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Championship tractor pull: A family event

Championship tractor pull: A family event

Whether it’s John Deere green, International red, or another color that sparks your enthusiasm, the Championship Tractor Pull is the place to show your machinery pride. The 45th Championship Tractor Pull at the National Farm Machinery Show, sponsored by Syngenta, is expected to draw sell-out crowds as more than 70,000 fans flock to Freedom Hall in the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center during each day’s “pull.” The invitation-only contest runs from Wed., Feb. 13 through Saturday, Feb. 16 and draws powerful and innovative machines from both inside and outside of the U.S.

The first Championship Tractor Pull was held in 1969 at the fourth National Farm Machinery Show, making it the oldest large-scale indoor pull in North America. The basketball court in Freedom Hall is converted into the dirt track for the week. Drivers are transformed from mere truck and tractor enthusiasts into something akin to rocket riders wearing fireproof suits and racing helmets. Many competitors are families and friends who work together on their vehicles, performing mechanic duties and serving as the driver in the competitions. Yes, they are attached to their work too—each vehicle in the competition has its own meaningful, frequently humorous, name.

Weight classes

Competitors are divided into weight classes based on the weight and type of vehicle they are driving. The classes include 8,200-lb. Super Stock Tractors, 7,500-lb. Modified Tractors, 10,200-lb. Pro Stock Tractors, 9,300-lb. Super Farm Tractors, 6,200-lb. two-wheel-drive Super Modified Trucks, 8,000-lb. Super Stock Alcohol Tractors, 6,400-lb. Lightweight Super Stock Alcohol Tractors and a new category in 2011 featuring 7,500-lb. 4x4 Super Stock Diesel Trucks.

The driver’s objective is to pull a weighted sled the farthest distance down the track. Pulling the full length of the track constitutes a “Full Pull.” If two or more drivers in a weight class achieve a Full Pull, additional weight is placed on their sleds. The driver who then pulls the farthest wins. Saturday night finals were added to the National Farm Machinery Show Championship Tractor Pull in 1993. Drivers in many of the categories are required to compete in a semi-final round to earn the right to advance. Drivers say that a strong semi-final showing doesn’t mean the championship round will be easy to win. Two categories taking place on Saturday, the 6,400-lb. Lightweight Super Stock Alcohol Tractors, and the 7,500-lb. 4x4 Super Stock Diesel Trucks only compete in one final round.

Even though this may be a “tractor pull,” the machinery in Freedom Hall will not look like what you see on the National Farm Machinery Show floor. The vehicles are modified, often with racing parts, to create an extremely powerful (and loud) pulling machine, sometimes utilizing modified airplane engines for extra power.

Championship Tractor Pull attendees are guided by a familiar voice as they follow competitors’ progress throughout the event.  Walter “Butch” Krieger will be serving his 34th year as the main announcer for the Championship Tractor Pull in 2013. He says the popular event is like a big family homecoming celebration each year. “This is one of the most prestigious tractor pulls in the country. It includes both new, up-and-coming competitors along with guys who have been on the tractor pull circuit for some time. It’s a perfect opportunity to see some quality competition. Syngenta does a great job as the sponsor of the event and the facilities are just wonderful,” Krieger says.

Exclusive event

It’s not easy to get into the Championship Tractor Pull. A selection committee considers many factors as they sort through the elite competitors from around the country who have been accumulating points on the tractor pull circuit. “Most of the guys that compete here have good equipment, but it can be intimidating the first time you compete indoors in this arena. The 250-ft. track and sand pile at the end surprises people sometimes and it can take a while to adjust,” Krieger explains.

Krieger says his job is to keep the audience fired up and make sure the spectators have a clear idea how drivers are ranked throughout the event. “I have to do my homework so I can share the information with the audience and tell the competitors’ stories,” he relates. “I have to inform people about what’s going on in the arena, who’s winning and the type of tractor and name of the tractor. And I better have the guy’s name right and know who is driving the tractor too,” he adds.

Tractor pull history

Apparently Krieger is pretty good at keeping the details on-track when it comes to his job. In 2012 he was inducted into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was one of 13 people, including Fox and Speed Channel NASCAR broadcaster Darrell Waltrip, making up the 2012 Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame class.

Krieger started his announcing career in 1974, and has been announcing tractor pulls and drag races throughout the country ever since. He says one nice thing about the National Farm Machinery Show Championship Tractor Pull is that it provides fans with lots of opportunities to talk to the pullers.

Tractor pull fans will have the chance to walk beside the trucks and tractors, meet the drivers, get autographs and take pictures of the vehicles that will compete in the Championship Tractor Pull by visiting The Pit. Open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. inside Broadbent Arena each day, The Pit gives fans a chance to get a first-hand glimpse of the hard work that goes into preparing the machines for competition. Admission to The Pit is free. The Pit closes at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16. 

When asked what advice he would give to first-time Championship Tractor Pull fans, Krieger encourages people to show their true colors and jump into the excitement of the event. “If you are a John Deere  or International fan, get a souvenir t-shirt and don’t be afraid to root for your favorite-color tractor,” he says.

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