The 44th Championship Tractor Pull at the National Farm Machinery Show, sponsored by Syngenta, is expected to draw 75,000 fans to Freedom Hall in the Kentucky Exposition Center every day of the “pull.” The invitation-only contest will run from Wednesday, Feb. 15, through Saturday, Feb. 18, and feature powerful and innovative machines from both inside and outside of the U.S.

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 basketball court in Freedom Hall is converted into the championship dirt track for the week. Drivers are transformed from mere truck and tractor enthusiasts into something akin to rocket riders wearing fireproof suits and racing helmets. Many competitors are families and friends who work together on their vehicles, with one 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.

Vehicle classes
Vehicles are divided into weight classes based on their weight and type. The classes are the 8,200-lb. Super Stock Tractors, 7,500-lb. Modified Tractors, 10,200-lb. Pro Stock Tractors, 9,300-lb. Super Farm Tractors, 6,200-lb. 2WD Super Modified Trucks, 8,000-lb. Super Stock Alcohol Tractors, 6,400-lb. Lightweight Super Stock Alcohol Tractors and a new category in 2011 featuring 7,500-lb. 4x4 Super Stock Diesel Trucks.

The vehicle’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 in the vehicle that then pulls the farthest wins.

Saturday night finals were added to the National Farm Machinery Show Championship Tractor Pull in 1993. Drivers in many of the categories are required to compete in a semifinal round to earn the right to advance. Drivers are quick to point out that a strong semifinal showing doesn’t mean the championship round will be easy to win. Two categories taking place on Saturday — the 6,400-lb. Lightweight Super Stock Alcohol Tractors and the 7,500-lb. 4x4 Super Stock Diesel Trucks — only compete in one final round.

Super trucks
Although this may be a “tractor pull,” be advised that the machinery working hard in Freedom Hall will not look exactly like what you see on the National Farm Machinery Show floor. The vehicles are modified, often with racing parts, to create an extremely powerful (and loud) pulling machine, sometimes using modified airplane engines for extra power. Special fittings on the smokestacks contain emissions on the vehicles, giving them an even more unique look.

The 7,500-lb. 4x4 Super Stock Diesel Trucks most resemble vehicles one might encounter on a public roadway. But looks can be deceiving, according to the 2011 National Farm Machinery Show Championship Tractor Pull winner of this category.  Van Haisley, Fairmount, Ind., had been working on fine-tuning his Dodge Ram truck, named the “Rock Hard Ram,” for three years before it pulled a sled during its debut at last year’s National Farm Machinery Show. “We work hard to make sure the trucks look like something fans can relate to, but we’re really talking about fiberglass bodies and turbocharged engines,” he says.  A lot of time and money goes into modifying the machines.

Haisley has been competing in truck pulling events with his diesel trucks since 1985. He says before the turn of the century, diesel truck drivers had to compete against gas vehicles. Exclusive diesel truck pull competitions didn’t seem to catch on until around 2003.

Pulling enthusiasts
Truck pulling is a Haisley family sport. Van and his son Curt competed in more than 47 pulls last year, including the Championship Tractor Pull where Curt finished third with his “Off Constantly” Dodge truck, behind his father in first place and family friend Shane Kellogg and his “Gotta Have It” Dodge truck in second place. “My son and I both love the competition and the sport and take that one step further and have competing engines,” Van explains.

He and Curt operate a successful business catering to pulling enthusiasts. Van started Haisley Machine in January 1985 and has gradually moved from working on agricultural machinery to focusing primarily on the high-performance machines like those he and his son drive. “We were really blessed with having four trucks with engines we built in our shop participating at the 2011 NFMS, including Shane Kellogg and Wayne Greier [who was driving “Resurrected Ram,” Van’s original “Rock Hard Ram” truck],” Haisley says. He says when he and Curt have 10 to 11 seconds of success on the track at a major pull, it helps promote their business, in addition to being a satisfying experience.

When asked what the secrets might be for success in pulling competitions, Van says preparation is the key. “We try to make sure every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed before we get there,” he says.

Van and Curt will be competing against one another on Saturday again this year. From all indications, the family tradition of Haisley truck pulling success is heading into a third generation. Curt’s sons, four-year-old Tripp and 18-month-old Grady, are already enthusiastic participants in the excitement.

Tractor pull fans will have the opportunity to walk beside the trucks and tractors, meet the drivers, get autographs and take pictures of the vehicles that will compete in the Championship Tractor Pull by visiting The Pit. Open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. inside Broadbent Arena each day, The Pit gives fans a chance to get a firsthand glimpse of the hard work that goes into preparing the machines for competition. Admission to The Pit is free. The Pit closes at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18.  

Learn more about the Haisley family at www.haisleymachine.com.