If David Mink and Rod Crawford get their way, a Midwest favorite could soon become a more popular competition throughout Arizona.
What is it? Tractor pulls.
Tractor pulling started in the Midwest as competitions between teams of horses and oxen in agricultural communities. Pulling the heaviest load furthest meant you had the strongest animals.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific year and place where the sport was born, but farmers began to use tractors in these events around 1929. Competitive pulling peaked in popularity in the ‘60s when eight states founded the National Tractor Pullers Association and has retained a presence in American motorsports and beyond, especially in the Midwest.
Mink and Crawford are Arizona Truck and Tractor members in Willcox, and they’d love to attain professional status for local pulling events and encourage more local participation.
On June 27, they met with other regional proponents of pulling at the KOA.
“Arizona is left out of pulling because of the lack of agricultural history,” said Crawford. “We want to offer local pullers more opportunities.”
The meeting, which included Robert Fagundes of Central California Minis, finalized the creation of Western States Pulling and continued work to secure a partnership with the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League. The WSP plans to professionally-sanction events in Arizona, California, and New Mexico. Mink and Crawford think the meeting was an excellent first step. Willcox city government is also getting involved.
“The city has been very supportive of us… our goal is to benefit the local area,” said Crawford.
Both Mink and Crawford have worked for the nonprofit ATT for 15 years, but the events they organized were all informal and locally sanctioned. Crawford said the organization is ready to expand into a “more structured, professional realm.”
As part of a push toward increased legitimacy, ATT is focusing on new markets. They plan to create a youth division of their competitions as well as a new pickup division (4300 Light 2-Wheel-Drive V8) to attract more local pickup drivers.
The organization will host events throughout Arizona during the Midwest’s pulling off-season (September to March) to attract national competitors. In addition to these official events, ATT will hold monthly “playdates” for local pullers in the parking lot across from the TA (TravelCenters of America) slightly west of I-10 in Willcox, complete with a practice course and sled.
Mink encouraged anyone with the funds and motivation to try their hand at the motorsport, saying that one could start pulling for as little as $5,000-$6,000.
ATT’s next event is on Sept 17 in Duncan, followed by another pull during the next two days in Willcox. They are bringing in a larger sled from Kansas, weighing 45,000 pounds, and plan to award up to $400 in prize money. The sled used during their recent Independence Day event weighs only nine tons.
The tractors themselves are much lighter than the load they drag. During their Independence Day event, ATT organized four classes, all with unique regulations for weight, engines, tire diameter, and fuel. The lightest division, Mini-Rod, must stay under 2,500 pounds, and the heaviest division, Big Block Modified, cannot exceed 6,200 pounds.
Pulling sleds are equipped with both an engine to propel the sled away from the tractor or truck, and a weight system that transfers more and more force down onto the “pan”, a metal catch underneath the sled designed to get stuck in the dirt as efficiently as possible.
“It’s a progressive increase in opposing force the whole way down the track,” said Crawford.
Starting off as fast as possible to minimize friction, perfectly changing gears, and adjusting tire pressure in response to the condition of the dirt are the main strategies in the sport, according to Mink.
He also said Navistar International and John Deere are the dominant brands in professional competition, but he sees a slew of makes at local pulls because competitors use “whatever is in the back pasture”.
Crawford said pulling spectators often root for people they know or machines they recognize because of the sport’s roots in community, similar to a rodeo.