GREAT FALLS — When I was young, like other kids, I always wanted to be a cowboy. Sure, I was built like Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza, and lived in town, but a kid could dream, right? That dream started when I watched the feature film "8 Seconds" starring Luke Perry, depicting an Oklahoma cowboy. It led me down a path of research and some might say an obsession, but it was a connection that was closer to home than I realized.
Growing up in Red Bluff, California - two hours south of the Oregon border - I was raised around the Western lifestyle and the values of Western life didn’t stop at our front door. A community nestled along the Sacramento River, with extensive farmland from nut trees to cattle ranches.
A notable family ranch, about two miles from my childhood home, the Growney Bros. Rodeo Company. John Growney was a well-known figure in our town and the Growney name always stood out because of the longtime family auto dealership. That family name is deeply rooted in rodeo, John’s contributions to the sport of course, but being the owner of the 1987 World Champion Buckin’ Bull, Red Rock.
Red Rock is a legend in my hometown - you could argue our Tehama County Sheriff's Office seal bears the image of his face, except Red Rock lacked the Hereford face. The bottle-calf bull which was known for being a gentle giant outside of the chute, was a fierce competitor in the area.
The legend of Red Rock would be nothing without the help of Lane Frost.
“In the world of bull riding, it was Jim Sharp, Cody Lambert, Tuff Hedemen, and Lane Frost,” said Flint Rasmussen, iconic and now-retired PBR Rodeo Clown.
“He had a great personality, probably a lot like Flint Rasmussen… You felt like you had known him forever.” John Growney recalled.
At 25 years old, I’m not old enough to have had the chance to watch Lane Frost in the arena, but through modern media and the stories that run around my hometown, he made a lasting impact across the nation.
Montana may not be “The Cowboy State” but it is a cowboy state. Cowboys are the backbone of what makes Montana what it is today, and it’s not only the guys and gals that perform in your weekend rodeo, but those in the fields moving cattle and the farmers swathing hay.
When you look at rodeo in the late 1980s and its evolution into the multi-million-dollar industry, Lane Frost is a key player in how cowboys participate in the sport.
“I think God gave him a special personality that drew people to him because God knew the what the whole plan was. You know, we certainly didn't know that” said Elsie Frost, mother of Lane.
Lane was born October 12, 1963, and grew up in the footsteps of his father inside the arena. His father Clyde was a three-event rodeo cowboy and if you ask Lane’s mother, Elsie, he wasn’t too interested in the sport.
“He never was interested. He wouldn't even hardly watch the rodeo til I’d tell him your dad's getting ready to ride, and then he'd watch. The rest of the time he'd be playing in the dirt.”
As soon as Bull Riding geared up, Lane’s focus shifted and as a young boy, if Clyde and Elsie were to leave before that event, he’d cry; when they sat back down to watch, he’d hush up.
It’s fitting that he would grow up to be one of the best bull riders in the history of rodeo.
His talent in the sport aside, his mom Elsie says that God gave him a gift to connect with people and I’d say he was given a big heart.
Lane was the cowboy who talked to everyone, signed every autograph, and made time for those that took any interest in what he was doing.
Talking with Flint and John about their memory of Frost, Flint recalls his time with the PBR.
“One of the things that in the PBR we used to do is after the show it was required of all the bull riders to walk around the inside of the fence and the PBR and people could come to the fence, and they had to sign autographs, or they got fined $500. The one guy that was the last guy there and signed every single autograph was tough for me. And where do you think he learned that?”
The PBR was founded and operated for a period by two traveling partners of Frost – Tuff Hedeman and Cody Lambert.
Rasmussen admits that he started the business after Lane Frost passed away in 1989. His memory from his college days is clear, that Frost along with others was untouchable. In the world of rodeo, it seems that everybody knows everybody, and Flint knew cowboys that were alongside Lane.
Growney and Rasmussen both say that Lane Frost was one of the most marketable cowboys, through his talent and personality. For Flint, his take on the Lane Frost story and how he propelled rodeo was through the movie, 8 Seconds.
“A lot of people think I maybe go too deep in it. If you look back, 8 Seconds is still this cultural phenomenon of a movie, that people still refer to. There are little kids that tell me, they watch 8 Seconds every week… Wherever you go across the country to a rodeo, you don’t have to be what we consider a cowboy or an "ag" person to go to a rodeo, but we do need to live up to a standard of what we present to people… after his death, he’s brought positivity to our world and attention to it that’s really helped it take off.”
Lane was named the 1987 World Champion Bull Rider and that same year, Red Rock was named the World Champion Buckin’ Bull. The following year in 1988, John Growney called his friend Lane and set up a series of rides between Frost and Red Rock called, “The Challenge of the Champions.” Lane would go on to be victorious in the battle against Red Rock and is the only cowboy to stay on for a full eight seconds on the legendary bull.
“The Lane Frost and Red Rock Challenge played out, so those kids realized there was something to this, that bull riding could be a standalone event. It didn't need rodeo to be a part of its life. Cody and those guys ended up coming up with an event that is showing rodeo how to do their business,” explained Growney.
His last ride would come at the Cheyenne Frontier Days as “Takin’ Care of Business” jabbed Lane in the ribs with his horn and his rib pierced his heart - a day in rodeo history that lives in infamy.
“A guy like that, a World Champion who everybody knew was just that to us, such an untouchable, unfathomable thing,” said Rasmussen.
Growney added, “Everybody all together became aware of protecting a bull rider. Then about that same time, some great bullfighters started showing up. Joe Bumgarner, for one. It was more about a guy who knew how to protect the bull rider from the bull.”
A wreck that changed the sport forever and later into the 1990s, Frost’s friend Cody Lambert created the initial design for a protective vest and now riders wear helmets.
“When we look at that now, with what I've seen through my career and see what bull riders wear, I don't think he would have been injured at all,” explained Flint Rasmussen, he went on to add, “There are some real cowboys now wearing helmets because they're riding for a million dollars.”
As time marches on, the legend of Lane lives on in the hearts of cowboys. Leaving an imprint in the lives of those who remember him each day.
I'd be selfish not to add, that upon speaking with Lane's mother Elsie, she told me he accepted himself as a Christian. Lane and his wife Kellie, were having marital problems, and she encouraged him to accept Jesus as his savior. In Lane's memory, she created the Cowboy Bible, a tribute to her son's dedication to his faith. Mrs. Frost distributes those Bibles to kids all across the country for free. Growney also attributes Mrs. Frost for helping keep Christianity as a pillar in rodeo.
She also shared that she has two other children, that in the shadow of a brother like Lane, don't go unnoticed. Stetson Frost, Lane's nephew, is the founder of the "Lane Frost Brand", marketing the cowboy way of life through merchandise sporting the late World Champion.
As I write this article, I might just be a kid living in Great Falls, Montana, working for a television station. Playing six total years of college baseball, I had the chance to be looked at as a role model by the youth in the various states I played in. Lane Frost left a mark on me as an athlete and now a news reporter. I vowed myself to every day be more like Lane.
In the world we live in today, our values are sometimes masked by social media and political division. We can learn something from our past and what they left for us in the future. Lane Frost has been a role model in how to interact with those around us and sometimes the world needs a little more compassion.
On July 30, 2023, 34 years after the tragic death of Lane Frost, his story will never be forgotten. If it means anything, he will live on forever as my role model.