Years of a clown

CNJ Staff Photo: Liliana Castillo Dale “Gizmo” McCracken entertains the crowd and cowboys during Friday’s Professional Bull Riders Discovery Tour event at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena. Gizmo is also the backup for bull fighters, if needed.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Dale “Gizmo” McCracken keeps his audiences guessing every time he steps into the arena.

Sometimes he’s dressed as an overweight country police officer, other times he’s a long-haired rock musician, a safari hunter or a horse head on a man’s body.

These are the characters inside McCracken’s head when he’s working the audience as a rodeo clown.

“I try to make people (watch) us, and see what we’re going to do next,” he said, sitting inside the 40-foot mobile home he and his wife, Janice, call home as they travel from one rodeo to the next.

McCracken brought his act to Clovis for the Professional Bull Riders Discovery Tour event Friday and today at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena.

But comedy isn’t his only job at a rodeo.

“My job is to work the crowd … Unless a bull fighter gets knocked down (then) I’m a back up bullfighter,” he said. “It’s important that we get (riders) from one job to the next.”

Bull fighters are bull riders’ first line of defense when they get knocked off a bull, according to former bull fighting champion Rob Smet, who retired this year and works as a commentator on the bull rider’s tour.

“My job always was to be a bodyguard, to make sure the bulls chase me instead of the cowboy,” he said.

Thomas Alleman, 20, and Jacob Seaford, 19, both started bull fighting three years ago.

“I like (bulls) as small as they come,” said Seaford, whose used to ride his grandfather’s steers in Louisiana. “But they don’t come that way.”

Both fighters have had injuries ranging from teeth knocked out to hands split open.

“I just like the thrill of it, the adrenaline rush (of getting around a bull),” said Alleman, who got clipped by a bull as came between it and a fallen rider. “(I’ll keep bull fighting) ‘til I can’t walk no more.”

McCracken said bull fighters have specialized, moving away from painting their faces and jumping in barrels. Fighters wear sponsor-friendly clothes.

“A lot of that has happened because they had to sell (bull fighters) as an athlete to sponsors,” he said. “That ain’t who we are. The makeup, the clothes, that’s who we are.”

But bull fighting isn’t any less dangerous in clown pants, he said. He’s suffered broken ribs, arms and legs keeping fallen cowboys away from 2,000 pounds of fury on four legs.

Besides, prop comedy has dangers of its own.

A sawed-off shotgun that misfired during a golf act blew a hole in his hand.

“I hand my hand in the wrong place and then it went (off),” he said, holding up his left hand patched with a piece of his stomach.

McCracken started his started bull fighting career at 15. The funny pants came later as he learned the rodeo clown trade from Norman Bryant, a well-known rodeo clown from Arkansas. His name came from a stage show where he played the comedic relief, “Gizmo, the Ozark’s greatest inventor.”

McCracken’s act included his daughters and his wife. But his daughters, now in their mid-20s, have lives of their own — one is an anesthecian and the other a rehabilitation specialist.

But McCracken, 45, doesn’t see retirement anytime soon.

“There’s too much stuff to have fun with, and too many jokes to tell,” he said. “I don’t see an end in sight.”

But just in case, there’s a convenience store in Wheaton, Mo., he can fall back on.

“I call it my clown retirement plan,” he said. “When the funny stops, so does the money.”

Fast facts
What: PBR Discovery Tour
When: 7;30 p.m. today
Where: Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena
Tickets: $15 for adults; $10 for children