Charlie Gibson started rodeo 12 years ago, when he was five. “My dad (Casey Tyree) and my sister (Brittany Winslett – 7 years older) competed,” […]
Frankie Punkintown Smith
Written by:< Back to Articles
In upstate South Carolina, the soft rolling hills of the Blue Ridge mountains meets the gentle slope of a valley shadowed by Table Rock. In the early 1800’s a trader traveling through the area spotted a large hill planted in pumpkins. He named the place, “Pumpkintown”, a name that stands today. It is here that PRCA rodeo clown and
barrel man, Frankie Smith was born and raised.
Frankie grew up with a strong Christian faith and obeying his parents was first priority until it came to bucking horses. “I wanted to ride bucking horses but my mom told me she wouldn’t sign for me to ride,” Frankie said. That didn’t stop Frankie. With his sister’s help, they forged his mom’s signature so Frankie could compete. Keeping it a secret from his mother, Frankie joined the South Carolina High School Rodeo riding bareback horses for two years. He had a knack for the event and quickly qualified for the National High School Finals. Frankie had to turn down the chance to go to the finals because his parents didn’t know. “My mom is part Indian and part bull dog, and she would whoop you at the drop of a hat. And she carried her own hat!” Frankie laughed.
During all those high school follies, Frankie picked up a knack for dancing. “I was fifteen years old when my mom and dad took clogging lessons and I made fun of them because they looked like two dead dogs wallowing in the floor,” Frankie laughed. “Bobby Johnson and I went the next week to take lessons with my mom and dad,” he added. “Clogging is danced from the waist down and it has to be smooth. Our teacher would make us hold a cup of water, and I couldn’t slosh it out. I wanted to show her I could do it and I eventually put that in my routine,” he said. Frankie excelled at clogging and eventually went on to compete at the National Clogging Competition in Nashville, Tenn. where he was crowned the 1984 World Champion Clogger.
Frankie always enjoyed the rodeo lifestyle and wanted to find a niche where he could still be involved. “I love the ranch life and western lifestyle even though my mom and dad weren’t ranch minded,” Frankie said. He never thought it would take him as far as he is today. One weekend Frankie got a call from long time friend and rodeo stock contractor, Ernie Treadway. Ernie asked Frankie to stand in as the rodeo clown and Frankie adamantly refused. “He told me to be there and just hung up on me,” Frankie laughed as he remembered his first gig. That’s all it took and pretty soon Frankie was performing at local high school rodeos and finals. It was Craig Copeland, a rodeo announcer, that suggested Frankie use a catchy stage name and coined the phrase, “Punkintown the Rodeo Clown”. The name stuck and helped catapult both Frankie and the small South Carolina town’s popularity. Frankie admitted he was against using the town’s name at first but he wouldn’t have it any other way now, as he pays homage to his down home roots.
“You know acts are hard, but the jokes are easy. It’s easy to become comfortable and there’s a lot of folks who just copy jokes and acts. I like to be original. I’ve got one act that nobody can copy and that’s my clogging. Everybody loves the clogging wherever we go,” Frankie said. Along with his toe tapping dance, Frankie’s assistants are his multi-talented trick horse, Turbo, and Boston Terrior, Little Bit. “We call it the dog and pony show. Little Bit helps with my Cowboy Kit routine and she loves it!” he said. Frankie’s comic routines with his pets delight crowds of all ages.
He’s definitely paid his dues and Frankie admits that making a name in the rodeo business is extremely difficult for performers east of the Mississippi. However, Frankie’s warm heart and contagious smile lent him special favor in the tough world of rodeo performers.
What you see is what you get with Frankie Smith. “I don’t hide nothing, I’m just me,” he said. He also does not compromise the quality of his acts for popularity and fame. “I love what I do. If I can’t be hired off my talent and make a positive influence, then I’d rather not be there,” Frankie said. With a list of prestigious rodeos under his belt including Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cody Stampede and many more, Frankie’s certainly made a name for himself not only in the arena but in the communities as well. He strives to be a positive role model wherever he travels and loves making a difference in a child’s life. “I’ve accomplished what I’ve done because of the talent God has given me. I didn’t have to be the party guy to get where I am. The major highlight of my career and life are the kids. My goal is to make a positive influence in that community as well. A difference that will sustain, that’s what I want to leave behind,” he continued.
Frankie’s long stint with the Cody Stampede had a bittersweet end last year as he said a farewell to the Wrangler Gold Tour rodeo. “There’s no other rodeo second to the Cody Stampede. I mean that with all my heart. We’ve embraced this community and we love the committee, they are a great bunch of guys,” he said. Frankie is booked solid for this year’s rodeo season. He and Laurie have their rig pointed west for some of the summer’s hottest rodeos on the PRCA circuit, including Spanish Fork, Utah, Coeur d’Alene, and Lewiston, Idaho.
Frankie’s most important traveling partner and love of his life is his wife, Laurie. Laurie smiled as she recalled their courtship, “Since the day we said I do, we haven’t been apart. Frankie’s a very sentimental man, he is very passionate. He’s a romancer, He’s my partner and my best friend. He’s everything a women could dream of. I’m the most Blessed woman in the whole wide world,” Laurie said. Laurie and Frankie both admit they are blessed to be in their situation and wouldn’t change it for the world.
During their very short stints at home, Frankie and Laurie enjoy working their cows on their western Tennessee ranch. “I’m pretty much my own vet, and I have a lot of neighbors that let me help with their cattle,” he said. Most folks would be surprised to know that this down home cowboy is also a very gifted comedian. Frankie is the ICGMA Artist of the Decade for the ‘90’s, and a five time winner of the Christian Country Music Association Comedian of the year. He’s even had some fun on the CBS Early Show with former host Dave Price. “They interviewed me for Cheyenne and I gave Dave a pair of clown baggies to take back to New York with him. I put him in the barrel and gave it a shove, he wasn’t ready for that one,” Frankie giggled. Not just a famous rodeo clown, clogger, and Christian comedian, Frankie is also an ordained minister and motivational speaker.
It seems the sun continues to shine for Frankie since he recently added another venue to his calendar. Feld Motorsports, producers of Monster Jam approached Frankie to try their shows as a comic act to let their buildings “breathe” during intermission. “I danced on the crushed cars, and they loved it. So during the winter months I’ll be traveling and doing those shows with Feld Motorsports,” he said.
The Punkintown rig won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Even though they love traveling, he and Laurie both love being home and taking care of their cattle. “Just being able to see God’s many colors, the towns, and the people we meet is what makes it worth it,” Frankie admitted. They also try to take a cruise once a year to have a little down time. But when the rig makes the final turn down the country road leading to his ranch, he feels an immediate rush of gratitude and peace. Frankie said, “I’ve had such a blessed life, if it ended today I’d be alright. I always told my mom once I got older and quit rodeo I was going to sit in my rocking chair and reminisce about how I done it instead of how I could have done it. We try to live like we’re dying, like every day is our last.” Learn more about Punkintown the Rodeo Clown on his website: www.punkintown.com