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A fog machine pumps towering billows onto the dirt floor of Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center. Out of a swirling wall of white, steps Randy Travis, singing his No. 1 hit "Three Wooden Crosses." Minutes later, that same dirt is pounded by thundering bulls, galloping horses and cowboys tossed roughly from their mounts as world champs like Trevor Brazile, Dan Mortensen and Cody Ohl battle to win a share of $5 million in prize money.
This unique fusion of country stars and rodeo riders occurs every year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's championship event. Dozens of country hitmakers come to Las Vegas to provide the soundtrack for real-life, highstakes cowboys.
"The American cowboy symbolizes what America is at heart," declares Clay Walker as he strolls in front of the elegant Bellagio Hotel on Vegas' fabled Strip. "I try to come to Vegas during the NFR every year. I've got rodeo friends, like world champ Joe Beaver, and I love to watch them do their thing. They have so much heart and talent.
"At the NFR you have the best of the best cowboys and cowgirls in the world," adds Clay. "The top 15 competitors in each category have emerged after a year of rodeos. It's like a country singer getting a Top 15 record - and we all know how hard that is!"
To read more about the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Goin' Country , pick up the latest issue of Country Weekly Magazine!
-- Story by Larry Holden