Jim Sharp: A Bull Rider, Friend & Father

By Joyce Whitis

Photos by Cross B Photography

Most everybody has seen the popular movie, “Eight Seconds,” about bull riding, but more than that, the life and sudden death of a young bull rider.  Lane Frost was a traveling competitor and close friend to Jim Sharp and other bull riders, so the sunny afternoon that he was gored by the bull, “Takin’ Care of Business” is a technicolor photograph in the mind of hall of famer, Jim “Razor” Sharp of Stephenville, Texas.

     “We generally traveled together in my van,” Jim said. “Although he’d climb on the toughest bull out there, Lane was always uneasy in a plane. We traveled together in the van whenever possible and those long miles on the road together made time for a lot of conversation. The van load of bull riders included Tuff Hedeman, Bull Riding Champion 1986; Lane Frost, Champion in 1987; Jim Sharp, Champion in 1988; and Cody Lambert, rough stock rider.

“Ty Murray entered to ride all three rough stock events, so his traveling schedule was somewhat different. The fact is though that all of us were there that afternoon in Cheyenne back in 1989 – July 30, their big rodeo – when Lane Frost was killed. I was next to ride and was looking out through the slates when Lane got on Takin’ Care of Business. We all knew that if Lane rode him, he’d have a chance of winning and he hadn’t been doing too much lately, so we were all hoping he’d make a good ride. I was watching, saw he made a good ride, saw him hit the dirt but heck – he’d been in lots of worse wrecks than that. I saw him get up, take a step and signal for help but it didn’t look that bad, so I pulled my rope and signaled to open the gate. I made my ride and when I finished the world of bull riding had changed. We all knew somewhere in the back of our conscience that “it” could happen. That something unexpected could take place and THAT ride would be the last. But of course although we knew it could happen we also thought that it never would.”

Lane Frost was carried from that rain soaked arena by Tuff, put in an ambulance and rushed toward help but he didn’t make. He died as the result of a horn through his back that broke three ribs and punctured a lung.

        “Tuff and Cody stayed with Lane’s body on the plane ride back home, and I was responsible for gathering up Lane’s belongings in the van and taking them to his wife back in Oklahoma,” Jim said. “We all had a lot of stuff in that van. We’d been practically living in there for weeks. Well, I put all of Lane’s shirts, pants, buckles, belts, chaps and whatever else there was in there and returned it to his wife. The funny thing is I missed a box of Lane’s hats! I just set that box back on a shelf where it had been since that day in 1989 until a couple of weeks ago when I opened it.” He stopped talking and laughed. “Imagine that I have had those hats all this time without knowing it. Well I took a trip to see his family after I found them and now they have Lane’s hats.”

Jim “Razor” Sharp grew up in Kermit, Texas, population 5,000. He graduated from high school there and entered Odessa College with a rodeo scholarship. Jim already had a reputation made by his winning ways appearing in junior rodeos around the state. He tried roping early on, but for Jim Sharp it was always about bull riding.

“As a little kid, I used to watch my dad, James, rope calves,” Jim said. “Then I would untie the roped calf and try to ride him back to the roping pen. Later I tried riding calves, then steers. As a teenager, I graduated to bulls.”

Jim earned plenty of awards and championships in the arena during his college days and was on his way to becoming a professional. With graduation he met a cowboy that became a lifetime friend, Ty Murray. With Jim’s graduation from Odessa College, Ty picked up his scholarship and the two young cowboys became roommates.

    In 1986 the final PRCA Bull Riding Standings looked like this: 1. Tuff Hedeman, 2. Ted Nuce, 3. Lane Frost, 4. Jim Sharp. Imagine going to a rodeo and watching these stars compete in one event!

In 1988 Jim won it all! He did it by becoming the first competitor to ride all 10 bulls at the National Finals Rodeo!

Ty Murray was there and added this: “Before the event, Jim said, ‘I want to win a World Championship. I want to win the average at the Finals and I want to ride all 10 bulls.’” Ty laughed. “So he just went out there and won all three at once.” Even more impressive is that Jim’s longest span of riding all bulls drawn was 51 in a row!

