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Meet the Enthusiasts — Hot Rod Trucks & Tractors

Linear Speed Wins This Race

— “Let’s Go Pullin’!” is the rallying cry of the Texas Truck & Tractor Pullers Association, but Donna Riley, Secretary/Treasurer calls it “Goin’ to the circus,” because of the rows of semitrailers and flatbeds that show up to the West Texas Fair & Rodeo carrying various kinds of hot rod tractors and trucks.

Adapted for speed, these vehicles with 2500 horsepower engines are not your usual, functional farm equipment with lots of torque but lower horsepower. Traditional tractors are made for pulling heavy loads from a complete stop, but are not made for speed thereafter.

Special fuel for their custom-built cousins costs $30 a gallon, is available at airports and a two-wheel drive class can use up to 13 gallons a minute. One puller estimates he drives his vehicle a total of about 5 minutes per year.

Though he says with a grin, “It’s a fun 14 – 17 seconds!” about each brief pull.

Pullers get creative with names for their one-of-a-kind vehicles. “Sod Father” was christened because the owner was a sod farmer; and the puller of “High Steaks’” used to be a restaurant owner.

Pullers and their families camp out at each competition during about ten weekends a year throughout the season, which is the end of March through November. They bring pop-up awnings, grills and folding chairs, even computers and printers. Often several families will cook or eat dinner together and hang out between events. There is prize money available for winners of the longest pull in each category, but according to Donna only the very top make money, and most people do it for the experience and the fun. Her son is a driver in the Pro Stock 4×4 class and she says that as a kid he did things like jumpin’ his bicycle, go-karts and motorcycles. Some of the contestants used to be drag racers.

The vehicles themselves are sensitive. They’re stored and transported under cover because it will affect their performance if any water gets down into the engines or the exhaust. Going full throttle wears out parts, and “freshening an engine” can cost $5,000.

Drivers and their skill are an integral part of a successful pull, and “pullers” have extensive mechanical experience, many in the farm industry. Some also build their own trucks or tractors from scratch. A spectator at Friday night’s pull pointed out that they can “steer with their brakes a little, to straighten things out.” Otherwise, they mash the throttle (except for the ones with an automatic transmissions) and hit the accelerator. They tow a “sled” which is a high-tech piece of equipment that puts extra resistance on the tractor or truck as it’s pulling, and has a weight that slides forward. The sled can have “iron added to the weight box” between vehicle classes.

There are different rules of classes. The Limited Modified Tractors look the most like regular tractors because of regulations that require adherence to their original appearance. The Econo Rod Tractors look the most like hot rods, featuring long noses topped with gigantic engines and adjacent large exhaust pipes. Similar to horse racing, each specialized vehicle, including its driver and gear, is weighed before a race.

Between each pull, the dirt track is smoothed flat, and a packer – a small, heavy, dirt-filled trailer on ten wheels, pulled behind an ordinary tractor – tamps down the surface. Fumes from fuel with additives before which, “it would burn your eyes,” mix with blowing dust after each pull.

Spectators wear earplugs, noise-canceling ear muffs or put their fingers in their ears to block out the high decibels. Noise levels are high enough that thirty minutes of unprotected exposure can cause hearing loss. However, this is definitely a family activity, as evidenced by the mix of children and adults in the stands. At the start of the Friday night event at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo, all present removed their hats and stood for the national anthem sung by an ACU student standing on the back of a flatbed trailer. The anthem was followed by a prayer offered by the emcee in which he asked for, “blessings upon each in the crowd and for each person’s needs,” and “not for victory but that each competitor would do their best.” Even though the machines are loud and appear dangerous, there are no records of serious accidents at Truck & Tractor Pulls and many safety regulations are in place. Insiders joke, “There’s no risk unless you’re on fire.”

For more information & schedules of events, check out the Texas Truck & Tractor Pullers Association website.


{A version of this story appeared online in the Abilene Reporter-News.}



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