City slicker’s first tractor pull

“Oh, hey, my school‘s tractor pulling team is pulling today. You wanna go down and watch?”

This question came from Ray, my friend Elisa’s fiancee, who I was going down to Champagin, Illinois to meet up with, and check on for Elisa to make sure that their new place (they’re getting married in 3 weeks) wasn’t a total mess. It was cleaner than my place, so it passed the (not very difficult) test.

He asked me the above question before I began my drive down, and an answer I never thought would come out of my mouth did: “Yeah, sure!”

Until yesterday, I was unaware that there were colleges with tractor-pulling teams. Further proof that the older I get, the more I realize I don’t know.

A tractor pull is a mercifully simple event to explain (anyone who’s ever tried explaining baseball to a bunch of Brazilians and Italians knows what I’m talking about).

You’ve got a 300 foot strip of dirt. You hook up your tractor, which weighs anywhere from 4 to 6 tons, to a sled with about 30 tons of weights on it, and you see how far you can pull it. Whoever pulls it the farthest, wins. If you pull it all 300 yards, it’s called a “full pull.” If more than one person does that, they have a pull-off. The end.

Now I don’t know a spark plug from a cam shaft, so I was a bit confused about a lot of the lingo getting tossed back and forth. However, I was saved by the fact that Ray won permission to marry Elisa by fixing her dad’s car for under 50 bucks when mechanics had quoted him minimums of $1200.

So I got to ask some fairly stupid questions, like “So why is fire shooting out of the exhaust pipe?” without feeling like a total moron. Answer: The smoke is unburned fuel, and sometimes it gets superheated and reignites. Thus, fire shoots out of the tractor.

Like every sport, there is a great deal of strategy involved in tractor pulling: Where to hang the weights that make the tractor heavier (and thus provide more traction), what side of the track is running the best, what engine parts will give you the best performance.

And of course, how to get the thickest, blackest smoke you can get coming out of that fucker.

The best example of this was in the Truck Pull, when people get in their souped-up pickups and try to pull the same sled that the tractors have been pulling. The trucks are just about two or three tons lighter.

One guy drove all the way in from Terre Haute, Indiana in his seriously modified Dodge (instead of an exhaust pipe, this fucking thing had a smokestack coming out of the hood) to give an exhibition.

So he hooks up to the sled, throws his truck into neutral and revs the engine until the smoke is nice and black, and then takes off at about 40 miles an hour down the strip.

Problem was, he dropped his driveshaft about 200 feet down the track, which, from what I understand, basically is what takes the mechanical power from the motor and transmits it to the axles (which turn the wheels), letting you, you know, drive.

This huge truck came to a dead stop, and the weights just slammed forward into the front of the sled, putting it out of commission for a good 20 minutes. It didn’t damage the truck all that much, and the guy was able to get his truck limping off the track.

But he must have had a nice long walk back to Terre Haute this morning.

A tractor/truck pull is a surprisingly zen experience, at least until the Mosquitoes of Death come out and attack every millimeter of exposed skin, as mosquitoes tend to do. The rumbling from all the tractors made me feel oddly calm, though I knew if any of the parking brakes slipped out, I’d be flattened into the cornfield next to the strip.

Some days however, it’s nice just to be outside and sit in the sun, have a couple of sno-cones, and watch guys try and prove they have more horsepower (and thus, testosterone) than the guy down the street. Or rural route, as the case may be.

Though I think I gave myself away as a city slicker by wearing a Bob Dylan shirt…

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