News / USA

Tractor Pulling Evolves into Multi-Million-Dollar Sport

Mike Osborne
CHAPEL HILL, Tennessee — Americans have a knack for turning even the simplest tasks into a competition. Tractor pulling, for example, has evolved from a barnyard contest to determine which farmer had the most powerful draft horses or tractor into a multi-million-dollar sport, to see which machine can drag a weighted sled the farthest.

One of the sport's top contests takes place in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, a quiet little southern town of just 1,200 people. However, for that single weekend in July, its population swells to more than 20,000 as pulling fans from across the United States arrive for the event called the "Pull of the South."

While spectators queue up at the admission gate, dozens of 18-wheelers rumble through the back entrance hauling millions of dollars worth of heavily customized trucks, tractors and other pulling machines. But most are trucks or tractors in name only. They generally look nothing like the equipment they’re named for. There’s even a class that’s descended from lawn tractors.

As the stands fill and the competition gets under way, the first class of trucks is towed to the starting line where their alcohol-burning engines are fired up.

In these contests, the truck or tractor is “hooked” to a sled that is loaded with weights up to 29,000 kilograms. As it slides down the surprisingly short 100-meter track, a system of pulleys shifts the weight from the back of the sled to the front, making it harder to pull with each passing meter. The driver in each class with the longest pull of the day wins.

As track officials wave their flags to start a pull, fans pop in earplugs or simply cover their ears with their hands. The sound of the straining engines is absolutely deafening.

As the smoke and dust clear away, fans talk about what they enjoy about tractor pulling competitions.

“The first time I came was last year, and I was pretty blown away," said one woman. "I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Another spectator summed it up this way: “We love to see the smoke roll up in the sky.  It’s power. Every man in the country loves good, strong power.”

But for all their power, even a winning tractor takes home a surprisingly small cash prize. According to veterans of the sport, the real clout belongs to the team owners who spend huge sums to keep their crews competitive.

"These tractors here are upwards of $250,000 to $350,000 apiece," puller Jim Martell said.  On any given night, the most that we can pull for is $2,000, so it’s not actually a money-making deal. It’s basically just trying to get your money back and stay even with it.”
 
Wealthy business owners, or farmers with large operations, underwrite most pulling teams, happy to get their names out in front of big audiences.

Martell says the pulling community is small and tightly knit.

“The camaraderie with the fans, and the other pullers, it’s one big family,” he said.
 
The pulling season comes to a climax in mid-August with the National Tractor Pulling Championship in Bowling Green, Ohio. Pulling, by the way, is growing in popularity outside the United States. The European championship is scheduled for September in Germany.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More