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Truck & Tractor Pulls: Not Just Farm Equipment

County fairs are full of rides, games, and fried food. They also bring out some heavily modified farm equipment. Check out truck and tractor pulls!

Fun, Food, and Farm Equipment

Woman enjoying food at the fair
Woman enjoying food at the fair

There’s nothing quite like the local county fair. You’ve got a bunch of sketchy rides that popped up overnight, carnies trying to get you play a rigged game for a stuffed animal, a petting zoo full of farm animals, and fried just about anything for food choices. But my personal favorite are the vehicle attractions at the fair. Whether it’s a classic car show or demolition derbies, I’ll be sure to check it out.

However, there’s a staple vehicle attraction that can be found at any good county fair – the truck and tractor pulling competitions. They’re a dirt kickin’, power pulling good time whenever these modified trucks and tractors get to work. A truck and tractor pull lets owners prove that their vehicle can outdo anyone else’s build by hooking up their machine to a weighted sled and letting them rip down a dirt track. We’re taking a closer look at these truck and tractor pull events to see what makes this rural pastime such a crowd-pleaser and how ridiculously powerful this farm equipment has gotten over the years.

Understanding the World’s Heaviest Motorsport

Horse Pulling Competition - Working Horses With Jim on youtube.com
Horse Pulling Competition - Working Horses With Jim on youtube.com

Like any good sport, truck and tractor pulling as a motorsport gained its roots from farmers showing off their equipment, but the competition actually dates back well before the creation of the modern engine. The sport of horse pulling has been around for a long while. The practice takes a horse or a full team of horses and attaches them to a heavy sled, wagon, or a downed tree that’s then pulled to see how far the horses can go. Eventually, the advent of the steam powered tractor introduced a whole new way to work the farm and for pulling competitions. A team of horses competing against a steam engine in early pulling competitions wasn’t too uncommon, and it actually acted as a way to promote the new steam powered technology to farmers.

Over time, the internal combustion tractor took over as the farm equipment of choice as it was more effective and could generate more power. These tractors ran on a number of different fuels like gasoline, kerosene, and diesel and came in various sizes depending on the amount of pull needed. While the farming equipment had changed to these combustion engines, the competition of pulling remained. These farmers did more than just pull weighted sleds with a stock tractor, they eventually turned to modifying them with bigger wheels, deeper tired treads, more weight, and bigger motors.

1950s Tractor Pull - livinghistoryfarm.org
1950s Tractor Pull - livinghistoryfarm.org

The introduction of the internal combustion engine also introduced farmers to a new vehicle made for work dubbed the pickup truck. Farmers had their choice of Ford F-Series, Chevrolet 3100s, or Dodge Power Wagons to choose from early on. Whatever their choice, it became another essential piece of farm equipment. These farm trucks could haul equipment around more easily than a tractor could and made for great modes of transportation when heading into town.

These farm trucks quickly grew in size to the heavy-duty models we know today that can tow trailers full of livestock, feed, or even a tractor from place to place. While trucks may be the best method of bringing tractors to tractor pull events, trucks have grown to have their own class of pulling competitions too. Like the tractors, these competition trucks underwent significant modifications to really make them multi-ton pulling machines over the years.

Truck and tractor pulls started to pop up everywhere in the mid 1900s, but ran into a problem when the popularity of the sport started to boom. Every state had their own pull events that featured their own pulling methods, vehicle standards, and rules making traveling across state lines a hassle. This led to the introduction of the National Tractor Pullers Association (NTPA) who brought together major state organizations and introduced the truck and tractor pull rules, classes, and event standards we know today.

Pulling Sled - Decision Maker Pulling Sleds on facebook.com
Pulling Sled - Decision Maker Pulling Sleds on facebook.com

While the NTPA focused on items like the length of the track and safety measures, the biggest thing was the standardization of the pulling sled. This 65,000-pound machine is purpose built for pulling competitions. It features a sliding box that starts at the rear of the sled over the rear axles and it slowly creeps forwards as a truck or tractor pulls the sled down the track. As it moves forward, the box hits a trip system that actuates hydraulics that push down on the pan. The pan is a metal sheet with bars welded across the bottom that slowly dig into the dirt generating more friction and making it more difficult to pull.

Like its horse pull predecessor, the NTPA event winner is determined by who can pull the sled the farthest out of the group. If a truck or tractor is able to pull the sled the whole length of the set track, that’s called a full pull. While this would be the winner, there may be more than one competitor with a full pull. In this case, those individuals move on to have a pull-off where there’s more weight added to sled and the competitors will keep going till one out does all the others.

