Wrangler NFR Construction Maintenance Manager David Pickering

May 20, 2021

Wrangler NFR Construction Maintenance Manager David Pickering

By Brian Hurlburt

When Allen Rheinheimer took over the lead reins of the Wrangler NFR earlier in 2021, there was a little bit of a hole left in the Wrangler NFR construction maintenance department. I write “little” because filling Rheinheimer’s void (he was the previous construction maintenance manager) is David Pickering, a highly-experienced rodeo hand.

In 2021, Pickering steps up a notch from assistant to construction maintenance manager. Pickering has been with the NFR since 2009, and in the role of second-in-command since 2011. Rheinheimer is more than confident in a smooth transition.

Pre-Tunnel set up outside the Thomas & Mack Center

“David is dedicated, hardworking and knowledgeable about the rodeo industry,” says Rheinheimer. “He understands the complete picture of the NFR, from set-up to the competition, and is willing to be called upon for anything needed during the week of the NFR. David was also was a huge contributor to Texas’ success and is more than ready for the return to Las Vegas.”

Besides his depth of Wrangler NFR knowledge, Pickering is rodeo through and through. He started riding buckin’ bulls at 14 and threw in some buckin’ horses over the next decade. Along the way, he got into the breeding biz and also the organizational side of rodeo. If things continue to get back to normal in 2021, he’ll be helping a least 16 rodeos come together this summer as part of the respected 3 Bar J team.

But the NFR is the crown jewel, and Pickering is thrilled to be a part of it. He speaks so highly of the team in place and always mentions that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything on his list during those two weeks without the assistance of that team.

Here’s an exclusive conversation with Pickering, who still gets amped before the first Wrangler NFR perf each year.

Even after 120 NFR perfs, it still never fails that what I always remember is that first perf and I get the most excited for that night. When that first buckin’ horse comes out of the chute on that first night and that guy just goes at him, that’s something special. And especially in the Thomas & Mack Center; the crowd goes nuts. That’s my greatest memory each year. It’s also special to be a part of it when they set world records and all that stuff, and you get to be there standing on the dirt and watching it. But after that first horse of the first perf, to know that I’m going to watch that for 10 days, that’s pretty fun.

My role as the construction maintenance manager is all-encompassing, but basically, I, and my team, are responsible for all the steel you see on TV or in the arena. Everything from door to door in the Thomas & Mack Center stays there on site, so the construction maintenance crew is responsible for the care of that iron and Priefert product. Each year we have to go through all of that stuff and fix everything that might’ve got tore up or hurt from the year before. Plus, I take care of hiring the crew, which counting myself, is a six-man crew. And then a four-man crew that takes care of all the signage and decor. They also help on the setup side. So, our job is to maintain all the products that stay in that permanent position and to get it all set up inside the building and maintain it from day to day for the 15 days that it’s actually in the building. Plus, we take care of a lot of other things, some outside, and keep things neat and tidy around the whole building and the whole arena. Once we get everything set up in the building, it’s pretty much maintenance from there on out. After the set up, we are cleaning things or taking care of the panels or fixing torn stalls. Whatever goes wrong in the place, we’re kind of the go-to to get it fixed in a timely fashion and keep things rolling.

Final preparation before opening night in 2019

The Wrangler NFR perfs are known for being timed down to the second, and there is similar timing during the set up and tear down. The good thing is the NFR is very unique, especially the NFR at the Thomas & Mack Center. There’s a very strict timeline. It’s a reasonable timeline to do everything that we need to do, but it is down to 15-minute windows. The timeline usually begins right after a basketball game on a Saturday night. The timeline starts as soon as that ball game is over and the crowd funnels out. The timeline is to get the basketball floor out, the bleachers pushed in, and then at 3:30 in the morning, we start staging our panels directly behind the Thomas & Mack. By the time we get everything staged and we get the bucking shoots and some of the panels in, here comes the dirt somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning.

Being prepared is the key, and we’ve got to have everything in working order and set in a certain manner to where it’s easy and efficient to get in and out of the building. That’s the key. It’s always hard to sleep the night before set up because you’re trying to figure out if you’ve forgotten something, but I’ve done it long enough that I feel fairly confident. There’s always something every year when you set up that causes a little delay, but as long as you can figure out how to overcome it, you’re in good shape. We’ve never had an absolute showstopper to where we had to set up, stop setting up and come back in four or five hours when it was fixed and finish it. That timeline is a big crutch to lean on and to be able to look at it while you’re setting up and to be able to study it prior to set up. It’s nice to know where you should be and at what time.

The livestock housing area at the Thomas & Mack Center

I think it will be all right when I step into the new role because I’ve been able to do all the preliminary work since 2011. Allen wasn’t always there for every minute of it and I’ve had that responsibility. I feel like I’m pretty prepared to be able to step in and take on the responsibility.

Coming back to Las Vegas this year is exciting because Las Vegas is awesome.Texas was neat and fun, but it definitely didn’t feel like the true NFR that I’ve been a part of for years. Vegas is just an amazing town. I mean the whole city is great, but especially Las Vegas Events and the Thomas & Mack Center.  That’s the first big difference from many of the other cities where rodeos are. LVE and the Thomas & Mack staff bend over backwards to make sure you’re accommodated and that you have the things you need, whether it be personally or whether it be equipment, or whatever. There’s a lot of places in this country that don’t really want the rodeos. They don’t want the dirt in there. They don’t want the mess. They don’t want the smell. They don’t want the manure in their arenas. But the Thomas & Mack Center, they say whatever you want to do, short of knocking the place down, you go right ahead and do it as long as it makes the NFR better.

I’m not really comfortable talking about myself and not a bragger, and I just like to do my job. I usually just let the actions speak, and if it’s good or bad, it is what it is. But I appreciate you guys giving me the opportunity to be a part of it all. It’s neat. I think it’s going to be a fun effort, as always.