Before tractors were ever used, and the V8 engine was even a thought, farmers would boast about their draught horses that were used to plough fields and pull large weight around their farms. Of course, like everything, people eventually made it into a competition to see whose fleet of horses were the strongest, for simple bragging rights, strapping them to harnesses and getting them to pull a large, weighted sled. The horses that pulled the most weight was the winner.
As horses were replaced by machinery, so too did the competition change, with the first recorded tractor pull held in 1929 in Missouri. This sport would spread across the Midwest and the south of the United States during what I like to call America’s car culture boom years, the 1950’s and 60’s. Soon enough, tractor pulling went international, expanding to Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
In Australia, the first tractor pull was held in Elmore, Victoria in 1976, and a year later our edition of the world’s heaviest motorsport would find its home in Quambatook. My first and this time second encounters with tractor pulling would be at the Tooradin Tractor Pull, which has been around since 1998. This show has become much more family friendly since I first went a number of years ago (I’ll let you decide what that means) and isn’t all about sled pulling modified tractors.
It's one large show and shine for big rigs. Massive shining trucks parked in rows, walls of chrome, glistening paint and custom work in engine bays.
I’ve always appreciated the effort that goes into prepping a car for a show and keeping it clean, so I can’t imagine the effort it takes to make these enormous trucks clean enough to eat off.
There were quite a few awards to hand out to the rigs and cars on display, with honours going to the car with the best paint, interior, engine bay, best hot rod, American and Australian muscle and the best custom.
Trucks were split into type and age to better spread out the trophies among the shiny business promotion tonnes of metal.
Vintage tractors were also on display as a documentation of farming history, as at the other end of the dirt drag strip, burnout cars were being prepped for duty.
In between, the vintage and modified tractor pulls, the burnout boys and girls shredded tyres and covered the 2000+ spectators in a thick cover of smoke and rubber.
As the tractors lined up on the dirt for their parade, all eyes were on the sky as Paul Bennet buzzed us spectators and tricked us into thinking he was falling from the sky.
Finally, it was time for what everyone had been waiting for, the modified tractor pulls.
With so many tractor styles and engine configurations, from V12’s to diesels to the Coyote, a tractor with four V8’s and putting out 8000hp, categories were split into weight classes. It’s confusing but simply put, the dirt drag strip was split into two lanes with two different weighted sleds. One lane for the Mini Modifieds, and the larger one for the bigger modified tractors, which were then split into their own separate divisions.
Massive turbos, intercoolers and supercharges can obviously be added to increase power, but what separates this sport from other forms is the common sight of multiple engines on a single vehicle. We can thank Ohio brothers Carl and Paul Bosse for this distinctive engineering trait as they introduced the crossbox to the sport, which allowed multiple engines to be fitted to a single drivetrain.
Tractors would come up to the start line and be attached to the sled. To complete a full pass, they would have to pull their sled 100 metres. As the tractor moves forward and gains momentum, the weight on the sled is transferred from the back to the front. There is also what is called a ‘pan’ which is a metal plate and as the weight moves towards it, the resistance between this pan and the ground increases, meaning that the further down the tractor goes, the harder it becomes to pull the sled. If multiple tractors complete the 100 metre runs, then weight is added to the sled until a winner is declared.
Off the line, the tractors are quicker than expected, as the driver battles the steering to keep it all straight, as anticipation builds as they slow down towards the end, the driver revving as high as they can to make it to 100 metres. The engine grinds to a halt, the wheels abruptly dig into the dirt and stop, and the crowd erupts at the sight of the 100 metre bollard being passed.
It doesn’t always go to plane though. White smoke coming out of the Vatican is cause for celebration, but white smoke coming from a modified tractor during a pull is not.
Although I was unable to stay and watch the pulls into the night, the Tooradin Tractor Pull certainly has intrigued me enough to want to get a close more in depth look at these machines. The Australian Tractor Pull Championships will be held at Quambatook on Easter weekend. Hopefully I can get a closer look then.