaki enters its first year as a sponsor of the PBR  a sport with some of the toughest competitors around.
Professional bull riding is not for the feeble! Kawasaki is enjoying its first year as the ‘Official ATV and Side-by-Side” of the tough-as-nails PBR, the sponsorship including strategically placed banners and logos in addition to a promo where a Kawasaki Mule will be awarded to one lucky winner.
A Kawasaki Mule sits ready for its turn to roll out in front of the Nashville PBR crowd.

What does it take to be the “Official ATV and Side-by-Side” of the tough-as-nails Professional Bull Riders? It takes rugged products like the Brute Force sport utility ATV and the Kawasaki Mule side-by-side ranchers and farmers use every day, workhorse vehicles with heavy payload capacities and the torque-filled engines needed to tow it around. And though Kawasaki might not be the first company that comes to mind when talking about professional bull riding, Team Green is indeed a sponsor of the PBR, the premier bull riding league in the country.

To better understand this curious relationship, Motorcycle USA recently traveled to Music City, USA, to witness Kawasaki’s role as a national partner with PBR during the Jack Daniels Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee. It began the night before the competition with a trip down to Nashville’s rockin’ downtown scene on a Friday. In addition to the PBR’s Jack Daniels Invitational, the strip was loaded with college students celebrating the Vanderbilt Commodores game the next day and plenty of New Englanders were in town for the Tennessee Titans NFL season opener against New England, so the bars and clubs along Broadway were standing-room only. We wrestled our way into The Swinging Door and managed to work upstairs where a throng gathered around PBR star Luke Snyder. Our friends at Kawasaki introduced us to the “Ironman of Bull Riding,” his humble demeanor a precursor to our overall PBR experience. It also gave us a chance to pose Kawasaki’s Off-Road Marketing Manager Jon Rall with the question of why PBR.

“These are our people. Our fan base is sitting in these stands, the ranchers, the farmers, hunters, nobody uses their vehicles more than them,” Rall stated.

Heading to the Bridgestone Arena the following day, we encountered the first example of Kawasaki’s sponsorship. A Teryx side-by-side was parked outside the venue, promoting a giveaway going on as part of the backing. Even though it was hours before the event, we witnessed several people walk over to the UTV, check out the sign, whip out their phones, and text WINMYRIDE to 869727 for a chance to win a Kawasaki Mule. It’s a cool promotion because not only do they win the Mule, but the grand prize winner also gets an opportunity to tour the Richard Childress Racing facility in Welcome, North Carolina, plus lunch with Childress at his vineyard in Lexington, North Carolina. First runner up in the drawing will win a Brute Force 750 4x4i EPS sport utility ATV while third place will take home a Brute Force 300 sport utility ATV. The sweepstakes is still going on but ends October 28. It’s not limited to people attending a PBR event, so you can still text in for a chance to win a Kawasaki UTV or ATV.

The moment of truth! No turning back now.Rick Sosebee of ATVRider and Kawasakis Jon Rall clown around before the PBR event in Nashville.PBR star Austin Meier shakes hands while meeting with fans after the Nashville event.
(L) The moment of truth! No turning back now. (M) Rick Sosebee of ATVRider and Kawasaki’s Jon Rall clown around before the PBR event in Nashville. (R) PBR star Austin Meier shakes hands while meeting with fans after the 2012 Jack Daniels Invitational.

It’s the calm before the storm as we head into Bridgestone Arena before the PBR event that night. The way crews come in, dumping trucks of dirt followed by carefully orchestrated bulldozing, transforming an indoor showground into a rodeo arena reminds us of Supercross and the way they invade an arena and build mountains out of mole hills. Walking onto the rodeo floor, it’s hard not to notice the Kawasaki logo among a tower of sponsorship banners sandwiching the JumboTron. We walk on platforms above the stalls penning the stars of the show, pure muscle rippling on the backs

A Kawasaki bumper sticker is strategically placed on the chute so it gets plenty of air time when PBR is broadcast on CBS and NBC.
A Kawasaki bumper sticker is strategically placed on the chute so it gets plenty of air time when PBR is broadcast on CBS and NBC.
Ronnie Dunn of Brooks   Dunn was the guest of honor at the Nashville PBR.
Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn was the guest of honor at the Nashville PBR.

and necks of beasts with names like Asteroid, Smack Down and Bushwacker. Without the crowds and the frenzy surrounding the ride, the magnificent animals seem almost docile resting in stalls below the chutes. Cowboys soon take to the arena for a pre-show meet-and-greet with a few lucky fans. We are shown some of their tools of the trade and learn the different ways they wrap the rope to match a cowboy’s preference, like dialing in suspension and settings to a motorcycle racer’s likings. Though their vests look thick, they’re not as reinforced as you’d think, giving us a deeper appreciation for how tough these guys really are. They’re Chad Reed falling from 35-feet-in-the-air-at-Millville tough.

Energy levels kick into hyperdrive as the show starts, pyro technics and laser lights prefacing the introduction of the cowboys, loud music pumping up the crowd. Watching the spectacle, we can’t help but think of a Supercross opening ceremony. All that’s missing is Kevin Windham doing a huge transfer over the arena.

The crowd goes wild as the first bull rider breaks out of the chute, hangin’ on for dear life trying to reach that elusive eight seconds. A Kawasaki sticker is prominently placed on the bars of the chute gate, Kawasaki commercials play on the JumboTron during commercial breaks, and every time a bull runs out of the arena the gate bearing a large Kawasaki logo has to be swung open. Cameras capture all the action as PBR is broadcast weekly on CBS, CBS Sports Network, NBC, NBC Sports Network, and even YouTube. And we’re beginning to understand Kawasaki’s alliance with PBR. Besides direct exposure to potential customers sitting in the stands, Kawasaki is receiving national exposure over the air waves, too. Every time that gate swings open, viewers see the Kawasaki sticker. Every time a bull runs out of the arena, they see a Kawasaki banner. PBR claims that more than 100 million viewers annually watch primetime PBR programming on networks around the world. Now we understand.

Public art like this oversized Honky-Tonk Heroes guitar adorn the sidewalks on Broadway Street in Nashville.
Music City, USA, with its ‘Honky-Tonk Heroes’ and clubs like Tootsie’s was the host for the 2012 PBR Jack Daniels Invitational.

PBR is a big-time production. In between the explosion of the bulls out of the gate, rodeo clowns keep the crowds smiling while giveaways get them up on their feet and dancing. During one intermission a Kawasaki Mule 4010 rolls out into the arena with a sign telling everyone to text in to win. The fun only amplifies when country star Ronnie Dunn comes out to address the crowd, the word “Cowboy” boldly tattooed on his right forearm.

When the dust had finally settled it was Robson Palermo who was the top rider of the day, beating out Brandon Clark 759.75 points to 724.50. Afterward, riders milled around the arena meeting fans, signing autographs and taking photos with little ones and admirers alike. The low-key demeanor and approachability of the riders reminds us a lot of flat track and the family atmosphere it fosters. Both have grass roots supported by the blue collars out there, people not afraid of a hard day’s work. Even though the event hasn’t been over for 30 minutes, PBR crews are already lowering speaker stacks and breaking down the steel scaffolding like clockwork. Despite the enormity of it all, everybody we met associated with the PBR, from CEO Jim Haworth to the guys working security, have been professional and courteous. It’s no wonder Kawasaki has allied themselves with the sport. Not to mention the exposure. As the night winds down, we head out with our friends from Kawasaki. Music is spilling out of Tootsie’s, Nashville’s fabled honky-tonk, and cold PBR of another kind beckons inside as we once again blend into the Nashville night life.