Nicky Dan Wheeler
Nicky Wheeler riding "Mighty Mouse", 9th round of 1977 National Finals Rodeo where he rode 9 of 10 bulls.
Photo Credit: Jim Fain
June 25, 1956 – April 15, 2018
Nicky Dan Wheeler’s friends, family, colleagues and cowboys said goodbye in an emotional ceremony last week at Cross Brand Cowboy Church with Terry Holland and Marcus Jackson officiating. Wheeler suffered a heart attack and died on April 15.
“Nicky was a great bull rider regardless of what era it is - there are very few people that go to the NFR and ride 9 out of ten,” said friend and colleague Tuff Hedeman.
“Whatever he did he was successful, a smart guy, and he treated everyone like they wanted to be treated,” added Hedeman.
Saying goodbye is always difficult -- especially when, as in Nicky Wheeler’s case, we're forced us to do so with no warning. We always remember that sick feeling in our stomach, the lump in our throat when we hear about such a sudden tragedy for friends still in their prime.
Nicky Wheeler is remembered as a “great guy”, a dedicated father and husband, a superior bull riding judge, a bucking bull man, rodeo producer, and talented fundraiser, but on the minds and hearts of so many attending his service was he was first and foremost a bull riding champion.
“I didn’t know him until after I won my first world title, we had some bull riding schools in his arena and I got to know him there. He is a super guy, super Dad, and anytime I could get him to judge I would - he judged in Fort Worth, Lufkin, and Bossier, but his kids were always first on his schedule and priority list,” continued Hedeman.
Most of the bull riders from that era say he could have won as many world titles as he wanted to – he had the kind of talent like Jim Sharp and Sage Kimzey he looked flawless riding bulls. He was described as never moving his head, his free arm was perfect and was always in complete control.
“Nicky Wheeler had the talent and had the best personality and sense of humor and taught me what the word humble meant -I didn’t have much humbleness as you know and I didn’t care – but I learned what it was by being around him – he did not get excluded from anything, just a great person,” said 8 Time PRCA World Champion bull rider Don Gay.
In 1977 he jumped in the truck and airplane with Don Gay and ended the year riding 9 of ten bulls at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City and won two rounds - earning around $2,000. That year the PRCA did not pay average money. Don Gay remembers the story.
“After the NFR in 1976 his Dad called and said he wanted me to take his boy to the NFR, I’ll pay for everything and you take him to the NFR. I replied that you take care of the plane gas and I can get him to enough rodeos but Nicky is going to have to take himself to the NFR! He will have the opportunity,” said Gay.
“I loaded him up and Nicky was kind of a homebody, barely out of high school and he wanted to go home when he could so having just married going home was keeping me out of trouble – this would be perfect. He didn’t have to go to as many rodeos as I did but this boy could ride, he could ride really great.
“He had more ability than me, Tuff Hedeman, and Jim Shoulders all rolled together,” continued Gay.
Described by Gay as having an inherent unique natural ability. We would ride the same bull and I would marvel at how easy he made it look.
“He made Shoulder’s Might Mouse look easy, and he was a handful,” said Gay.
In the 1970’s there were some great bulls but going to a rodeo there might be 15 guys a night and three or four of them actually had a good enough bull to place and win some money.
"The fact there are more good bulls to win money on, in the 70s, it was a lot more luck of the draw when you went to a rodeo to compete," said one former champion bull rider.
As the years have passed, those bulls have changed and Nicky Wheeler was a big part of that change.
Along the way he was buying green cross bred bulls to buck at his arena. Wheeler’s arena became a mainstay in developing bulls and bull riding talent in East Texas.
"I counted up, there was at least 20 professional bull riders from right in this immediate area," said Wheeler in 2016. "I mean, you could almost get on a bull somewhere any night."
After retirement from riding Nicky produced numerous rodeos at Wheeler Arena. He was one of the first to give away a truck in a bull riding series at the Peltier Rodeo, a summer series. Wheeler is described as a pioneer in breeding top-level bloodline bucking bulls.
Nicky had a true love of his sport and was loved by all he met. Nicky went on to teach numerous others to compete and to love rodeo as well.
Never met a man that was more loved than Nicky Wheeler. He had a big heart and never met a stranger. You will be missed my friend.
Nicky Wheeler passed away Sunday, April 15, 2018 in Tyler. He was born June 26, 1956 in Lubbock, Texas to Johnny and Lola Wheeler. Nicky graduated from Robert E. Lee High School. He is co-owner of Fresh Country Fund-Raising in Longview, Texas.
Nicky was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Billy Don Wheeler. He is survived by his loving family, including his wife of 36 years, Beverly Conine Wheeler; his sons, Trent Wheeler, Cole Wheeler and Blake Wheeler; siblings, Alan Neil Wheeler and wife Rachel, and Jimmy Wheeler; his uncle, Lloyd Wheeler and aunt, Sandy, as well as many nieces and nephews; and his lifelong friend Ricky Blalock.
Nicky met the love of his life, Beverly Conine, in 1981, and married her a short 6 months later on April 24, 1982. Together, with the help of Nicky’s parents, Nicky and Beverly started Fresh Country Wholesale in 1983 in Longview, TX. This grew into a family venture with the addition of Nicky’s brother, Jimmy, in 1985, when the fundraising portion of the business began. Nicky, Beverly, and Jimmy have worked over the ensuing years with various FFA groups, elementary schools, and others, spanning five states. These groups and their members mean so very much to the Wheeler family.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Heart Association at P.O. Box 841125, Dallas, TX 75284-1125 or The Hospice of East Texas Foundation, 4111 University Blvd., Tyler, TX 75701.
Rode Jim Shoulders' famous oxen "Mighty Mouse" for 71 points in the 9th go-round... and successfully rode 9 of 10 bulls @ the 1977 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. ☆ photo: Jim Fain