Craig Casey McMillen's best season of his professional rodeo career just got better.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, the 1999 graduate of Moffat County High School tied a Caldwell, Idaho arena record in steer wrestling with a time of 3.5 seconds in the first round.
"I've run a bit faster, but I've never set an arena record," he said from his cell phone before another rodeo Wednesday afternoon. "They made a pretty big deal out of it, and the PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association) did a story on it on their Web site."
McMillen's record came during one of four tour "playoffs" that have bigger purses than most other rodeos. Although the cowboy didn't make the finals, he still took home a hearty paycheck.
"I can't complain" about not making the finals, he said. "I still took home a $5,700 check."
McMillen went from being a Bulldog in blue and white to a bulldogger in western wear after high school. Since 2001, he's been competing nationally and became a pro four years ago.
This year has been his best year as a pro. He has won more than $60,000 in the world rodeo standings and more than $35,000 of that was from Wrangler Pro Rodeo Tour events. He's currently seventh in the world standings and fourth in the tour standings.
"Mentally, I've convinced myself that I'm going to win this year," he said. "That's been a big difference. I also picked up a new horse at the end of last year and I seem to keep winning with it."
The PRCA's season wraps up at the end of September and unless something unforeseen happens, McMillen will earn a spot at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas from Dec. 6 to 15.
The national finals have been his goal since he started bulldogging. Two years ago, a torn pectoral muscle kept him from reaching his goal. He said last year he wasn't fully recovered from the injury.
This year has been different.
"Most of the guys say that the $60,000 level usually gets you in" to the national finals, he said.
He's already reached level and he has 14 more rodeos left.
He's also pretty certain that he'll get to compete in all four Wrangler Pro Tour playoffs. Each playoff is progressively tougher to enter, with the final rodeo in Dallas open to only the top eight bulldoggers in the tour standings.
McMillen's more than $10,000 ahead of the eighth-place cowboy in the standings.
"I'm in a pretty good spot for the rest of the way out," he said. "Hopefully, I can keep adding to my prize money."
McMillen's travel partner is Sean Mulligan, who is in the top 20 of both standings.
"Anybody in the top 25 has a chance right now to get into the national finals," McMillen said.
He trains in Oklahoma with Mulligan in the off-season, but McMillen said he came home to pick up his dad, Merle, for a week of rodeos this summer.
"I think I won prize money four out of the five rodeos my dad came with me on," he said. "It was nice because my dad taught me everything I know."
To follow McMillen's progress, go to www.prorodeo.org.