Horsepower is a theme in Hal Earnhardt's life.
He's the 30-year president of Earnhardt Auto Centers, a business founded by his dad Tex Earnhardt 60 years ago and now comprised of 11 Valley dealerships. He's been a thoroughbred horse breeder since 1990. And for the last year and a half, the 55-year-old has taken to hurtling down a rodeo arena at 30 miles per hour on a 1,200-pound horse.
Earnhardt is a team roper in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association - a pursuit he returned to last year after more than 30 years away from competing. He and his roping partner Victor Aros, 40, won the Pro Rodeo team roping event at the annual World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo in Payson last month. The win qualified them for the Turquoise Circuit Finals rodeo, which begins Sept. 29.
Team roping is a rodeo event that demands speed, agility and accuracy for a team of two to successfully rope a running steer from horseback. And Earnhardt aims to do so at an age that isn't quite the norm.
"Am I in the league of these kids? No," Earnhardt said. "There's no doubt there's a spectrum. The speeds change from 20 years old to 55. But I'm competitive."
Tex Earnhardt, 80, said his son was in a saddle at the age of 5.
"He's been a professional since he was a little boy," Tex said. "He's a natural. He is just one of those kids that can spin a rope, jump through it and all that."
Earnhardt's roping partner Victor Aros, 40, also started roping as a boy. The 15-year rodeo professional said, "The younger kids (in roping) are definitely faster."
Aros' career included qualifying in 2008 for the National Finals Rodeo, where cowboys compete for PRCA's top honors.
"I still really feel like I'm in my prime," Aros said. "I've got years of experience over the younger guys, which helps. And (Hal and I) try to keep our game modern. We try to keep it snappy."
One way Earnhardt stays sharp is with mixed martial arts training three hours per week.
"I do quite a bit of boxing and jiujitsu. I don't let anybody hit me back because I'm not tough," Earnhardt said with a chuckle. "But I do train, and I believe that helps me quite a bit because I do a lot of speed training in (the gym)."
However, Earnhardt doesn't chalk up his roping success to boxing bouts.
"You need a good horse," Earnhardt said. "You need a good partner. And you need a good draw. You've got to get in all those things."
Earnhardt said he has the first two components. But after he and Aros drew a fast steer at their first rodeo in April last year, "I was about ready to quit," Earnhardt said.
"I looked like a deer in headlights," he added. "I didn't rope well. I didn't do well."
The self-described "super competitive" man said he had to be put back together. "A good friend of mine had to have a talk with me and said, ‘Hey, if one rodeo doesn't make, go to the next one.'''
Earnhardt and Aros did just that and placed fourth at the Payson Spring Rodeo about a month later.
Nature Winters, Earnhardt's niece, said she was excited to see him return to competing.
"The family had slowed down with competitive roping," Winters said. "But since Uncle Hal got back into it, other family members have, too."
Winters, 35, is among those family members. She grew up team roping and recently has focused on competing more.
Earnhardt echoed his niece in calling rodeos a family affair. As to whether any of his four grandchildren will follow in his rodeo steps, Earnhardt played it casual.
"You know I think a couple of them definitely like it," he said. "They seem to enjoy it."
And then he proudly showed a photo of his grandson Tex's boots with spurs bearing the 3-year-old's name.
Kiali Wong is an intern this semseter for the Tribune. She is a senior at Arizona State University.