Sports: Tractor Pulling

There was a time when metal monsters clashed each weekend in Oklahoma to the cheers of thousands of spectators. You could hear the thunderous roars of impossibly strong tractors as they chugged black smoke and pulled against mighty weights.

Today, tractor pulling, or power pulling, is all but extinct in the Sooner State. “It’s a worldwide sport, we just don’t have many around here anymore,” said Justin Gallion. He has been tractor pulling since 1984 and follows in the footsteps of his dad, who also competed. “It gets in your blood and you just really enjoy it.” Gallion says the horsepower is the biggest draw for him. “To have that much horsepower in your hand is just amazing,” he says. “It’s a rush.”

Oklahoma is down to one annual tractor pull, the Grady County Outlaw Tractor Pull in Chickasha. This year it’s set for August 4. “In Chickasha, they pack the house down there. It’s a good turnout,” Gallion says. “We’d like to have more events around the Oklahoma City area.”

Gallion, who owns Gallion Excavating LLC in Edmond, credits the decline of the sport’s local popularity to monster trucks, which became popular in the 1980s. However, more people started noticing tractor pulls again in the early 1990s. With the success of the Chickasha tractor pull, it seems the sport may have found the toehold it needs to make a comeback.

In the meantime, Gallion and other Oklahomans who have discovered the allure of the sport will have to keep traveling to Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and other states. The biggest event is Thunder by the River in Wisner, Nebraska, in late August. Gallion usually tries to make 15 or 16 tractor pulls every year. “We have to drive forever,” he says.

Gallion built “Lotta Dirt,” a modified tractor, four years ago. The iron beast sports three engines, bringing the total horsepower to 8,000. That’s more horsepower than a Formula 1 race car and about twice as much as the average tractor-trailer.

“It’s not just bringing your tractor out of the field anymore,” he says. “It’s very serious, very competitive, high-performance stuff.” Gallion says everything is high-tech, like drag racing. Lotta Dirt boasts all the latest innovative parts and a computerized fuel program. “You only get one shot at it per event, so you have to have everything right,” he says.

Popular in the United States, Europe and Australia, tractor pulling began as “horse pulling,” with farmers seeing whose horse could pull the heaviest weight. When horses gave way to mechanical farm equipment, it was only logical that the sport would evolve. However, horse pulling is still practiced.

Most of tractor pulling continues to be farm-based, Gallion says. Farmers are familiar with the sport and many join the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League, the National Tractor Pullers Association or the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association, which he says has 300 members and is the biggest west of the Mississippi River.

The image of having two tractors hooked to each other and pulling in opposite directions is out-of-date. Souped-up tractors now pull a mechanical sled that serves as a weight-transfer machine. The sled creates more synthetic weight the farther the tractor pulls it, up to 65,000 pounds. The driver whose tractor is able to pull the sled the farthest wins. Before mechanical sleds, the sport employed dead weights or step-on sleds, where more and more people would step on the sled to add weight the farther it was dragged.

In addition to the rush of controlling a machine of unimaginable power, Gallion values the people he’s met over the years. The tractor pulling community is a tight-knit group. “It’s like a big family, it’s a good time,” he says.

Gallion says the best tractor pull in the country is the Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Missouri. Next year, the show is scheduled for February 24-26. “It’s well worth the ticket prices to go watch the show,” he says. For more information on tractor pulling, Gallion suggests the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association website, www.outlawpulling.com.

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