Tractor Pulls

Limited Pro Stock Tractor - propulling.com
Limited Pro Stock Tractor - propulling.com

A small-town tractor pull may have some stock farm tractors on the docket with some old timers slinging their arm to keep the front down, but the big leagues take tractors to new heights. NTPA events start with some Pro Stock Tractor divisions. This class tries to keep certain OEM parts in play, but they’re more than your common tractor. On the outside, they may look pretty close to the John Deere or Case IH ones you’d see out in the field. However, the added roll cage, heavy weight at the front, and graphics along the sides are where the tractor starts set itself apart. Underneath the hood may be some OEM parts and the OEM engine block, but the giant aftermarket turbocharger and water-cooling system stick out like a sore thumb.

Moving up the classes, you’ll encounter the Modified Tractor series. This is where the tractor term gets thrown out the window. These “tractors” look like a good representation of Frankenstein’s dragster with giant rear wheels, tiny front wheels, and then multiple blown engines lining the front. These are truly powerful machines and some engineering marvels that are purpose built to put on a heck of a show. There are really no tractor parts to be seen on Modified Tractors and they’re instead custom built from the ground up. The multiple engines are predominantly sourced from automobiles, although there are instances where boat, aircraft, and even turbine engines are used too.

Super Modified Tractor - propulling.com
Super Modified Tractor - propulling.com

Modified Tractors has a subgroup that are equally as insane called the Mini Modified Tractors. The Mini Modifieds are about the size of a ride on lawn mower and have a single giant engine sitting directly in front of the driver. These single power units obviously can’t pull as much as their multi-engined big brothers, so they get a smaller sled to work with. Just because it’s on a smaller scale doesn’t mean that these “tractors” aren’t fun to watch though.

Truck Pulls

Pro Stock Diesel Truck - propulling.com
Pro Stock Diesel Truck - propulling.com

Can you take your very own Ford F-250, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, or Ram 2500 to one of these truck pulls? Sure you could. Would you do very well? Probably not. The closest to a street truck at these NTPA events is the Diesel Pro Stock Four Wheel Drive Trucks. These look as close to stock as you can get and run on strictly diesel fuel. Engines are limited to 460 CID (about 7.5L) and the largest turbo you can have a 3-inch unit. While some stock powertrains may fare alright at first, they won’t compare to the customized trucks with better cooling, performance mods, and better tires for the job.

The next class is the naturally aspirated Four Wheel Drive Trucks. While these trucks are virtually stock in appearance too and don’t feature a turbo or supercharger, that engine under the hood can be a 650 CID tuned beast that’ll put out more power than any stock unit could. Plus, this class allows for 20-inch-wide wheels that can really grab the dirt for some pull.

Super Modified 2WD Truck - propulling.com
Super Modified 2WD Truck - propulling.com

The next two classes take our previously mentioned ones to another level by upping the power, adding deeper treaded tires, and by putting a lot of weight on the front to keep all four wheels down. You’ve got the Super Modified Four Wheel Drive Trucks that drop the engine displacement to 500 CID, but allow for an added turbo or supercharger to be tacked on. Then there’s the strictly diesel Super Stock Diesel Four Wheel Drive Trucks that feature bigger, knobbier tires and allow for some extra engine modifications. The notable difference in the diesel engine for this class is the inclusion of two stage turbochargers for more power and added cooling through water injection.

Two-wheel-drive trucks are a part of pulling events too, but these are far from stock. These trucks are essentially alcohol fueled dragsters with monster truck wheels at the back. They may still carry a similar front end and cab design to stock trucks, but they usually have an elongated bed and custom frame that puts the rear axle as far back as possible. This helps the pulling point be right over the rear axle and allows the truck to better balance out the ensuing wheelie from all the torque.

Hot Rod Semi - propulling.com
Hot Rod Semi - propulling.com

Then we’ve got the real big boys, the semi truck divisions. Semis are seen hauling trailers in the slow lanes of America every day, so seeing them use brute force to move a super heavy sled is pretty fun. Kenworths, Macks, Freightliners, Peterbilt, Volvos, you name it, they’re here pulling.

Truck & Tractor Pulling at a Fair Near You

Stock Farm Tractor Pull
Stock Farm Tractor Pull

If you’re a gearhead or just enjoy seeing some loud machines flexing their muscles, go attend a truck and tractor pull. It’s a show like no other and probably happening in your own backyard. Truck and tractor pulls take place from January to October and are primarily held at county or state fairs all across the USA. Depending on the available classes and your own know-how, you could possibly even take your own truck or tractor out to one of these events.

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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