Now that winter has settled in, it’s nice to think of warmth; of summer. If cold doesn’t keep you indoors, chances are good that darkness will. But don’t fret. All of those beach days and long, warm evenings and fun, energetic summer activities are a mere half a year away!
The fairer season is also fair time. Rural agricultural fairs have graced the American landscape since Thomas Jefferson was president. But the champion of small farms and tranquil agrarian life never could’ve foreseen how fairs would evolve. Perfect tomatoes and prize goats still highlight agricultural ingenuity and a healthy spirit of competition. But the horse-drawn weight pulling matches created more than 200 years ago as a show of draft horse prowess are now a sideshow to the ear-splitting, smoke-belching, dirt-flinging main event: the tractor pull. You may not agree that the tractor pull is the most important or most interesting thing to see at a fair (after all, the dock-jumping dogs are cute, you can find anything under the sun battered and deep-fried, and for the fellas, there’s no shortage of Daisy Duke-clad young ladies running around) but it’s the first thing you hear when you arrive in the parking lot, and the only thing to reach your ears within a 300-yard radius of the track.
The reason why these souped-up tractors shake the earth as they scream by–dragging sleds that weigh several thousand pounds–is because of the incredible amount of power they put out. The object of the race is to drag a heavy sled farther than all the other drivers. There’s a variety of different weight and engine configurations grouped into classes: Super stock, super farm, and modified. Super stock and super farm entries still look like tractors and only have one engine each. The gas-powered models roar like small race cars, and the diesel rigs spew thick, aggressive clouds of black smoke into the air as their multiple-turbo-ed engines wind up for the big push, er pull. And yes, that’s right. I said only one engine each. Modified class machines–which don’t resemble tractors at all, but look like something a spiky-haired Road Warrior villain wearing nothing but chaps and a camo hunting vest would drive to steal a tanker truck–can have two, even three supercharged race car engines. The various arrangements include placing engines side by side, all in a row, crank to crank, or even pointing in different directions. I don’t have to tell you what three blown big blocks running simultaneously at wide open throttle sounds like. Your brains actually vibrate. Some racers have their rigs set up with gas turbines and V-12 Allison aircraft motors (there really are no restrictions other than the “tractor’s” weight), but those seem as quiet as tiptoeing church mice next to the multiple gas engine configurations.
All of these impressive machines turned up at the Hebron Harvest Fair in Central Connecticut last summer, courtesy of the New York Tractor Pullers Association. Most of the drivers were what you would expect: middle-aged guys, sponsored by family and friends (and, occasionally, race shops and farm implement supply houses) who built their tractors from scratch. But Wild Hare, an entry from the modified class kitted out with two supercharged 526 Hemis, was piloted by a housewife/grandmother named Sharon Everman. Go granny go! Well, granny went, making a very strong showing until a loud bang and a huge ball of flame sounded the death knell of the front Hemi. “That was not cheap folks,” the announcer said in his broad New England accent. But a 16 year-old trumped even the grandma. In his first ever race, Matt Ferry, a dairy farmer from Westport, Massachusetts, nearly beat everyone in the last modified run of the day. The crowd cheered hysterically, but behind the grins and screams of encouragement, there probably wasn’t a man there who didn’t wish his dad had been cool enough to buy him a racing tractor.