As an attendee at the National Farm Machinery Show, you have a chance to do more than just dream about what powerful machinery can accomplish — you can see that power firsthand at the 2010 Championship Tractor Pull. But be advised, the machinery working hard in Freedom Hall at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center during each day's “pull” may not look exactly like what you see on the NFMS floor.
The first Championship Tractor Pull was held in 1969 in conjunction with the fourth National Farm Machinery Show, making it the oldest large-scale indoor pull in North America. The invitation-only event brings together powerful and innovative machines from both inside and outside the U.S. and draws sellout crowds for nearly every one of the week's performances. The basketball court in Freedom Hall is converted into the championship dirt track for the week. And the drivers are transformed from mere truck and tractor enthusiasts to something akin to rocket riders wearing fireproof suits and racing helmets.
Competitors are divided into weight classes based on the weight of their vehicles. The classes include 7,500-lb. Modified Tractors, 9,300-lb. Super Farm Tractors, 6,200-lb. 2WD Super Modified Trucks, 8,200-lb. Super Stock Tractors, 8,000-lb. Super Stock Alcohol Tractors, and 10,200-lb. Pro Stock Tractors.
The driver's objective in each class is to pull a weighted sled the farthest distance down the track. Pulling the full length of the track constitutes a “Full Pull.” If two or more drivers in a weight class achieve a Full Pull, additional weight is placed on their sleds. The driver who then pulls the farthest wins. Saturday night finals were added to the NFMS Championship Tractor Pull in 1993. Each driver is required to compete in a semifinal round to earn the right to advance.
The vehicles are modified, often with racing parts, to create an extremely powerful (and loud) pulling machine, sometimes even using modified airplane engines for extra power. This leads to a noisy, but thrilling, experience for fans.
Most of the competitors are families who work together on their vehicles, with one member serving as the driver in the competitions. Yes, they are attached to their work too; each vehicle in the competition has its own meaningful, frequently humorous, name.
The vehicles can become expensive family hobbies. Sponsorship, though hard to come by, can help a lucky few pay some of the bills that come along with the powerful machines. Veteran pullers are quick to point out that sponsorships don't begin to cover all of the costs. All those tweaks and modifications, such as a different type of oil or more new parts, add up. In spite of the costs involved, those same pullers also emphasize that the tractor-pulling bug bites hard and deep. Often competition has become a treasured (and addictive) family tradition.
A father-daughter team from Fishers, IN, Steve and Jessica Jacks have been racing under the “Pair of Jacks” name for much of this century. Jessica started following her father around tractor pull events at the age of four and was driving her own vehicles and competing in pulls when she was still in her early teens. The now 20-year-old is the youngest woman currently competing in the NFMS event.
Jessica placed second in the 6,200-lb. 2WD Super Modified Truck Finals at the 2009 NFMS Championship Tractor Pull with her 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup named “Cen-pe-co Pair of Jacks.” She says she uses the same truck each year, but makes many small modifications to try to maximize the vehicle's pulling power. Jessica is sponsored by Cen-pe-co Lubricants and she is featured on the All Stars section of the company's Web site (www.cen-pe-co.com).
When asked what the average Championship Tractor Pull fan may not know about what goes on behind the scenes, Jessica answers, “I don't think people realize the amount of time and money that goes into the sport. Like drag racing, it looks so easy for those few minutes that you are watching the pull. But I'm often in the shop for weeks at a time before each pull, working to get ready.”
She says the wonderful people she meets at each pull are one of the biggest benefits of being part of the truck and tractor pull community. “The fans really remember you and we meet so many great people,” she says.
Steve and Jessica compete in about 18 pull events each year within roughly a 1,000-mile radius of their farm. When not on the road, Steve raises corn and soybeans and Jessica is going to school to obtain a degree in cosmetology. Steve has been involved with the sport since 1984. “This is really a family sport,” Steve relates. “Most teams are made up of their whole family. There are cookouts at the events and most of the fans are coming to events as families too.”
Although Steve will not be competing in this year's NFMS Championship Tractor Pull, he will be there rooting for Jessica.