Jim and Ty added Tom Reeves, saddle bronc rider, to their traveling companions and when 1990 came around, Ty and Jim decided to move and Tom came along too.

“We left Odessa and started driving down Interstate 20 without any particular destination in mind,” Jim remembered. When darkness caught up with us we looked around and we were in Benbrook,” he continued. “We stayed there a few days and then went on down to Stephenville. We drove around and liked the way the town looked – not too big, friendly folks, not too close to a big city but close enough to an airport if we needed to fly. So we decided to stay. Then Tuff (Hedeman) came and Adam and Gilbert (Carrillo) and after a while Ted (Nuce). We were all bull riders. We lived together at first, at Ty’s place and then we got our own places.”

After a while and winning a Championship while he was an Erath County resident, Tom Reeves sold his place and moved on. Both Jim and Ty have been living in this area ever since and they have been joined by 20 or so other professional cowboys including world champions and Hall of Fame members.

       Jim “Razor” Sharp enjoyed a very special career as a professional bull rider. After his championship in ’88, he finished 2nd in ’89 to Tuff Hedeman, then claimed another championship in ’90. That was the first year that Jim and Ty listed Stephenville as home in the Media Guide.

Jim’s career was going along just fine and then one day, during a rodeo in Scottsdale, Arizona, 20 rodeo cowboys and businessmen met in a motel room. That meeting changed the world of rodeo after every person in that room agreed to put $1000 toward forming a stand-alone rodeo attraction into a money producer for the competitors. The Professional Bull Riders was formed. The PBR has a special significance for Stephenville as local professional cowboys who stepped up with $1000 included: Jim Sharp, Ty Murray, Tuff Hedeman, Ted Nuce, Gilbert Carrillo and Adam Carrillo. The success of this sport is evident in productions that feature loud rock music, flashing colored lights and costumes for participants and viewers!

Some of Jim’s best rides have been as a star of the PBR, particularly the production of Tuff Hedeman’s at Cowtown Coliseum and later at Will Rogers Coliseum. In 1993, Jim rode Dillinger, an especially tough bull. The cowboy was the victor, claimed $85,000 bounty plus $120,000 for winning the event. One observer said of Jim’s performance aboard one of the toughest bulls, “Watching that ride just gave you goosebumps.”

Other especially tough bulls that Jim has ridden include Little Yellow Jacket and Pacific Bell. In fact there was a time when Jim Sharp was capable of riding anything and everything, according to other bull riders. In fact a criticism of the bull rider was that he made riding bulls look so easy that he never got the good scores that he should have.

Jim retired from bull riding when he really didn’t enjoy it anymore. “All I ever wanted to do was be a bull rider,” he said. “I got on my first steer at 9 years old and I just kept getting on steers ‘til it was time to switch to bulls and then I just rode ‘em as they were drawn. When the time came to stop gettin’ on ‘em, I stopped.”

              When the PBR sold a few years ago, the original investors that had stayed with the organization collected a very nice roll of bills, some say that each stockholder added millions to his bank account. Jim went out and bought an airplane that he keeps at the airport in Stephenville and he enjoys taking trips in it for business or just enjoyment.

On pretty days, you will find Jim and 7 year old Will out in the backyard shooting goals or maybe riding horses with Ted Nuce and his boys, Weston and Wyatt. Maybe Ty will come over and bring his 5 year old son, Kase. The boys enjoy each other as their proud fathers watch and teach and think about their future. Will they grow up to be cowboys? One thing is pretty sure, they will be friends just as their dads are – and the cowboy life…well it can’t get much better than that.

“I always had support from my parents,” Jim said. They still live in Kermit and they have always been my rock foundation. I always knew that through good times and bad, they would give me the encouragement that I needed.”  Jim broke out in a big smile. “I also have a brother, Jason Sharp. He’s with Tarleton and he and I are absolute opposites.” Jim’s smile turned into a wide grin. “I don’t think he knows anything about riding a horse and I doubt that he has ever had on a pair of boots. He is successful and happy in doing what he does.

“You know we each have that right as long as we don’t break any laws.”