The Pit is buried in dirt, and this weekend, as it is for three days every March, it is also covered in dirt.
And don’t think Ty Murray didn’t work hard to create this proverbial dusty oasis.
“I grew up here,” he said. “The first several years, they wouldn’t even hear it, they wouldn’t even have a conversation about bringing bulls and dirt into their arena.”
But this weekend begins the second quarter century of the PBR Ty Murray Invitational at the Pit, and the event remains highly personal to the man the event is named after, a man who wintered in Arizona but who usually summered in New Mexico.
This is the 26th year for bull riding in Albuquerque, the 30th year for the PBR tour in general, and a few dozen of the world’s elite riders are on display.
And as unique as the Pit is as it pertains to college basketball, it might be even more niche-ish as a bull-riding venue, especially compared to some of the more familiar addresses this tour visits — Madison Square Garden perhaps most famously.
And, Murray said, it makes the Albuquerque stop so wonderfully different.
“This one is so small,” Murray said in an interview before Friday night’s session.. “The way the Pit is, and the way everyone is packed in on top of it, I just think it’s a great atmosphere.”
Indeed, half of Bob King Court is covered by the animals, riders and event personnel, while the northern half is where animals seek to violently shed their riders. The Pit ramp has been narrowed, and is basically a chute wide enough for the animals to depart once their work is over.
“There’s a lot of challenges to this old place,” said Murray.
But the relationship goes far beyond the Pit, Murray said,. as he explained why it endures.
“Beyond the venue, that’s just one little part of it,” he said. “The state of New Mexico, the city of Albuquerque, along with the Navajo Nation, you have people who understand and appreciate what these guys are doing, and that’s important (to the guys).”
Professional bull riding has evolved past its roots that Murray himself jokes about (“Pabst Blue Ribbon,” he says slyly of an early reference to PBR), into the brand name it has become. And since New Mexico remains so special to Murray, these days in Albuquerque are additionally weighty.
“It’s important to me to try to do everything first class,” he said. “That’s something we’ve paid a lot of attention to. We’ve just been trying from Day 1 to grow this sport, making it better for the fans. We knew if we could make it better for them, it would be better for everyone. And this sport has been growing for 30 years. And it still continues to grow.”
Its extreme and dangerous essence remains untouched, Murray said, describing its raw appeal to both veteran fans and novices alike.
“This is the only sport in the world that you can pluck anyone off the street, sit them down, and they’d be thoroughly entertained for two hours,” he said, adding, “Some people root for the bulls. I always say, people don’t want to see anyone get killed, but they want to see them almost get killed.”
Thirty riders took their turn Friday night in Round 1; another 30 will ride Saturday night in Round 2 in front of a national TV audience.
“The sport sells itself,” said Murray, himself a nine-time world champion and the co-founder of the PBR.
NOTE: One of the highlights of the weekend, the 15/15 Bucking Battle, will be contested Saturday night after the conclusion of Round 2, and will be broadcast Sunday by CBS. It features the top 15 active riders in the PBR world standings, paired with 15 experienced bulls.