Jun 21, 2021
Behind the Chutes with Wrangler NFR Security Director Rob Hart
By Brian Hurlburt
As we have detailed in previous Behind the Chutes blog posts, there is pressure to perform no matter the role when it comes to the world’s biggest and baddest rodeo. And that most assuredly includes the role of Rob Hart, the Wrangler National Finals security director.
But like the others, Hart, who served as a police officer in the Henderson (a suburb located a few miles from the Thomas & Mack Center) Police Department for 31 years before retiring in 2021, takes it in stride as he goes about keeping everyone safe and the rodeo running smoothly inside and out.
“Throughout the years, I have had an opportunity to work for an outstanding group of leaders in the NFR general manager position, including Shawn Davis, Boyd Polhamus and Glen Alan Phillips,” says Hart. “All have possessed such amazing leadership qualities. And now, entering 2021, I’m excited to work with Allen Rheinheimer who has been an integral part of the Wrangler NFR for more than 20 years.”
“Rob is entrenched into the current situations in the Vegas area and has a great deal of local intel to keep everyone as safe as possible during the NFR,” says Rheinheimer, NFR general manager. “He’s been an integral part of the production team and has a great presence about him that helps defuse any situation that arises.”
Without farther ado, here’s more about Hart’s role in his own words.
My primary function as the Security Director is the secure production of the NFR. This includes the rodeo competition as well as the event or show production. There are about 30 people around the arena that are given the title of Production Security. They have a variety of roles, but an example would be the person assigned to a gate that opens or closes, based on a certain cue. He or she may be opening it to allow a victory lap into the arena or for a contestant to enter or exit. For both competition and smooth production, it’s critical this is done correctly. They also control the access of credentialed persons on the arena floor. Again, they are there to ensure there is no interference or hinderance to the competition or the overall production.
With my Law Enforcement background, it makes it easier for me to also liaison with the variety of law enforcement jurisdictions and Thomas & Mack Center personnel that keep the NFR safe for those who attend. Since NFR moved to Las Vegas, we have had incredible support from local, state and federal law enforcement. I’m fortunate to simply manage the processes put in place by previous security directors. I replaced Willie Newman who is now a Lieutenant with University Police Services, assigned to UNLV. Lt. Newman had procedures in place 15 years ago at NFR that just recently became standard today for large event security. For obvious reasons, we don’t publicly discuss all of the security procedures we have in place, but I do want the attendees to know that we take security very seriously. I truly believe that the Thomas and Mack is one of the safest places for someone to attend an event.
The biggest personal challenge with the NFR is the extreme pressure of ensuring a successful event. This would include safety, security and production. It’s hard to put into words what it’s like those 30 minutes before the first performance. Your brain is going through a continual check list right until the first horse bucks. That’s not to say it eases up too much the rest of the nine nights, but at least it comes back down to a baseline level of pressure.
I have some incredible NFR memories and I put them in three categories, the entertainment, the rodeo competition and then my most favorite category, the friendships made. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and assist some of the greatest entertainers in the country music world. This has included the late Charlie Daniels, Reba, Brooks and Dunn, Clay Walker, Chancey Williams, Aaron Watson, Trent Wilmon and so many others. One task of mine that has evolved over the years is simply bringing the entertainment from the last staging room to the main tunnel stage. Others have way more important roles, but It’s my pocket flashlight that is lighting the stairs in the dark house so they can see their way onto stage. Of course, I humbly know they have no idea who I am, nor do they care; it’s just one of those simple NFR things that make me smile and think, “Wow, that was pretty cool.”
My second most memorable moment I have to steal from David Pickering’s blog from the last Behind the Chutes. Being the amateur bull rider that I was, it’s hard to describe being right on the fence of an NFR 90-plus point bull ride. I still remember the first time I watched stock of that level bucking inside the Thomas & Mack. There’s nothing else like it in rodeo and it gives me goose bumps every time.
But, overall, when I think about the NFR, I immediately think about the people. It’s almost odd that people can become such true friends working just three or four weeks of the year together. Looking back, I’m closer to some of them than others I’ve spent 30 years of police work with. It’s that core group of good people I work with that’s hands down the most rewarding part of the job.
My first NFR was 1997 when I was lucky enough to know NFR Qualifier Bobby “Hooter” Brown through his bar bull riding in Las Vegas. It was simply “Shawn Davis needs a guy,” and Hooter recommended me. My first job was at the bottom of the main elevator sending one credential one direction and the rest another. It surely wasn’t glamorous and I never witnessed a performance. At that post you aren’t even able to hear it.
But over the years and likely because I lived in Las Vegas, Shawn Davis would call on me for other production needs. I’ve arranged long horns, roping steers and hauled my own bucking bulls for some of Shawn’s openings. When Willie Newman stepped down from the role in 2002, Shawn offered me the position and I’ve been here ever since.
The first thing that comes to mind when asked about being involved with the NFR is “honored.” I’ve been a rodeo fan since I was young. The first rodeo champ’s name that I and probably plenty of others my age first remember was Donny Gay. I always wanted to be champion bull rider. As I mentioned, it was just circumstance that brought me to NFR, but I hope it’s my work and ability that has kept me there. I’m honored and privileged to have been involved as long as I have.
How did I get hooked on rodeo? Well, I was born in Detroit, which doesn’t immediately suggest western lifestyle, but at a young age my family moved to Mesa, Ariz., which at the time had a fair amount of rural area. I remember going to the Lehi Days Rodeo and I think from that point on I was hooked.
I think one of the best parts of NFR in Las Vegas is that it encompasses almost the entire city. Before I was even involved, I remember back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when you just knew it was NFR time. You’d be in the bank or other businesses and the dress code was clearly modified for NFR week and the employees would be in jeans and cowboy hats. We definitely have a more corporate feel and plenty of other world class events to compete with these days, but there is still a huge part of Vegas’s heart that is NFR.
Even though I only have limited rodeo experience both as a contestant and very small-time producer, that has been a huge benefit to my role at NFR. I “got on bulls” at the amateur and police rodeo level, which is very different than saying “I’m a bull rider”! I had a few high points during those days, but my skill level showed that it was best to focus on my police career. Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t a “bull rider” and because I still craved rodeo competition, I took up Team Roping. It’s been a while, but I’ll still occasionally rope with friends or enter a weekend jackpot.
On the production side and several years ago, a friend of mine and I produced weekend bull riding series at the Roadhouse Casino in Henderson. We kept it going for about a year and half producing a six-week series and then we’d take a few weeks off. This has given me good perspective as sometimes competition and production needs can compete with each other.