Backhaus won’t back up: North Dakota rodeo athlete succeeds in arena and in business |

Backhaus won’t back up: North Dakota rodeo athlete succeeds in arena and in business

Tristen Polensky
Editorial Intern

The machine that Clayton purchased to start his business filling potholes.

North Dakota has never had a shortage of hard-working entrepreneurs, but Clayton Backhaus has raised the bar and been an inspiration to his peers, young rodeo athletes, and small business owners.

In addition to graduating high school early and competing in team roping, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling, he purchased the equipment for a blacktop repair company before the start of his senior year. He’s now sitting pretty in both his rodeo career, and his flourishing new business, Backhaus Blacktop Repair.

Backhaus grew up in Bismarck riding horses from a young age, and fell in love with rodeo in junior high. He quickly realized he wanted to be able to fund his own rodeo ventures, and while his dad and brother train horses, he didn’t want to make rodeo his job.

“I always wanted to be an engineer or architect, and then that switched. I saw people with their own businesses, and they can do what they want, when they wanted. Especially with rodeo you need that freedom to take days off for rodeos and jackpots.”

He found an online ad while he was sitting in math class his junior year. He met with the seller, who happened to be a family friend, and bought the business with the college fund his grandparents had saved.

“I figured if it didn’t work out I could at least turn around and sell the equipment for what I bought it for. I had to go talk to my grandparents about using the money for the business, and after about 5 minutes of thinking about it they said they could let me do it. My grandpa was nice enough to give me a little extra to pay for the whole thing, and he said when I became super successful one day I can say they were the ones that helped me start out,” Clayton said.

He learned how to operate the machinery quickly, and started driving around town in search of potholes. He would knock on doors and offer a bid to fill them. Within the next 5 weeks, he had $6,000 saved and new jobs lined up.

Backhaus said he was blessed, and that he’s thankful for the grandparents he has that were willing to help him out. His hard work was also a key characteristic in the success in the business start-up. It’s similar to the success he’s found in his rodeo career, including winning a new Polaris Ranger at a roping. He was able to graduate high school early in order to spend this past winter in Arizona with his roping partner, Mason Bice, and his dad, Wiley Bice. Although Backhaus is mainly a header, he was heeling with a young junior high header at this particular roping.

“I looked back to see who my header was, and it was this 7th grade kid. He was handling his rope pretty well so I just thought, ‘well, maybe we’ll get it on him’.”

Out of 407 teams, these young ropers had the best out of 3 runs, and both went home with Polaris Rangers. In addition to the 4-wheeled trophy, he’s been awarded Rookie of the Year in both Junior and High School Rodeo, and a national qualifier every year since 6th grade. He’s attended several rodeo schools put on by Paul Tierney, Tyler Schau, Joe Beaver, Nick Sartain, Jessie Fredrickson, and Cash Meier.

Those around him can see the dedication Clayton puts in to his rodeo and business. Bis-Man Outdoor Services is a property maintenance company, and was doing a truck giveaway to someone who “needed a bit of a hand-up with their business”.

Jake Wutzke said his business was blessed and things fell into place to give back to the community. They had over 50 nominations on Facebook for someone to receive the truck, and he said Backhaus had numerous referrals.

“He just reminded me a lot of my own story. I started out young with very little. He’s a go-getter, making do with what he had,” Wutzke said. Clayton has community members, friends, and family all supporting his endeavors.

Tammy Backhaus is the Vice President of the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association, and more importantly, Clayton’s mom. She said his ambition started a long time ago.

“When he was 7 he would build things out of KNEX – he wanted to be an inventor. He would take the motor of a remote-control car, build a dinosaur out of KNEX and make the tail wag with the motor. I thought that was just amazing. That was very creative and entrepreneurial,” She said, noting that he had been talking about having his own business for a couple years, and they kept talking him out of it. “His dad and I are not big risk takers, but when this blacktop business came up, Clayton told me that if his dad or I gave him any negative comments, we had to give him a solution.”

Although she didn’t want to ‘squelch his ambition, ideas, and dreams’, Tammy was unsure about Clayton using his college money to purchase the business. They made an agreement that he would put the money back as soon as he could. Because Tammy herself was a business manager for 15 years, she told him a few things to get him started and to keep his life more stress-free. Clayton’s grandpa, Jerry Hopfauf, was a contractor/ construction builder and owner for 30-40 years, and has also helped Clayton with the business.

While rodeo and his business are at the forefront of his line of sight right now, Clayton plans to pursue a business degree in Casper, Wyo. and then transfer to Black Hills State University where his brother, Colton, currently is. He’ll college rodeo and dreams of one day going to the National Finals Rodeo alongside his brother.

Clayton said when he runs into an issue with his roping or his business, he simply works on it. “If I would come across a problem in my roping, I would go in the practice pen and work on it. If I come into a financial issue, my mom is always there to help me with bookwork and taxes and keeping everything organized. It’s the preparation into both that are pretty similar.”

He also mentioned that he strives to do the best job possible the first time around, like his dad had told him. While he’s setting himself up for a successful business and rodeo career, it’s clear that Backhaus has a family that’s supported and advised him the entire way. “If you don’t do a pothole well, you’re going to lose business. In the practice pen or a rodeo, you have to take the best shot you can. You’re not getting that run back, so you just have to do it right the first time.”