I remember my first ride in a tractor going 50k, 31 mph. It was in the late 1990s when Fendt was entering the U.S. market. That speed seemed amazing to me, going 30 in a big machine. Wow what a rush.
And about the same time, with its equal-sized wheel/tire setup, JCB comes into the market with its early Fastrac machines. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a tractor doing 43 mph (more than 69kph!) on a dark night pulling a 45-foot chisel plow down the road.
Speed matters these days as more producers aim to cover more ground. And most new tractors have a 50k (31 mph) option to help with that. Otherwise, the standard is now 40kph (25 mph).
Europe has driven these faster speeds because farming there is often a custom affair where the operator is doing work on multiple farms and moving from place to place is a productivity issue. Though I never though I’d want to feel the wind rush of a tractor ride, these days it’s looking more like that’s important even here in the United States.
When your farm stretches 25 or 30 miles from end to end, cutting that ride from an hour to 45 minutes gets you 15 more minutes each of those hours in field time. And after this spring, we know how even a little bit of time picked up could make a big difference.
Which brings me to JCB, speed and a new record.
Land speed records have long been an interest. Perhaps it was that first Mongol raider who had a faster horse than his neighbor. Or when the Spaniards brought horses to the United States and revolutionized travel. (For you sticklers horses were here but died out about 12,000 years ago and returned only when Spain traveled to the New World and didn’t want to walk).
We do want to feel the wind rush, have our heads snapped back and we want to go fast. Not sure where that gene comes from, perhaps being prey in those early evolutionary years? The faster runners survived, and the exhilaration of escaping death at the jaws of some big-toothed mammal came along with the speed gene? Who knows, but these days we want to go faster and faster. But in a tractor?
A new record
The short answer is apparently, yes, to the tractor speed question. In June, JCB announced a new British speed record for tractors. Now we’re not talking your off-the-lot JCB 8000 series machine, which is fast, but not this fast.
Instead, Guy Martin storied British racer was behind the wheel of a specially modified version of the JCB 8000. And how fast did Mr. Martin go? The tractor achieved a maximum speed of 103.6 mph over two runs at Elvington Airfield in the United Kingdom.
Of course, there was a previous record of 87.27 mph set in March 2018, by the knucklehead crazy crew of the BBC television series Top Gear (those guys have since left that show and traveled to Amazon Prime to continue their antics). But this new machine tops that by nearly 20 mph.
The racing tractor was powered by a modified 7.2-liter, 6-cylinder JCB DieselMax engine producing 1,000 hp and 1,884 pounds-feet of torque – yep it was a hot one. And the record was set 28 years to the day after the first JCB Fastrac rolled off the production line (we’re not thinking that was a coincidence).
If you look at that modified tractor you may notice it sits a little lower to the ground. And I keep imagining the ride at 100-plus mph. Obviously they had the tires inflated right because power hop in that situation would be bad...very bad.
In noting the record, JCB added that the company has set another speed record (not in a tractor) with its JCB DieselMax engine. In 2006, the company ran what it calls the JCB DieselMax streamliner to set a diesel land-speed record of 350.092 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The record still stands (and note it goes to three decimal places).
JCB is a private company and Lord Anthony Bamford does like to go fast. He drove the idea of the streamliner and also this latest project with the Fastrac. In the release announcing the record, Lord Bamford admitted “we’ve long harbored a dream to attempt a speed record with the Fastrac.”
He praised the team that got the job done, but given his past track record, might we hear about another record in the future? We’ll see. For now, 31 mph (50 kph) seems just fine to me.